The rapid march of information technology worldwide and its vigorous uptake by populations, particularly the younger generations,has revolutionised the modes of interaction between the government and its people, said experts in a session at the Government Communication Forum, held in Sharjah.

The fourth session of the first day entitled ‘Communication in Election Campaigns (Obama’s Re-election Campaign 2012)’highlighted communication principles for electoral campaigns showcasing the campaign of US President Barack Obama in 2012. The segment scrutinised the backstage preparations and dynamics involved in electoral campaigns. It also looked into strategies and innovative ways of communication that played a pivotal role in Obama’s re-election for a second term, and examined the key role of the media in influencing or shaping public opinion.

Moderated by Randa Habib, Director, Agence France Presse (AFP) Foundation in the Middle East and North Africa, the session featured Jim Messina, campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and Colleen Harris, former Press Secretary to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Prince William and His Royal Highness Prince Harry.

Making the case for the ever-increasing role played by information technology and social media as strategic enablers in the realm of government communications, Jim Messina said, “Technology has completely revolutionised the way people communicate; hence, government communications need to reflect prevailing trends. The basics for government communications is clarity in messaging, speed in communicating it, and making sure it gets delivered where the people are. You will find that social media is able to deliver on all three criteria.

“For example, President Obama’s second presidential campaign in 2012 needed to have a different approach to the one we had in 2008. We needed to be where the people are – at the grassroots – and have a running dialogue with local populations, because local issues are what matter to them the most. We built a campaign in which messages were focused, simple and authentic across multiple channels such as TV, radio and the internet.”

Messina is credited for being the mastermind behind President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. With the guidance of technology’s foremost leaders, he re-drew the presidential campaign course, merging technology and politics in a way that was both unpredictable and unprecedented. From 2009 to 2011, he served as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama where he was integral to the passage of the landmark healthcare and economic stimulus bills.

Serving a complementary perspective, Colleen Harris underlined the need for leaders to adapt communication avenues that are in tune with fast-evolving times, and that a government needs to stay focussed on its vision even if it meant delayed results.

Harris said: “Leaders needs to be clear on their vision and strategy, because then their messages will be easily understood by their audiences, reinforcing public trust and confidence. On the other hand, it is important to remember that vision and strategy often relate to the longer term, which takes time to achieve. This needs to be understood, because today’s world often calls for quick answers, sometimes at the cost of long-term interests. A balanced approach – one that satisfies the demands of both short and long terms – will ensure that disappointment and bigger problems are kept at bay.”

Colleen Harris held senior communication positions with both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom before being appointed Communications Secretary to HRH The Prince of Wales, Prince William and Prince Harry. A trained teacher and counselor  Harris has also led several national and international communication initiatives and campaigns and worked across the EU, the USA, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and South America, handling a range of issues including the environment, education, transportation, in addition to consumer and financial services.

The annual Government Communication Forum is a first-of-its-kind event in the region that seeks to enhance mechanisms in government communications in Sharjah, the UAE and the wider Arab world. Towards this end, the event brings together opinion leaders, heads of government institutions, and media persons for a collaborative and participatory dialogue on regional and global best practices in government communication.

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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