How politicians avoid a photo-op fail: Unpacking the staged campaign event

Vassy Kapelos:Here’s a visual
you’re probably used to seeing
during an election:the daily campaign event.One veteran campaign
organizer for the Liberals summed it up like this: “Campaign events are the
lifeblood of an election.”Whether it’s a speech,a rally, a photo op,
or a barbecue,
parties are trying to create
a visual message that media
will pick up on
and that voters will remember.
So the first thing –
the thing above all else – what is the image? What is the headline? So if parties want
their message to stand out, why do we keep seeing versions
of the same thing over and over? ♪ [theme] Jason:Tour is hard.It’s hard to organize.It’s hard to —it’s hard to get everything in
place sometimes.
All the things that we see
it’s because they’re easy.
You have the control over every
factor that you need to control. Vassy:This is Jason Lietaer.He managed the war room
for the Conservative Party
during the 2011 campaign.He and other strategists will
tell you that one single moment can throw off an entire day’s
message, or worse.Remember this?Stockwell Day’s arrival at a
Canadian Alliance event
on a jet ski?Here’s a refresher.It was 2000, and the party was
trying to send a message
that the holiday was over for
Jean Chretien’s liberals.
But the story quickly became
about that jet ski instead,
and they lost control
of their message.
[engine rumbling]Today’s strategists
need to put a lot of thought
into the message,
visuals in particular.They think of it like theatre .They’re setting a scene.Some literally call
it political stagecraft.
Advanced personnel will scout
the location days in advance.
They’re figuring out things
like where to place the media
to get the best camera angles
for the leader.
They’re looking to essentially
choose pictures deliberately
that will convey
their message in an instant, and often convey their message
even when the sound is off. Vassy:Kathleen Monk
is a strategist who’s worked
on federal election
campaigns for the NDP.
Strategists are always looking
to own the photo op. They’re looking to own the
optics of the day, and they do that
in a number of ways.That means everything you see
is there to serve the message,
from the location
to the podium,
to props, and the backdrop.Do you see a kind of formula?Definitely a really significant
risk of just following the same formula all the time is that
every politician is doing the same thing, every leader
is doing the same thing. Vassy:This is Alex Marland.He’s a political scientist
who’s written and edited
a stack of books
on messaging.
Quite frankly,
it’s not really newsworthy. It’s not interesting,
it’s boring. Marlin says you should pay
attention to the backdrop. Take flags for example, they’ve
been a go to for a long time. Alex:A good way
to look prime ministerial
is to have a very large
Canadian flag
draped behind the leader.Believe it or not, they even
have wire hidden within
the flag to make
it stand out straight so that it’s
not, kind of, wilted. Vassy:And the human backdrop,
well, that’s a recent trend.
The theory there is that
showing a leader with people
creates the impression that
they’ve got supporters.
But I have to say in 2015,
I got really tired of that look.It fails to differentiate
between each party,
and every party is standing in
front of a wall of humans.
What’s different between
each of those parties?
Vassy:It can
be risky too, though,
because organizers don’t wantto put someone in the
who could derail the message.So that’s a
really big problem for you.
So that’s why people are so
risk averse during a campaign.
The stakes are so high. You can’t recover
from some mistakes. Radio Announcer:
All three parties…
Vassy:In addition to
the campaign announcement,
or the speech,there’s usually a planned eventotherwise known
as the photo op.
The goal is to have
the leader doing something that really reinforces the
policy drop, or a key message, and then on top of it, seem relatable doing it.Richard Nixon’s administration
was reportedly the first
to coin the term “photo op”.So photo ops are,
often in academia,
they’re known as pseudo events,
they’re essentially fake events.The only reason
they’re created
is to try to get media
attention, for example.
Vassy:Like other events,
they’re highly staged too.
And this is maybe
Canada’s best known example of what happens
when they’re not.Robert Stanfield’s
infamous fumble
during the 1974 election.It was an unplanned photo op.The Progressive
Conservative leader
was tossing around a footballwhile his plane
stopped to refuel.
People don’t remember he caught
the first few passes
because this is the image that
made the cover
ofThe Globe and Mail. Because his campaign was
faltering, the one where he dropped and he
just looked so weak when he dropped that football, said everything you needed to
know about that campaign. So what are the rules? There’s definitely
no photo op handbook, but strategists do have, kind
of, a set of dos and don’ts.For some, playing a sport
is off the table.
Others, they don’t wear hats,or don’t go to a place where
you might have to put one on.Some point to this
photo of Gilles Duceppe
wearing a hairnet while
touring a cheese factory.
Sometimes though,
like when it comes to safety,
it’s kind of unavoidable.As for food…You’ll very rarely see a
politician eating. Vassy:And props can seem like a
good idea until they’re not.
There are times
when they can work,
like in the case of Jack
Layton’s cane
except, of course,
that was unplanned.
Kathleen:As he started
to kind of raise the cane
and show that
he was a real fighter, that he had beaten back cancer,and that he was
running the campaign,
that cane almost
became a symbol.
Vassy:That said, strategists
say thinking critically
about a leader’s
wardrobe is also key.
How much risk parties
take is often guided
by the type of campaign
they’re trying to run. If you’re leading, and it looks
like you’re going to win, you take a lot fewer risks
than if you’re, you know, sort of swinging
from the fences. Strategists say this is why
incumbents often have really tightly
controlled leader events. What they’re trying to do is avoid opportunities
for missteps.Former Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau did it in 1980,
same with Stephen Harper
in 2011, and it paid off.
The Conservatives
won a majority.
But it doesn’t always work.But what it does is it really
creates an opening for populists because populists,
forget all those norms, you know, a populist
will walk through a crowd and just have conversations
that are unscripted.Think challengers like
Justin Trudeau in 2015,
and Jack Layton in 2011.They had less to lose.Ultimately, strategists will
tell you the key is making sure the event represents the
leader’s personality, and that it strikes
the right tone.When it comes to the campaign,try watching
with the volume off.
What images are you seeing?Look for what’s on stage,and who the leaders
are pictured with,
and then ask yourself what
message is getting through?

Maurice Vega

16 Responses

  1. Lmao I’ll save you all time, according to CBC conservatives are the only ones that have won an election due to a photo op and Trudeau apparently doesn’t use them to manipulate voters… why not do a story on how to look for biased in a news report? Oh wait…

  2. No Bernier photos? There was just 1 @6:49 of Bernier.
    Who was the veteran campaign organizer for the Liberals who made this quote?

  3. Remember CBC if Trudeau gets re-elected and Canada is destroyed as it will be, you all will have to live with yourselves. It saddens me that you have let Canadians down with all your lack of reporting all of real stories and soft stories about Trudeau. If Harper had been convicted of one ethics breach let alone two and stopping active investigations you would have crucified him. BUT You have to look yourselves in the mirror everyday and accept your taking brides from the PM because you can't make a go of it without being the state whipping dog. Have fun with that for the rest of your lives.

  4. Please cover the BC msp change in which international students are supposed to pay double then the previous amount and resident are gonna pah nothing

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