To door on not to door, that is the question
For newly minted parliamentarians interested in building their media profile to doors, or not to doors, has always been the question.
For the uninitiated the doors in questions are the front doors of Parliament House. Each sitting day a gaggle of journalists guard the doors and throw questions at eager - or unwitting - MP’s and Senator’s walking through.
Attendance for the politicians is voluntary. If they want a shot at getting their mug on TV they chance the doors. If the risks seem too high, they scurry through the underground garage, safe but wallowing in anonymity.
When that most infamous of Danish elected officials Prince Hamlet first posed the question, “To be, or not to be, that is the question”, he followed it up with this explanation of his conundrum, “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”
New MPs face almost exactly the same conundrum, but for them to doors, or not to doors, definitely is the question. Do they chance the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune on the doors, or sneak in through the underground car park and give up the chance to be seen taking arms against a sea of troubles?
Luckily for the current crop of new MPs some genuine ridgy-didge academic research may help them to finally answer this eternal Canberra question.
Late last year some academics from Stanford University released a study into the effects of bad publicity. Using an analysis of the sales impact of negative and positive book reviews in the New York Times, they wanted to test whether or not bad publicity was always bad? Or whether (contrary to previous academic studies) the old adage that “all publicity is good publicity” might actually be true.
What they found should be of interest to any new parliamentarian pondering their media strategy, and better-known parliamentarians too.
The very pointed headed study found that bad reviews were bad for books when the author was well known, but were good for books when the author was relatively unknown. According to the study for well established authors “a negative reviews hurts, leading to a 14.5 percent sales decrease” but for books by relatively unknown authors, “negative publicity has the opposite effect: a negative review generates a 45.1 percent sales increase.”
Of even more interest to new MPs (particularly gaffe prone ones) is the finding that, overtime, the negative elements of the publicity fade a lot quicker then the positive benefits of raised awareness.
So what does all that mean for your humble first term MP? Simple. They should do the doors. And when they stuff up, they shouldn’t sweat it, because now we know that people will remember them long after they have forgotten their stuff up. Of course for the better-known MPs the opposite is true.
Before taking this column at face value I would urge all new MPs to familiarise themselves with the long and colorful history of the Honorable Wilson “Iron Bar” Tuckey MP.
I opened with a Hamlet quote, so I’ll close with one. It’s from Hamlet’s treacherous Uncle, Claudius. It speaks of a danger that may not be a problem for authors with bad reviews, but is definitely a problem for new MPs who stuff up on the doors, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”
Political commentator Lachlan Harris was Senior Press Secretary to Kevin Rudd MP between 2006 and 2010. Twitter @LachlanFHarris
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