The Eight Closely-Guarded Media Secrets of the Australian Federal Election - First published 20th Oct 2004

By Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP - International Business Speaker

What are the skills required, to not only get people to like and respect you, but to elect you to positions of power.

In Australia, the John Howard-led government has just been swept into office for a record fourth term.

Later this year, Mr Howard will overtake former Labor leader Bob Hawke as Australia's second longest serving Prime Minister behind Sir Robert Menzies.

As George Bush and John Kerry battle it out in the US, how did Howard persuade the Australian people to vote for him in increasing numbers during a period on uncertainty and change?

Besides pledging A$6.5 billion in election promises, they were very clever about how they managed the media.

They were able to persuade and influence large numbers of people because the media provided the channel to get their message across to the masses.

Here are the 8 closely-guarded media secrets of what the Howard government did to win the Australian Election:

1. Clarity of Message

Howard focused on the BIG issue of the election .... interest rates. While Labor leader Mark Latham admitted to having "a thumping big mortgage" of his own, he failed to convince the Australian public of his ability to manage the economy.

In a post-election interview, Mr Latham even confessed ... "obviously, economic policy is an area where we need to improve our stance and credentials."

What are the big issues you need clarity of communication on for your life, work or business?

2. Consistency of Message

John Howard never deviated from the message about having a strong track record in economic management.

He stayed "on message" and wouldn't be taken off guard by "red herrings".

It is easy to get "off message" in an election campaign. Just ask US Presidential hopeful, John Kerry.

The International Herald Tribune on October 19th reported that after 4.5 hours and 45,000 words delivered in three detailed and substantial debates with George Bush, one remark may derail Kerry in his final days. In his pitch, he noted Dick Chaney's daughter was a lesbian. Republicans were quick to pounce on this calling it an invasion of privacy, a personal insult and a crass political calculation that may backfire, claiming Kerry "will say and do anything to be elected".

In media interviews and speeches, be disciplined to stay on message.

3. Constancy of Message

There's a little known fact about the visual imagery John Howard uses to deliver a solid, patriotic and constant personal brand.

If you look carefully at Howard's photograph on his publicity material, the backdrop to his media conferences and in his stage presentations, you'll notice one constant sign.

What is it? Well, it is the Australian flag, always appearing over his right shoulder. But the flag is always folded in a special way, showing one corner of the Union Jack and the largest of the stars of the Southern Cross.

Clever, subtle and powerful. What non-verbal signals do you want to communicate about your personal brand?

4. Continuity of Message

How does continuity and constancy differ? Constancy relates to frequency, continuity relates to a planned and strategic approach to managing your message.

Howard was deliberate, rehearsed and measured when dealing with the media.

Latham made policy on the run. His most infamous (and some would say both defining and damaging) was to pull Australian troops out of Iraq before Christmas after a suggestion by a talk-back radio caller.

Writing in his 'Sunday Times' newspaper column on October 17th 2004, journalist Matt Price summed it up this way: "it was a wrong decision and terrible way to make such an important call, raising doubts about his capability to govern."

5. Credibility of Message

One of the recurring media images of John Howard is of him in the early morning on his daily power walk briskly followed by security agents.

While Latham, aged 43 years talked about "being in his prime" and "ready to govern", Howard at 65 years old was out there doing it.

He has stuck to his daily routine for many years regardless of weather, location, crisis, distractions, protesters or sickness in his family. He literally "walked his talk", adding credibility to his message he is not ready to step down as Prime Minister.

6. Congruency of Message

Your media message must match your behaviour and core values.

The Labor Party, representing traditional blue collar timber workers, sent a wrong message to swinging voters when the media showed footage of Latham in the back of a car sneaking in the back way to negotiate with environmentalists about logging in old growth forests.

This was in stark contrast to Howard two days later shaking hands with smiling forestry workers over a compromised deal.

7. Control of the Message

Both parties took the regular Canberra Press Gallery out of their comfort zone, often keeping them in the dark over where they were heading for the day during the election.

In the past, politicians and the media traveled together allowing for more informal interaction.

This time they traveled separately, even in different planes, totally controlling access to the leaders and therefore what they could report on.

8. Communication Connection

In this election, because of the instant communication of messages and information via the media (including SMS and Internet), local stories could become national stories.

This backfired for Labor because their local candidate for a marginal seat in Perth let slip during a local ABC talkback radio debate certain people may be worse off under their policies.

Soon a local story became a national one as the party went into damage control.