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What do you do to win, when you can’t afford to lose? Alistair Campbell at the APG’s Worlds Collide

What do you do to win, when you can’t afford to lose? The Account Planning Group brought together four people with radically different ideas at their May event Worlds Collide to share their ideas about strategy: what it is, how to decide and execute it.

Refreshingly there was only one ad bloke present (David Droga). Peace Activist Jeremy Gilley, Military man General Sir Mike Jackson and Blair’s ex Director of Communications Alastair Campbell gave the event a range of perspectives.

I’ve never been a great fan of Campbell, but he was a fluent and persuasive speaker and his pragmatic approach was inspiring.

He’d given a version of this speech many times before, his notes written in shorthand on a crumpled postcard. His advice came down to a 10 point plan which is worth paraphrasing.

1) O.S.T. (Objective, Strategy, Tactics)

  • Objective: what am I trying to achieve? e.g. to win the 1997 General Election

  • Strategy: how am I going to achieve it? The hard bit which people avoid. Could be a word, a phrase or a sentence. Two rules i) it is not a strategy until it is written down ii) deciding strategy is where you discuss the topic in detail & have the arguments, rather than avoid them.

  • Tactics: practical steps to take. These are easy, they fall out of your strategy

He gave the example of Bill Clinton embroiled in the Monica Lewinski scandal:

  • Objective: survival

  • Strategy: to get up every day and focus on only those things that I can make a difference to as the President of the USA

  • Tactics: to ensure the American people know what I am doing

2) T.L.T.P (the best team leaders are the best team players)

  • Everybody from the receptionist to the boardroom must have a clear sense of what you are doing

  • You often don’t choose your team or client – just have to work with what you have – therefore you have to know how to get on with people

  • Nothing worthwhile is achieved without a team

3) B.B. (be bold)

  • 11 days after being elected in ’97 Tony Blair woke up and told AC “I’ve worked out how to do Northern Ireland” – the strategic approach which brokered the peace

  • New Labour, New Britain was about modernisation – but was a risk. Once accepted, everything else flowed from here.

4) B.A. (be authentic)

  • You can’t convince if you are not authentic (Mark Earls would agree with this one).

  • Cameron just doesn’t convince, that’s his weakness – people sense there’s something not quite right. He’s aiming to decontaminate the brand – but feels like an ongoing project.

5) S.C.C (stay calm in a crisis)

  • Very difficult to do: ignore those creating a sense of crisis around you

  • According to the newspapers New Labour had 1000s of crises

  • In reality there were 5

  • Domestic (foot and mouth, fuel protests)

  • International (9/11, Iraq, Kosovo)

  • However bad it gets, always remember it is going to end

6) L.B.L. (listen, but lead)

  • Listen to your colleagues, but remember it is your job to take decisions. Get on with it.

7) G.G.O.O.B. (get good out of bad)

  • e.g. Kosovo, NATO caused civilian deaths, contradictory explanations from member countries fanned flames of scandal in media

  • This failure inspired a new communications process ensuring member countries were aligned: when an issue occurred no one country would comment, they would meet to discuss and agree a strategy, and only thereafter speak to the media

  • This turned failure into an opportunity. Can do this in personal life also.

8) 3:1 – 1:18

  • The ratio of positive to negative stories in British newspapers in 1974 and 2003

  • The media has a pervasive culture of negativity. To deal with it: set the agenda.

9) H.A.P. (get your head above parapet when the sh*t is flying)

  • BP oil spill and Tony Hayward – great CEO but perhaps wrong person to explain it

  • The figurehead needs to i) simplify the situation and ii) be part of the solution

  • Get good natural communicators at the top e.g. you see some spokesmen justifying bankers bonuses who make the situation far worse

10) V.T.V. (visualise the victory)

  • The only way to have the stamina for the fight. Election cycles are arduous.

  • Vince Lombardi quote (American football coach, a bit macho, but hey ho) “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfilment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and he lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious”

More Stewart Pearson than Malcolm Tucker perhaps, but pragmatic and meaningful advice relevant to us all.

Simon Shaw

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