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Communications Line: Issue number 40 of 7/12/06

Communications Line
Issue number 40 of 7 December 2006

From John Bishop

It’s the strategy, dummy.

Success is all about strategy, people and execution. In the last week or so, we have seen three outstanding examples of how three leaders have got the results they wanted. The Australians won the cricket, Idi Amin was reborn in Fiji and John Key got unity (and centrism) in the National team. The examples show that the people and organisations that have a clear view about what they want to achieve, and how they want to achieve it have a considerable advantage over the rest of us. Our own lack of decisiveness can actually help them achieve their goals.

Cricket is a strategy game

This is a learning experience for non cricketers. Why did the Australians win the second Ashes test from a position where most people were expecting a draw? Because Ricky Pointing had an expectation of winning, a game plan to win, and the players to execute the plan. In contrast as Australian coach John Buchanan noted on TV last night, England set out to get a draw. Winning was not the objective and therefore there was no plan to achieve a win. For them the second test was about restoring pride. It was a poor objective and its pursuit left England vulnerable to the actions of a more determined opponent.

So from a position where only two innings had been completed towards the end of day four of a five day match, and seemingly no time to complete two second innings on a relatively placid pitch, Australia conjured a win. They developed a plan. To win they had to bowl England out for a low score, and then bat like mad in the last session and a bit to get the runs required. They achieved both targets. Forget the technicalities of the game: good strategy, good people and excellent execution won the day. You need all three in adequate measure. Australia had that: England didn’t. As Yogi Berra (the manager of the New York Yankees baseball team) famously said, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”

Nice country; shame about its leader

It’s easy enough to take over a government; all you need is a lot of military force and the determination to do so. But taking over is not the same as governing. All governments govern by consent, although how that is obtained may vary. Consent may be freely given, or it may be coerced.

In Fiji, Commodore Frank gradually squeezed people and institutions to take power. But he is already facing a withdrawal of consent from the churches, the Great Council of Chiefs, and some of the heads of the public service. Opposition to the coup is being encouraged from outside the country: Helen Clark’s called for officers to remember their oath of allegiance to uphold the constitution. This morning the Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Fijians opposed to the coup to engage in “passive resistance”. There is also active dissent from the police acting commander and some politicians. To counter the passive withdrawal of consent, dictators typically resort to oppression and violence, thereby proving their opponents’ claims about them.

In this most Pacific of coups, not a shot has yet been fired, but does anyone really understand what Commodore Frank wants –besides a “clean up”? The media coverage has been extensive, but I question its value. It’s focused on events, not causes, on the drama not the context.

Our reactions have been defined in terms of the “overthrow of a democratically elected government by military force is wrong.” And of course that is correct, but where is the explanation of what he (and his backers whoever they are) really want.

We are encouraged to see the coup as the actions of a South Pacific Idi Amin, a military megalomaniac with a psychiatric problem. Certainly he shares the common conceit of military strongmen; a strong belief in his own will and destiny, which he equates with the interests of his country. It went wrong in Uganda and it will go wrong in Fiji too. But is there corruption in Fiji? And where is Bainimarama’s support coming from? The granddaughter of former PM and President Ratu Sir Kamasese Mara, herself a Senator, was downplaying on Morning Report this morning the drama of the Senate being shut down yesterday, and suggesting there were valid reasons why a coup was necessary. Personally I am still struggling to understand the issues because the coverage to date hasn’t adequately informed me.

Key: pragmatist, centrist

In the third example we reflect on what Mr Key has achieved. He is essentially a pragmatist and he shares a special quality with Helen Clark. They both have a clear view about their ultimate objectives, but more importantly they both ask the same critical question. What has to happen for my desired goal to be achieved?

In Clark’s case this is usually about her party retaining power with her as the leader, and if that means Cabinet ministers or pet policies have to be sacrificed, so be it. With Key, it was about getting party unity. If the price of that was that Bill English got both the deputy’s job and the finance portfolio, so be it. Gerry Brownlee was persuaded to move over, and it’s bye bye Don.

Key has cleared away the debris of the past, and is now ready to move ahead. The new team is in place – although they still have to perform. Dr Coleman hasn’t helped, but that’s an unwelcome sideshow. Key’s reframed the policies on nuclear ships, Maori, welfare and climate change, ending “ambiguity” and looking for allies in the centre. He’s projected some values; inclusiveness and opportunity (through his own background as state house boy made good).

In all political change there are winners and losers:

  • One big winner is Bill English, New Zealand’s version of John Howard, who is now front and centre in the party again.

  • The appeal of reformism (Roger, Ruth and the Business Roundtable) is seriously weakened, whatever intellectual case they might mount for more structural change.

  • Act is a potential winner. As National moves into the centre, there may be an opportunity for a genuinely right wing group outside National.

  • There will be even more of a squeeze on the centre parties – United Future and NZ First.

If you are a left wing cynic, then you’ll say that National’s attempt to build a broad based party is simply a return to their past practices of promise anything, do anything, be anything that the voters want you to be in order to get back into government.

If you are a right wing cynic, you’ll say, well we haven’t tried populism for awhile. Embracing the ideological right didn’t work. Brash didn’t quite work, so let’s give this a go. After all what’s wrong with being close to the interests of ordinary New Zealanders. We can deliver growth, prosperity and social justice just as well or even better than Labour can.

Anthony Downs, the author of a seminal work, An Economic Theory of Democracy, published in 1957, postulated that in western democracies, voters’ policy preferences formed a standard bell curve. Victory was about capturing the largest share of the centre ground – either from the centre left or the centre right. The further away from the median, the fewer the voters, and therefore the harder the job of winning enough votes under most electoral systems to get into Parliament. In the centre the competition was intense, and differences among the parties were often hard to detect.

Personalities, presentation, slickness, contrived differences and luck play a big role as voters see little, if any, difference between the main parties in the centre on most issues. Key’s “me tooism”on issues like nuclear ships is an essential part of the centrist strategy. Then he and National have to find (or manufacture) some points of difference that appeal to the majority of voters.

Wood audience inflated

The key to announcing the sudden departure of a high profile person where this might cause difficulties for your organisation’s reputation is to offer a plausible reason for going and then stick to the story. Susan Wood has a plausible story (health concerns) and she stuck to it. But in the “shock horror I’m resigning and going now” series of interviews that she did so willingly on Monday and Tuesday, she also did a fair bit of gilding of the lily for TVNZ. It suggests some fast PR work was done to give her the material to use in her departure interviews.

In each interview she would refer to how well Close Up was doing, and cite the figure of half a million viewers a night, twice that of the opposition. Regrettably the viewing figures (the facts ma’am, only the facts as Colombo used to say) don’t support her. Viewership under her watch has declined ever since she took over and is still slipping to now stand at 419 860 per night in the 5+ age group (basically that’s all viewers).

She is right to say that Close Up leads Campbell Live. (2.2 times the audience in the 5+ age group) But among the all important 25 – 54 demographic the margin is down to 1.3 times - a much closer result. Media buyer Marianne McKenzie from the Rainmakers ad agency notes that both networks shed audience in 2006. “This is probably to do with TV1 News’ declining performance in the 25 – 54 age group as a lead into Close Up and also the proliferation of choices such as Prime News at 5.30pm picking off some news viewers as well as increasing SKY penetration. SKY is putting on around 120 subscriptions per day.”

Brash’s emails not stolen

On Monday the National Press Club invited former policeman and now private investigator celebre, Trevor Morley to expound on how Nicky Hagar got hold of Don Brash’s emails. It was a surreal occasion held in Bar Bodega, a dark and low dive normally frequented by left wingers, aging hippies, and sundry fellow travelers. The floor is wooden and therefore noisy when the wooden chairs were moved, but at least the sawdust had been swept up and the spittoons were out of sight. But oh the sight of a posse of lawyers perched awkwardly on stools on stage opining on whether possessing and publishing the emails was a crime –legal, political or otherwise. Nicky Hagar generously joined the group on stage, wearing the same disingenuous expression of sincerity that is now permanently glued to his visage.

The audience was enhanced by lobbyists anxiously seeking clues, journos looking for an angle and lawyers trying to look hip. (The food was late, miserable and scanty, and the wine was unimpressive.) For the record Trevor Morley revealed that there was a police investigation underway into the publication of the emails, but their removal from Br Brash’s computer was not theft, he said. Section 219 of the Crimes Amendment Act defines theft as permanent deprival of property. Copying, it seems, is not theft, so he predicts the investigation will stop as soon as it is realized that no crime has been committed. The panel of lawyers generally agreed.

Female or Black: a Democratic Choice

In the US, Senator Barack Obama is contemplating a run for the Presidency, and that has got the political community there excited. Mark McKinnon, formerly a top adviser to President Bush in two elections, now working for Senator John McCain, is quoted in the New York Times as saying “Barack Obama is the most interesting persona to appear on the political radar screen in decades. He’s a walking, talking hope machine, and he may reshape American politics.”

Obama, a Senator from Illinois opposes the Iraq war, and “Democrats see him as an exceedingly warm campaigner with a compelling personality and a striking ability to command a crowd. He has no known major political baggage (though he has yet to encounter anything approaching the level of scrutiny Mrs. Clinton has undergone during her years in public life). And Mr. Obama can even match Mrs. Clinton’s arresting political storyline if he tries to become the nation’s first black president as she seeks to become its first female president.”

Online Ads Big in UK

Online advertising is racing ahead in Britain. It’s growing by 40% per year and is expected to account for as much as 14 percent of overall ad spending this year, according to media buying agencies in a report in the New York Times. That is the highest level in the world, and more than double the percentage in the United States.

British advertisers have embraced on line advertising more quickly, partly because much of the advertising is national where local and regional markets are still very important in the US. Britons spent more time than Americans online (23 hours a week in the UK compared with 14 hours in the USA). The percentage of home with broadband is also higher in the UK (47% compared to 44% in the USA).

This year the Internet will account for 10.5% of British ad spending compared with 5.6% in the United States. Financial services groups have been very aggressive spenders with 30%-40% of their campaign dollars being spent on line.

'refuseniks' spurn fashion

It all started with a deep loathing of The Sound of Music. Now "fashion refuseniks" have banded together to spurn everything from iPods to The Society of Hobbit Lovers. They have had enough of being told what is fashionable and hip in "Cool Britannia".

A Bryan Dixon wrote to the Daily Telegraph to complain about the gushing reviews for a new Andrew Lloyd Webber production. "Now is the time to bring to the attention of music lovers The Society of People Who Have Not Seen The Sound of Music and Have No Intention of Doing So," he wrote.

The newspaper was deluged with a tidal wave of moaning. "I have never watched Titanic – but I know the ending," one reader boasted. "I have never heard of (football star) David Beckham," said another. "I have never used a mobile phone on the train, eaten in a cinema, or been to a disco in Ibiza," another proclaimed.

The paper has now printed up special scrolls for eccentric Britons eager to join "The Society of People Who Have Never". It recalls the (Monty Python sketch of the) Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things.

PR: bridging or buffering?

James Grunig, the US academic who wrote the definitive study of what is excellence in PR and communications, has taken issue with those who say that PR tacticians operate without a general theory compared to the elite counselors in the profession.

"I believe there have been, and still are, two major competing theories of public relations both in practice and in the academic world," says Grunig. "I call these approaches the symbolic, interpretive paradigm and the strategic management, behavioral paradigm.

"Scholars and practitioners following the symbolic paradigm generally assume that public relations strives to influence how publics interpret the organisation. These cognitive interpretations are embodied in such concepts as image, reputation, brand, impressions, and identity. Communication tactics, this theory maintains, create an impression in the minds of publics that allow the organisation to buffer itself from its environment.

"In contrast, the behavioral, strategic management paradigm focuses on the participation of public relations executives in strategic decision-making to help manage the behavior of organisations. In the words of organisational theorists, public relations is a bridging, rather than a buffering, function. It is designed to build relationships with stakeholders, rather than a set of messaging activities designed to buffer the organisation from them. The paradigm emphasizes two-way and symmetrical communication of many kinds to provide publics a voice in management decisions and to facilitate dialogue between management and publics both before and after decisions are made."
This article from the Institute of Public Relations’ was originally posted on IPR's blog.

Humour Works

This is the title of a book by Pat Armistead who is laughingly referred to as The Joyologist. Her book shows “how to combine fun with workplace strategy to boost individual productivity and contribute to business success.” I provided a few words of endorsement which ended up on the cover. “Pat commits the cardinal management sin of spreading joy and making people smile. If her practices become widely adopted, going to work will become fun, and people will enjoy the experience. Ultimately she is a dangerous subversive to dullness, mediocrity and boredom.” To get a copy ($30) contact Pat on joyologist @


I don’t normally circulate any of the endless series of jokes, cute photos, sentimental stories, well meaning advice or other stuff that other people seem to think that will make my day better, but never say never. This TV ad got me going, and now it’s on YouTube. Check it out

A late news item on fats

In New York, the city’s Board of Health voted yesterday to ban the use of all but tiny amounts of artificial trans fats in restaurant cooking, a move that would radically transform the way food is prepared in thousands of restaurants, from McDonald’s to fashionable bistros to Chinese take-outs. The report in the New York Times, said the move was the first municipal ban on trans fats and was Skip to next paragraph widely opposed by the restaurant industry.

“Trans fats are chemically modified food ingredients that raise levels of a particularly unhealthy form of cholesterol and have been linked to heart disease.” They are “used as a substitute for saturated fats in baked goods, fried foods, salad dressings, margarine and other foods.”

The Board of Health is also requiring “some restaurants, mostly fast food outlets, to prominently display the caloric content of each menu item on menu boards or near cash registers….to address a nationwide epidemic of obesity.” Will we see the similar measures pursued with the same zeal in NZ?


John Bishop is a speaker, writer, trainer and facilitator. He also practises public relations, writes speeches and works as an MC and as a social and political commentator. See
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