Kristina Keneally and rival Tu Le
By Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Kristina Keneally’s shock move from the Senate to contest the lower house seat of Fowler has raised a few eyebrows. Rising to the challenge, Labor has invested in a high-quality media campaign to smooth the path. While I’m too cynical to buy the messaging, I believe it will work for most voters so I’ve reverse engineered her message house and strategy from media reports to show you how the right messages can change the world.
Politicians have a proven playbook when they jostle for leadership or a new role. I was working for a leading media strategist when he was orchestrating Paul Keating’s rise to prominence so I saw it first-hand. The Julia Gillard launch, with an initial faux pas and subsequent repositioning, trod a similar path. And don’t get me started on Tony Abbot – there was an incident at Coles in Forestville, some cream and a brown Triumph Stag which will never be mentioned.
Hearing the news that Keneally was giving up a safe Senate seat to move to the Lower House triggers the mother of all “Why?” questions: Why would she do that, why now and why should I vote for her?
This week’s coverage has comprehensively answered those questions while silencing the cynical political questions about deals and the Labor machine. This is a masterclass in media management so there’s a lot to learn.
If you’d like some background, this story is the most comprehensive and showcases most of the content. So how does it address the three why questions?
Why give up a Senate seat?
This is the critical question and we get a perfect anecdote about a heart-to-heart with husband Ben which crystallised that decision. But here’s the real brilliance – remember when you make a claim you need to back it up, so she gave us a brilliant quote to support it:
“I can drive down a street [in my old NSW lower house seat] and remember the roundabout that we fixed or the bus stop – those things matter and you don’t get to do that as often in the Senate.”
I love that that this anecdote and quote works both as proof of her motivation while painting a picture of her as both a devoted family member and a devoted local who fought for her old state seat of Heffron. Because yes, as Premier of NSW she was focussed on installing roundabouts and fixing bus stops.
Strangely, in March Keneally ruled out a move to the lower house - so why now? She has to give a credible reason why she’s changed her mind or pesky journalists would be asking awkward questions about party politics and leadership issues.
Keneally neatly handles that issue in the same charming story hubby/confidant story – she was at a career crossroads. It has enough veracity and detail to be credible, and she manages to avoid questions about a factional deal and being given the safe seat as a consolation prize for ceding the prime first place on the Senate ticket to arch rival Deb O’Neill to avoid a factional blood bath which would have blown the party apart.
Why vote for her?
This is the easiest, because the classic messages you need, regardless of the candidate, are: she’s a good person, she has a great passion for the electorate, and she has a formidable track record.
The “good person” and “great passion” arguments are interwoven with the first two messages. But it's 10 years since Keneally was Premier of NSW, and many people have forgotten her. So, I loved the master touch of invoking Labor legend Paul Keating, to tell us Keneally has “huge executive talent”, is in “the top handful of people in the party” and has “what a lot of people in the Labor Party do not have, and that is a permanent sense of indignation about those less well-off”.
The strategy and messaging appear to have worked their magic. No awkward questions about Albanese’s leadership, no questions about the fate of the formerly preferred candidate, local Vietnamese lawyer Tu Le (who, talent aside, ticks so many diversity boxes), and the Senate ticket standoff has been resolved.
A solid strategy supported by some compelling key messages and Kristina Keneally looks like a shoe-in for Heffron. And maybe even Leader one day.
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At Clarity, all our trainers are former journalists. Not actors and not PR people. We understand what you need in a message and how it will be received. Based in Sydney and serving leading clients in 12 countries, I’m so proud of our reputation and I’d love to bring some Clarity to your communications. We’d love to hear from you.