Labour scrambles to scale up digital communications


With the new Labour-led government's first major set piece announcement only days away, it appears that Labour's leader's office has only just woken up to the demands of government and are poised to significantly upscale the digital communications and research focus in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Labour leader's office.

In a number of roles posted to Parliament's careers site yesterday, the Labour leader's office is launching a significant recruiting drive with a particular focus on digital channels. New roles include:

Labour are also recruiting a Senior Researcher and four Researchers.

Now Labour have had a pretty solid approach to digital communications while they were in opposition, but the reality of being in government is that there's simply so much more you have to do. What I am finding surprising is that it's taken to the seventh week of the new government for them to start recruiting for these roles.

While it's obviously important for Labour to ensure they have the right structure for their leader's office, the lack of staffing has clearly hurt their ability to operate over the past few weeks, as evidenced by their bumbling approach to the House and announcements.

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, the ideal would have been to have these staff in place prior to the mini-Budget. From personal experience, I know how demanding major set pieces can be on the content creators in a team, and having more resourcing in that area opens up big opportunities for the type of content you can produce.

When it comes to an announcement like this, which on day 50 of the new government will set the tone for the coming six months, you really do only get one bite at the cherry, and a lack of resourcing will make executing that successfully all the more difficult.

Additionally, I've also heard rumour's that on the ministerial office front, Labour has been struggling to attract talent. Apparently they've been offering far below the market rate for ministerial press secretaries and advisors, which is resulting in their offers being turned down. While it's true that you take a pay cut to work at Parliament versus what you can get in the private or broader public service, at the same time the work is hugely demanding and can be personally quite draining, so it surprises me that Labour is getting this so wrong.

All that being said and done, I can definitely recommend working at Parliament. No two days are ever the same and, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. Your party can be top of the pops one week, and down in the dumps the next, and all of it usually beyond your ability to control, so it makes for a very exciting ride. The work is immensely satisfying, you'll get to work with some of the most talented and passionate people you'll ever meet, and when things are going well, you do feel like you're making a positive difference for your country.

Persuade, Participate, Mobilise - the three phases of political communications

While digital channels may have revolutionised the delivery and ability to engage with political communications, the primary driving purposes of those communications hasn't. They're either trying to persuade you to vote for something, get you to participate in helping promote that cause, and ultimately mobilise you into voting come election day.

For the next few blogs I'm going to drill down into each of these phases and how we're seeing them play out in the digital space, particularly looking at how social media, email, and data are used in their delivery. But for today, I'm going to focus on defining these categories what specific type of messaging falls into them.

Persuade is all about getting the message out about why someone should vote for you. In a New Zealand context with our short election cycle, Persuade content never really stops being produced, but it kicks into overdrive about a year out from each election. It's where the parties settle on the value proposition they're going to put to voters, develop and release their policy platforms, and attack the values and policies of other parties. This is the bread and butter stuff in the digital space, with social media graphics and videos, websites, email campaigns, needing to produce bucket loads of content to support it.

Participate is turning that support for your values and policies into donations, memberships, and volunteers come campaign time. This is why parties are so eager to get you to sign your name, email address, and other contact details to issues and petitions. Once they have those details in their database, you've taken the first step in a process designed to convert you from a potential voter into an active party member who volunteers - think Labour's very successful Baby Number campaign. While this does take place throughout the election cycle, unlike Persuade content the real guts of this happens in the months leading up to the start of the campaign, as well as during the first few weeks of the campaign. The obvious reason being that you not only need money to run a campaign, but also volunteers to door knock, make phone calls, deliver flyers, erect and wave hoardings, and generally populate your ground game.

Mobilise is the get out the vote component of political communications. Whereas in the past this took the form of activities on polling day itself, such as door knocking and offering supporters lifts to the polling station, advance voting has meant that you're now looking at a two to three week period where this will be much more intense. In fact, if you look back at each election since 2002 when advance voting was introduced, National has performed better in the advance voting period than it has overall, illustrating the real importance that this aspect of the Mobilise phase of communications has taken on.

As I mentioned before, in the next few blog entries I'll drill down into each of Persuade, Participate, and Mobilise, as well as look at how digital channels and social media in particular have impacted them.