Earlier today, I spotted a Tweet from Donegal Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Blake advertising the event, but there was no mention of it being a party gig- I just assumed he was doing it with work. It seemed strange that Joe Rospars would be speaking at an event in Ireland to which people were being let in for free, so tweeted @ Damien asking "Joe Rospars?! How did you manage to arrange that?". The reply came "If you're at the event you'll know, if not it'll be clear after :D". All very elusive. I just assumed it would be a videoconference rather than a personal appearance.
Later in the day came word that Fianna Fáil's new website had been launched. The other day I'd noticed that they had launched an online engagement strategy and were seeking to increase communication with bloggers, but I didn't put two-and-two together that these events might be linked to the Rospars thing. But they were.
It seems that a lot of blogging types who turned up to this evening's apparently non-partisan event found themselves at the centre of a Fianna Fáil publicity stunt.
Damien Blake posted his side of the story this evening on his blog. He says:
Meanwhile, Suzy adds: "Now if people are wondering about all the noise and negativity tonight it’s simply because people became very confused at what event they were actually at. "
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with Fianna Fáil and Blue State Digital on a new website and a new web strategy for the party.
It’s been a busy few weeks, but a great experience. The team in Blue State are fantastic; they really know there stuff about online campaigning. In particular, they focus more on strategy than on technology, and that’s something Fianna Fáil will hopefully benefit from greatly.
Joe Rospars, one of the founding partners of the company, was in Dublin today as part of a wider trip to Europe. I pushed Fianna Fáil to organise a public event rather than a private, party only event. I put out the invite through Strawberry Media, and organised the event. We were delighted with the turnout, about a hundred people showed up and we were able to get a good Q&A going with Joe himself afterwards.
I spoke to a number of people afterwards, the majority of whom were very positive about it. One person did mention that a few people were unhappy about the way it had been advertised, and that it hadn’t been publicised as a Fianna Fáil event, and I see messages on Twitter about it as well.
The idea to have the public event, rather than a private one, was mine, and the decision to push it from Strawberry Media was mine as well. Why? I wanted as wide an audience as possible to hear Joe’s talk, and to get the opportunity to question him directly. I felt that some people would have not wanted to attend a Fianna Fáil event, but would love to hear Joe Rospars. This wasn’t the launch of the Fianna Fáil website.
So rather than organise a glitzy launch with banners, posters, videos or the like, we had an open, free event, with a short introduction to say why Joe was in town. Sean Dorgan, party General Secretary spoke to introduce the fact that Joe was in town in connection with his work for Fianna Fáil, and that the party wanted to have his expertise out in the open rather than tied in for the party only.
The event was 10:1 Joe Rospars to Fianna Fail; we’ll have the video online in a few days. Joe’s content wasn’t affected by us, we didn’t discuss it with him before hand, and he spoke for over 40 minutes as opposed to less than 5 from people from the party.
I’m genuinely sorry that anyone is upset about the way I handled the run up to the event; I hope that the quality of Joe’s talk, and the ability to hear first hand his impressions of Irish and European politics, in some way makes up for it.
I’m thankfully for everyone who turned up, and for all the great feedback I received on the night.
The plot thickens, with Gav publishing the content of a Fianna Fáil internal message which appears to reveal that the event was being billed to members a party one:
Fianna Fáil invites you to an audience with Mr. Joe Rospars, Founding Partner of Blue State Digital and New Media Director of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.Damien Mulley certainly wasn't impressed by the apparent lack of transparency:
In that capacity he oversaw all online aspects for the unprecedented communications and grassroots mobilisation effort undertaken by the Obama campaign. Mr. Rospars has also helped lead Governor Howard Dean’s hugely successful new media campaign for the 2004 presidential election and worked with Governor Dean at the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Rospars is in Dublin to announce the formation of an agreement between Fianna Fáil and strategy and technology firm Blue State Digital to work on the development of the new Fianna Fáil website. The new website will be launched tomorrow and will develop further in the weeks and months ahead.
To mark the occasion Fianna Fáil will be hosting a presentation by Mr. Rospars on his work with President Obama in the Camden Court Hotel on Wednesday 25th February 2009 at 6pm. We would be delighted if you could join us for this event.
It was far from transparent that it was going to be a Fianna Fáil supported event though it was obvious given Fianna Fail were twittering it themselves. It’s fine if they are getting this guy over as a consultant and then getting him to talk to the public, while here. However it seems very much that this was a Fianna Fáil event with a waving monkey for a few seconds and the rest was a party political broadcast. So Fianna Fáil without saying they were Fianna Fáil invited a load of bloggers to this with the (no pun intended) hope of seeing one of the Obamanointed ones but as I write this these bloggers are completely and utterly pissed off.This incident highlights the potential pitfalls of using new media as a communications tool if not handled carefully. Obama used it to maximum positive effect to energise his campaign. However, the potential power needs to be harnessed or it can cause damage, as seems to have happened here. The key is: be open.