Tony Abbott failed to communicate effectively

Tue, Sep 22 2015

Last week, when Malcolm Turnbull said, ‘We need advocacy, not slogans’, he highlighted that the brief one-line communication style that had worked well for Tony Abbott in opposition was inappropriate to communicate the complex reasons why change was necessary.

Regardless of whether one thinks that the Government’s policies were right or wrong – fair or unfair – there is agreement that Tony Abbott failed to communicate effectively. His policy of relying mainly on television, radio and newspapers to communicate the Government’s position resulted in his losing control of what voters heard. If he had chosen to liaise directly with the people, he might have been able to explain Australia’s predicament and options in language that people understood, and won their support for change.

Tony Abbott’s communication strategy seemed to be to say: (a) we have a deficit problem; and (b) this is how we intend to fix it. As few people understood the implications for them of a budget deficit, was it surprising that they said ‘no’ when they were asked to make a sacrifice? Instead, he should have started a dialogue with the Australian people on the country’s economic situation, the implications of continuing as we were, and where budget savings could be made.

Greater use of social media, online ’town hall meetings’ and a more conversational style for his weekly Facebook message would have helped him to deliver his messages more effectively and engage with voters. People became bored with being reminded that the Government had stopped the boats and abolished the carbon and mining taxes; they had already taken this for granted and ‘switched off’. The Government’s focus should have been on its future plans and their relevance to voters, and on people’s current concerns and aspirations.

A key question is why Tony Abbott got this so wrong. One answer maybe that he relied on advice from his political media advisers, ignoring counsel from communicators who are experienced in issues management and crisis communication – a complementary, but different, skill. Had he received, and listened to, advice from both media advisers and experts in issues management, he might still be prime minister.

Author: Anthony Tregoning, Managing Director, Financial and Corporate Relations, Sydney.

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