Ruwan Kodikara becomes Nick Clegg’s “Head of Media and Brand”

I have to say that “Head of Media and Brand” is a job title that makes me want to cry. A human being is not some corporate monolith that makes tins of soup or handbags.

PR Week has more information:

Kodikara, who is based in Number 10 and becomes a special adviser to Clegg, was previously a senior consultant at Quiller. Prior to that he was associate director at MHP Communications. Kodikara is also chairman of Kingston & Surbiton Liberal Democrats and treasurer of the body Lib Dems in Communications.

Kodikara has an impressive Liberal Democrat pedigree. Often unfairly, Nick’s inner circle is criticised for not having enough of a party pedigree. Matt Hanney cops this one most, but he was delivering Focus before he was out of nappies. Kodikara has a long association with the Liberal Democrats both at HQ and in Kingston.

He’s had a string of PR jobs, but he seems unable to resist the lure of Lib Dem HQ during a general election. This year’s will be his 4th.

Just after the last election, he wrote a fairly prescient article for Total Politics in which he critiqued the campaign and outlined a key failing which has been remedied by the switch to NationBuilder.

The social media campaign also failed to deliver in the way it did for Obama in 2008. More slacktivist than activist, the high levels of social media support (polling of 18-24-year-olds had the party winning 49 per cent support) and queues outside polling stations did not translate into getting more bums on green seats for constituencies including Durham, Sheffield and Liverpool. We needed a full-blown campaign to register those social-media youth voters, and mobilise them further than just joining the Facebook page.

I don’t, however, remember a feeling of intoxication developing in the party at our sudden polling success. Most people were fairly philosophical about it.

While I might hate the job title, I think we might see some good things from the job holder.

Another bit of good news is that Phil Reilly (PR Week can’t spell his name) has been moved to writing speeches for Nick Clegg. This, I think, is a good idea. Reilly has bags of heart and humour and gets how Nick thinks.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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30 Comments

  • Peter Chegwyn 10th Jan '15 - 11:48am

    We should wish him well in attempting to sell ‘Brand Clegg’ to the masses. He’s got under 17 weeks to do it.

  • Is this a party or SPAD appointment?

  • Brand actually has a real meaning- a concentrated image of a person or thing that lots of people can quickly grasp. Succsessful Brands are worth a fortune in any area of life. So far The Libdem Brand is only half-formed in the Publics mind.

  • “Kodikara has a long association with the Liberal Democrats both at HQ and in Kingston.”

    I think I have only met Ruwan Kodikara once at a local party meeting in June of 2014. Someone will no doubt put me right if I have met him more than once. He has been chair of the local party for just over a year.

    If he has a long association with Kingston Liberal Democrats there is no reason that I should necessarily have been aware of it. There are lots of Liberal Democrats around here and I do not know half of them. Why should I cast doubt on what’s probably an entirely innocent statement?

    As for the job title – I am with Caron. It is dreadful. In the Wild West they used to brand cattle by burning into their flesh with a red hot branding iron. I guess we all hope that is not what Ruwan has in mind for the few remaining Liberal Democrat voters in the general election.

    His expertise with ‘NationBuilder’ is perhaps something that may be very impressive.
    Does anyone know what it means?

    As a former civil servant (a proper one not a SpAd) it seems to me that a reasonable question might be ” What Special Advice he is providing to the Deputy Prime Minister over the next 100 or so days?”.

    The dividing line between the job of a Special Advisor and the job of someone who works on elections for a political party seems ‘blurred’ nowadays. Or have I missed something about the Code of Conduct?

  • @paul barker
    I think the Lib Dem brand was half-formed in the public mind at the last election, I think everyone knows what they think of it now and that’s the real issue.

    I can’t see that he can do a worse job at this and it’s a bit of an impossible mission, so I wish him luck.

  • The article quoted begins: “how could we have such record poll numbers, yet end up with the worst result for seats since 1992?” Which is odd given that the Lib Dems won more seats in 2010 than in 1997 and 2001.

    I’m also not sure about this, “a key failing which has been remedied by the switch to NationBuilder.” NationBuilder is a tool – but most of what is identified in that article is about motivating and involving a particular group of people. That needs doing throughout the whole campaign. NationBuilder will help do that but saying it is the remedy in and of itself is like saying I have remedied the fact that my house is too small by buying a concrete mixer.

  • David Blake 10th Jan '15 - 1:24pm

    Simon, friends in the BBC tell me that W1A is very close to the truth.

  • Hywel

    Thank you – I now know a bit more. A concrete mixer ? I had better lie down.

  • Tony Greaves 10th Jan '15 - 2:26pm

    I thought this was a joke when I first read it. Apparently not.

    Building what these people call a “brand” takes time. By 2010 we were doing quite well. What “brand” then existed has now been destroyed, not by the coalition per se, but by ignorance and carelessness. The (national) brand is now clear – go talk to anyone in your patch – and it is not pretty. And it’s too late to change it now.

    What is W1A?

    Tony

  • Lord Greaves

    ‘W1A’ is a popular entertainment broadcast to the nation on the electronic medium established by your colleague Lord Reith, the First Baron Reith.

    I am told this new medium is superior to the wireless and the gramophone.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Jan '15 - 3:01pm

    I had to Google as well, Tony. First four episodes are on iPlayer and I’m now watching the first. Very funny. Satire about public service broadcasting. There is a very funny comment about the centre (what’s it in the middle of and what does it mean) that Ryan Coetzee and Nick Clegg would do well to look at.

    @hywel It’s a SpAd job which is why I was particularly surprised by the title – although had it been a party job, I’d have proper full on vomited somewhere. Presumably it’s the Cleggster’s “personal brand” as it can’t be the party’s on a Government job.

    Re your comment on Nationbuilder, we have actually switched the concrete mixer on and we have some nice builders with bricks and the like using it properly.

  • Bill le Breton 10th Jan '15 - 3:37pm

    I do like Simon’s joke. (11.04 am) Je suis Simon.

    What West End comms people are good at is building their own brand. Would be interesting to know if Mr Kodikara released his own press release to PR weekly and anyway whoever did … WHY?

    If Ryan Cortzee had to be taken off the public payroll and put onto the Party Staff Payroll, I reckon party members will soon be paying £85,000 a year + on costs for a person who in June 2010 believed that “what rightly didn’t get the blame was how the national campaign was run” and thought the blame lay with the poor bl**dy infantry who “I felt took their foot off the gas”, didn’t get their masses of new recruits brought in by the central campaign “excited enough” and didn’t direct them to target constituencies.

    But no matter, “This (the 2010) campaign inspired a new generation” .

    Simon was right – all from the W1A script writers. Pure satire.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Jan '15 - 4:36pm

    You really do have to admire Nick Clegg.
    He is a beacon of hope to those who refuse to bow to the theory that if you keep doing more of the same you get more of the same results.

    Good luck with that Mr Kodikara 🙂

    “Another bit of good news is that Phil Reilly has been moved to writing speeches for Nick Clegg. Reilly has bags of heart and humour and gets how Nick thinks” … Yes, those traits are going to come in very useful.

    But seriously and sadly, this all smacks of a Nick Clegg party distinct from the Liberal Democrat party. A party of political management rather than of vision and passion. Exactly the same problem that afflicted Blair leadership … Oops, there goes that ‘more of the same’ rubbish again!

    My advice to Phil Reilly would be that he could do far worse than read Tim Farron’s speeches. Something his new boss either hasn’t done or he has but then failed to understand the mainstream Lib Dem ideas contained therein.

  • I remember when I was head of brand and communications at one of the UK’s biggest companies (and brands), we had a saying: “A brand is what a brand does”.

    To put it another way, people aren’t stupid. They judge brands (and politicians) on what they do and have done – and how they have affected their lives – far more than anything that a brand (or politician or brand representative) might say about itself.

    In my consumer goods days, we had another saying: “People only buy a poor product once”.

    Good luck, Ruwan.

  • Stephen Donnelly 10th Jan '15 - 11:10pm

    Should we all meet in ‘Tommy Cooper’ tomorrow to talk this through?

  • Peter Watson 11th Jan '15 - 7:31pm

    Just to clarify, as a taxpayer am I paying the salary of somebody to manage Nick Clegg’s brand in the run up to a general election?

  • Peter – yes it is. You might want to join me in contacting Sir Jeremy Heywood (Chief Secretary to the Cabinet and head of the Civil Service) asking him to look at the suitability of such a role being a taxpayer funded SpAd.

  • I’m not sure what annoys me more about the comments on this piece – the fact you all seem to be attacking someone for taking on a job that frankly needs doing and well, that you wouldn’t want to do or don’t have the experience to do or the fact it comes across as if you are attacking one of the most committed activists I know for being too HQ or whatever.

    Like Dan I too know Ruwan through Kingston Lib Dems, I’ve been involved there since 2012 and after Mary Reid and Ash Stanbrook, Ruwan was one of the first people I met. He is also a phenomenal fundraiser and supports countless other MPs and council groups in his spare time. Many local party offices owe Ruwan and his talents for having the money to keep afloat.

    It seems fashionable for people who don’t work in Comms or understand the industry to mock people who protect brand and reputations but this just proves you do not understand what you’re mocking. As a Comms professional (not lobbyist I might add) I would never dream of making such comments about whatever your profession is, regardless of who was picking up the tab.

  • Peter Watson 13th Jan '15 - 8:13pm

    @Roisin & Olly k
    I think there is little doubt that there are problems with the Clegg brand and that an expert is needed to manage it.
    But surely the party should be paying the bill for this, not the taxpayer.

  • Liberal Neil 14th Jan '15 - 9:45am

    I have no criticism of Ruwan, Phil or anyone else doing a job they’ve been paid to do.

    However the decision to employ anyone in such a role is wrong. It is too late to change Nick’s ‘brand’ now anyway, and, even if it wasn’t, it isn’t something that should be funded by the taxpayer, particularly given that Nick previously pledged to employ fewer SpAds than previously but already employs more.

  • Peter Watson 14th Jan '15 - 2:20pm

    @Nick Tyrone
    I’m perfectly happy for somebody to come in and manage brand Clegg but the party should pay the bill.

    But some of the comments in favour of brand management have given me an idea for a fun game we can all play. Are there any existing marketing or branding slogans that Ruwan could re-use for Nick Clegg?

    Perhaps “The honeycomb middle that weighs so little”.
    or … “Your flexible friend”
    or … “Should’ve gone to Specsavers”
    or … “You know when you’ve been Clegged”
    or … “Where’s the beef?”
    or …

  • Peter Watson

    How about –
    “…..the future is Orange” ?

    I don’t know what it does to the enemy, but having read the book, it worries me!

  • If anyone has taken the trouble to read the Total Politics article to which Caron provides a link they will see at the end this sentence –
    “…Ruwan Kodikara is an account director at Tetra Strategy and has worked in Lib Dem headquarters for the last three general elections”

    So what will change in a fourth general election?

    In all logic how will Ruwan taking on this job in January 2015 bring about a dramatic change in fortunes?

    He himself says that we did badly in 2010 because we did not have enough core support for the Liberal Democrats.
    Am I allowed to humbly suggest that in 2015 we have far less core support than five years ago, perhaps because those most enthusiastic about Brand Clegg told half of our members, supporters amd voters to blogger off to the Labour Party?

    So far whilst this thread may have boosted ‘Brand Kodikara’ it is hard to see how ‘Ruwan becoming the story’ has helped his new employer.

  • I have asked the Cabinet Office (under FOI) for details of Ruwan’s job description, the nature of the “Head of Brand” role and details about what contact he is having with the Lib Dem General Election team.

    They have sent me a reply refusing to answer any of those questions.

    Hopefully Nick will now respond to the questions about that.

  • Bill le Breton 13th May '15 - 10:16am

    Mr Kodikara – remember him?
    How did that work out?

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