There’s been a great deal of analysis of the recent federal election and what led the Coalition to an unlikely victory. In the last blog we spoke about the role of digital micro-campaigning in elections, this time we look at the much scrutinised Green cavalcade to Queensland and ask, was it a disaster move and how might the campaign have been run?

The most extravagant idea that can take root in the head of a politician is to believe that it is enough for one people to invade a foreign people to make it adopt its laws and constitution. No one likes armed missionaries; and the first advice given by nature and prudence is to repel them as enemies.

– Maximillian Robespierre, January 2, 1792

During the French Revolution, debates rebounded inside the walls of the Estates General about whether the revolution should spread beyond France. France was surrounded by hostile forces keen to see the revolution snuffed out. Provocateurs and agents were sent to destroy the young Republic. Austrians and Prussians plotted with the deposed French monarchy on France’s borders.

What were the champions of liberty, equality and fraternity to do in this perilous situation? Some wanted to take the fight to the opposition, the French ideals to Europe on the point of a bayonet, but the best piece of PR advice came from Maximillian Robespierre: no one likes armed missionaries.

Without stretching the historical analogy too far, the Greens undoubtedly felt themselves similarly compelled by the urgency of climate change to act, to take their high-minded principles north, and undoubtedly hoped that in that long cavalcade they might galvanise Queenslanders as they rode into town to throw off the oppressive yolk of Adani.

Instead, as they drove from south to north they were met by jeering crowds of locals, undoubtedly viewed as social and geographical interlopers come to destroy jobs and ready to inculcate a raft of alien ideas into the brains of Queenslanders. That was the representation of it in the media at least, which is a large part of the problem.

What might have worked?

In Public Relations terms – i.e. avoiding bad optics and winning the messaging – the cavalcade might be described as a total balls up.

While it’s good to have a host of committed activists on board, successful campaigns aren’t won by convincing those already in your camp to act. It’s about winning over neutrals, silencing hostiles, setting the terms of the debate, and, especially in this case, moving the focus from the campaign group, i.e the Greens, and onto the real-life impacts of the mine on the broader population with a visible and persuasive public campaign.

We posit the following as the basis for a more successful campaign.

Digital campaigning

Digital campaigning is a great micro-campaigning tool if used well.

Step 1 – build a fighting fund and support base

Create interest-targeted Facebook ads aimed at those engaged in climate change and social progress issues. The ads would link to a landing page asking for campaign volunteers and how they could contribute – financially, time, and skills wise.  Congratulations, you now have an army of resources to call upon.

Step 2 ­– build local support

Create geo-targeted Facebook ads at those most impacted by the proposed Adani mine – in this case the seats of Capricornia and Dawson – and create a local base of support in Queensland for door-knocking and electioneering in their local areas.

Step 3 – flush out the ideas

Hold brainstorming sessions through the ‘media outreach’ team to build a raft of storylines and topics to campaign around. These might include: local families coping with asthma from poor air quality, exploiting the slender jobs commitment, the 42% reduction in koalas in Queensland, the unmet demand for solar storage installers and local job opportunities, the tiny jobs dividend from Adani, local infrastructure jobs unfunded by local minister in favour of Adani, and so on. Build up as many case-study stories involving locals as you can.

It’s useful to bring in an external party to help facilitate discussions as organisations tend to get bogged down in old ideas and an outside party brings new ideas to light.

Once messages are determined, a series of social media ads can be AB tested and the best performers funded and boosted – by your phalanx of supporters!

Media outreach

If digital campaigning is the micro weapon, media outreach is your macro weapon. A PR war is won in the formulation of winning story ideas, clear and engaging messages that lie within those stories, and their saturation in the media.

Having an organised media outreach team is crucial in transmitting stories and ideas to as wide an audience as possible. While much has been written about the death of the traditional media, the fact remains that it remains a behemoth in terms of reach and trust.

Again, it’s useful to engage Public Relations professionals with experience in this area to get the message across. An agency experienced in government relations [GTM hyperlink] will have a strong media list, relationships with key editors, producers and journalists, and know how to write a media release that grabs attention.

Coming from an agency, media releases that are one step removed from the campaign group have a more objective quality and are able to integrate other stakeholders into the story.

Stakeholder engagement

If the only people to be impacted by the Adani mine were Greens supporters, and these were the only people opposed to it, it would be a difficult campaign to win, as indeed it proved to be.

And this is why the cavalcade was such a disaster. It made the whole debate pivot on identifying with the Greens or with Adani. The latter identified themselves, smartly, with jobs and ordinary Queenslanders, so really it became a question of the Greens or jobs/ordinary Queenslanders.

On the face of it, the bald facts should have favoured those opposing Adani in winning over hearts and minds, but, not for first or last time, we have seen that storylines and media coverage win campaigns, not facts.