Needless to say, I am an ardent supporter of Michael Ignatieff. While many of my values and principles are inherently Liberal (according to their federal doctrine), I am not necessarily a supporter of parties, rather I am a supporter of leaders. I did not support Stéphane Dion and I did not have a great deal of respect for Paul Martin. Michael Ignatieff, though, is a man of ideas and has the charisma, intelligence, vision and character necessary to lead a country as fortunate and as great as Canada. Recent Conservative attack ads, maligning the fact that Ignatieff resided outside of Canada for so many years, simply reflect the jealousy that so many Conservatives have surrounding Ignatieff’s accomplishments as an author and intellectual. As I recently Tweeted, if Harper could land a tenured position at Harvard, he’d take it in a heartbeat. He’s just jealous. Previous to a political life, Ignatieff studied, researched and wrote about global policy, law and diplomacy to such a great extent that he became friends with several of now-President Barack Obama’s advisors and staff; not intended for political ambition, though certainly valuable of late.
In light of six new Conservative Party attack ads that hit the e-waves and TV-waves this week, many are wondering if the Liberal Party of Canada is going to respond in kind, with their own attack ads of some manifestation. While Michael Ignatieff says yes they will – in due time, because of limited money, my feeling is that with a carefully employed public relations strategy, and by leveraging digital and social media networks, they might not have to buy advertising, or at least very much, and could likely generate 50 times as much coverage, media impressions and public awareness, at a fraction of the cost.
First of all, evaluate the appetite for such messaging: Liberal versus Conservative battles lead Canadian television news these days. They’re also capturing headlines and, based on the online version of the Globe & Mail, are generating the most reader comments of any story on their website. Fact is, the Liberal Party of Canada hasn’t been as strong, as cohesive or enjoyed such momentum since Chretien was Prime Minister. They’re also coming off of what I would expect was a very galvanizing convention and party members are likely drooling at the prospect of an Ignatieff left hook to Harper’s face. So, I say to Michael and his staff, leverage it!
Paid advertising works for topics that are not top of mind. You buy ads to tell people about something they wouldn’t otherwise find out about. PR works better and for less money than advertising when the topic is already of interest and the audience is already engaged. Thus, in this case, advertising dollars spent would be a waste and missed PR opportunities would abound.
1) Produce ads featuring facts, arguments and a general purposeful and positive message countering the Conservative negativity (actually, bigger picture idea: argue against Conservative policies, arrogance, ignorance and divisiveness) on YouTube. Make sure these ads deliver on Canadians’ wishes for something to believe in and vote for, not believe against or vote down. I would produce perhaps six to ten 60-second and 30-second messages (useful in case a network wanted to run in the future on their own programming time). Subsequently, host them on every website you can get your hands on – official party site, inidividual MP’s sites, provincial and riding association sites, heck, even volunteers’ websites such as mine. Feature them on FaceBook, link to them on Twitter (one at a time, to allow for several messages) and get the message out to everyone, far and wide!
2) Circulate these ads via news releases, video news releases and in association with media tour availability announcements the next time any MP is anywhere in Canada speaking to anyone. Trudeau is in Toronto? Guess what two lines of info are at the bottom of the news release? Ignatieff is coming to Calgary to flip pancakes in July? Guess what two lines of info are at the bottom of the news release? And a cohesive message over any length of time will compose a great story to the media. If the ads reflect the initiative of the party and the reasons the MPs are traveling, flowing the news release into a reminder about the web campaign will work effortlessly.
3) Ensure these ads and any similar speech announcements or news releases are paired with imminent media availability wherever Michael Ignatieff happens to be visiting. Build time for him to appear on local TV – morning news, noon news, evening news – live interviews. The ads and arguments, if crafted accordingly and given the current environment, ought to drum up interest from at least a few networks, whether it’s with Peter Mansbridge on CBC’s The National, Lloyd Robertson on CTV National News, Canada AM, CBC’s The Current (radio). The prospect of a one-on-one interview should provide an inescapable opportunity for some of these networks, which shouldn’t be dismissed. Especially if the messaging and arguments are attractive.
4) Continue to do public speaking and meet municipal audiences. Make sure websites provide the general public an opportunity to come and see you as often as, and wherever possible. Assemble people who are renowned advocates of causes and are heavily organized themselves. These people are excellent at branding their own messages and delivering their own brand, so compel them to work for you. Teacher’s associations, nurses and doctors, military, city councils, chambers of commerce; but also town-hall style public appearances where real people can ask real questions. Invite the media. Again, this is a great opportunity to brand yourself and generate media interest. Pass out written material to each guest that forwards them to websites featuring your message and ads. It should all tie in, creating an ever-revolving circle.
Once all of this has been accomplished, perhaps only to a degree of 50% success, I would imagine that the audience size and retention level would massively trump the effectiveness of one-way, negative attack ads. Attack ads show a disinterest in what voters think or want to hear and only work through long-term indoctrination, the value of which is questionable and the motives insincere. Attack ads speak around voters – not to voters – kind of like two mothers arguing about what they think is best for your wedding! Attack ads assume the public is interested in hearing an argument, and I would guess that most are not.
Don’t forget, everything I’ve outlined above can be done for a fraction of the cost of a television advertising campaign. I’m in advertising, so I know a thing or two about it, and I also know that digital media presents an unprecedented opportunity to communicate one on one with (not ‘to’) voters for almost no cost.
The key to all of this is generating enough interest in the grass-roots volunteers (even those that simply have a FaceBook page) that they will help spread the message and become engaged enough to vote for you. That’s it, that’s all you can hope for, and that’s all it takes to succeed (as shown south of the border). Interaction with the voting public, generating interest, which creates word of mouth buzz, and remaining steadfast in messaging and ideals will pave a smooth and inexpensive road to success.