Stephen Lotinga appointed as Nick Clegg’s new Director of Communications

stephen lotingaReaders may recall the rather brief tenure of Emma Gilpin-Jacobs as Nick Clegg’s Director of Communications – she left after a few weeks in the job “because my strategic global, corporate-focused communications experience will be better utilised in a less day-to day-political operational role”.

Her replacement has now been appointed. Here’s how Nick’s chief of staff, Jonny Oates, announced the news:

I am delighted to announce that Stephen Lotinga will be joining us shortly as the DPM’s new Director of Communications.

Stephen has extensive experience in the communications field. Many of you will already know him from his time working in a number of different roles for the party in Opposition. Since then, he has been working with a wide variety of clients and issues at Bell Pottinger for several years where he became Managing Director of the UK and Brussels public affairs teams before recently joining the worlds largest PR company, Edelman to head up their political business, also as MD.

He will be based in the DPM’s office and will head up the Liberal Democrats’ Communications Team in government.

Stephen will work closely with the DPM’s Director of Strategy, Ryan Coetzee, and the communications team at LDHQ, to ensure that our strategy is fully implemented and aligned.

Stephen will start with us towards the end of this month and I know you will all join me in welcoming him to the role.

PR Week has a few more quotes from those who know him well and the man himself:

Commenting on Lotinga’s hiring, Clegg’s special adviser James McGrory told PRWeek: “Stephen is both a lifelong supporter of the Liberal Democrats and a very experienced communications professional.”

Lotinga said: “I’m delighted to be joining Nick Clegg and his talented team at such an interesting time in British politics. I’m immensely proud of what the Party has achieved in Government. This role is an enormous opportunity to communicate those achievements to the voting public.”

Alex Bigg, general manager of Edelman UK, said: “Stephen is an exceptional political consultant and we’re sorry to see him go, but I totally understand that the lure of returning to a role in frontline politics was too much to resist.

“We wish him all the best and know that our loss is the Deputy Prime Minister’s gain. Edelman continues to have one of the leading public affairs practices in the country and we will be announcing shortly some exciting new additions to our team.”

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  • James BLESSING 6th Apr '14 - 12:54pm
  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Apr '14 - 4:06pm

    Another professional Public Relations person who has no experience of how the party works at ground level.

    The party has been following what these people tell it that it must do to win votes, and the more it does what they suggest the more our support goes down. It’s been happening for years and years now, going back to the days of the SDP when they insisted they were more professional and knew how to campaign and look like serious politicians, unlike Liberals who were too, well liberal, in supposing that ordinary party members might be able to run things for themselves.

    So the result of all this PR stuff which is supposed to make the parties more attractive to the people? Ordinary people feel the parties are remote from them, despise all politics, to the point that democracy is in peril.

    IT ISN’T WORKING!!! When will our leaders realise that?

  • David Evans 6th Apr '14 - 4:59pm

    When we tell them clearly in a vote and when they ignore it; vote again expressing no confidence in them, rather than running away and resigning.

  • paul barker 6th Apr '14 - 5:30pm

    Do any of the first 3 commentors know Mr Lotinga ? How do they know he has no experience of campaigning on the ground ? Isnt this sort of judgement by category profoundly illiberal ?

  • Things can hardly get worse than they are at present. I don’t think there’s been a strong message put forward by the party that actually resonates with any voters for at least the past couple of years.

    After the Euro debate debacle, the only way can be up.

  • I am not sure how a new person in place can improve the standing of libdems.
    Mark Thompson left the party, in part because of things like secret courts. Is Mr Lotinga going to change anything like that? Will he make the party less top-down and more democratic?

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Apr '14 - 8:00pm

    paul barker

    Do any of the first 3 commentors know Mr Lotinga ? How do they know he has no experience of campaigning on the ground ?

    If he has any such experience, it is considered so unimportant that it wasn’t worth mentioning, and if that is the case, that says it all. However, judging from past experience of this sort of person being given this sort of role, I very much doubt he has any sort of experience as a party activist. As I have said, it’s what I’ve being seeing for decades – professional “public relations” people telling us what we should do, and when we do it, we lose votes. We are still living off the legacy of those who devised the community politics way of campaigning, who were NOT professional PR people and in fact were doing the opposite of what professional PR people advised them.

    This is just another case of what we see all over the place – a professional caste of people take over and turn what was once a people’s thing into a game played just between themselves. The PR people urge us to do what will appeal to PR people in other organisations. It’s like the way modern art has become elitist and inward looking, artists producing stuff just to appeal to other artists. Or like religion taken over by a priestly caste who turn it into something just for them.

    We need to overturn these people and turn politics back into something for everyone. We need our party to be a movement of people working together and actively involved in directing the party, not a bunch of volunteer salespeople just doing what the paid managers tell them. As I’ve said, this “professionalisation” of politics just isn’t working. We have seen so much of it in all the parties, all done with the idea “it will make the party look better and so win it support”, so how come the net result is that all political parties are despised and considered remote from the people?

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    I am not a non-party-member. I would like to ask you about what you wrote. Do you see any sign that other party members are considering a change of direction? Or is it generally a case of “see what Clegg does, hoping for the best”?

  • I think we should at least give Mr Lotinga a chance. Someone has to be the party’s press officer (which is what his new job actually is, in simple language). His role will not to be make policy, or to determine strategy, but to communicate the party’s message to the media. If he tries to expand his remit, then the party will have to rein him in. He won’t have any say over campaigning, I don’t think. He attended two redbrick universities, so I doubt that he mixes in quite such exalted circles as Mr Clegg andMr Laws.

    Here is Mr Lotinga’s Linked In entry:

    This indicates that he has previously been a research assistant to Tom Brake and Don Foster, and has advised the party on health and culture, media and sport. He seems to have knowledge of a range of subject matters.

    We shouldn’t assume in advance that he is going to be a malign influence.

  • “I’m immensely proud of what the Party has achieved in Government.”

    Surely one of the biggest problems Nick Clegg’s Director of Communications needs to cope with is that so many of the actions of this government are utterly repellent to many of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010. Perhaps his immense pride needs to be tempered into something slightly less offensive to those who believed in what they were voting for at the last election – or even to those who felt able to support the coalition agreement.

  • paul barker
    In relation to your question about the knowledge of the first three commentators – maybe they just used Google?

    Amongst other sites, they will have learned this about Mr Lotinga from the blog Guido Fawkes –
    Fresh from spinning for the likes of ATOS, Russian banks and Kazak private equity firms, Lotinga’s only other job recorded on his CV seems to be working for the LibDems. Hiring a communications director who has never had a job outside politics or PR is sure to help the party connect to voters. Clegg will be hoping this one lasts more than two months…

    Now I know very little about Mr Lotinga and I know that Guido Fawkes is no friend of the Liberal Democrats, but I do know a bit about ATOS and it is not all good. I can make a shrewd guess as to what the reference to Russian Banks and Kaxak private equity might mean.

    But you perhaps have good reason for putting a brave face on things?
    Perhaps you have first hand knowledge as to why this was an excellent appointment?
    Or maybe you do not question anything and just assume that if the leadership has done something, then it is must be good. I am not sure that is an especially Liberal approach but I bet it would go down well in North Korea.

  • Adding to what Mr Huntbach said, one can observe attractive, interesting advertising campaigns that astonish one with their cleverness — and yet leave one with no idea what the product being advertised is, or even the name of the brand.

    A greater problem for public relations for political campaigns is that it’s impossible to divorce publicity from policy. Certain policies are by their nature more or less attractive to the public. So either the PR person is given no input into the policies to be promoted, and is therefore bound to be tied in knots trying to put an attractive spin on a policy that’s intrinsically offensive to many; or public policy ends up being developed based on what PR thinks will make a good campaign. Both of these approaches are, of course, deplorable and ultimately politically counterproductive.

    The solution is, I think, not to have a separate PR office (other than one which deals with purely technical aspects of media access and information dispersal) but to generate policy which should be, by its nature, interesting, attractive, and readily explained — without needing to be massaged and filtered before it can be made palatable.

  • The solution is … .. to generate policy which should be, by its nature, interesting, attractive, and readily explained — without needing to be massaged and filtered before it can be made palatable.

    Yes, your approach if adopted might even take us closer to what people used to call participatory democracy. The idea that ordinary citizens could readily understand, take part in and contribute to the government of their community , country etc. The idea that decision making should not be clouded in mystery and kept as the exclusive game of Eton and Westinster school boys.
    This is of course a dangerous notion. Most of the powerful would not want such ideas to catch on. Who knows what might happen if ordinary people started having ideas above their station? How would people like Blair get fantastically rich if he had to cope with democracy rather than employing PR and marketing professionals to “do politics to people”.??
    Some people want to keep to the present system where politics is hidden behind a lot of advertising crap and is “sold” to the masses in a way that keeps them ignorant and excluded. Why not just hand all of the political parties over to the likes of Bell Pottinger? Or has that happened already?

  • Paula Keaveney 7th Apr '14 - 7:13am

    To argue that we don’t need staff in PR roles is ridiculous. The mere level of media interest, which has to be dealt with, on its own justifies experienced people to do the job. There is of course a related issue about whether we are looking for the right sort of people to do the right sort of things. It’s clear to me that a real understanding of the party (and that does include some experience of local campaigning) is important simply because otherwise our messages can’t work properly (integrated campaigning anyone?) This understanding would also help prevent initiatives which will be resisted/will annoy the grassroots campaigners on whom the party depends.

    I also believe that the party makes scant use of it’s existing expertise among people who might volunteer their skills/advice. I am always coming across talented and experienced people at conference and thinking “why on earth do we not involve them more?” We have a tendency to pigeonhole people.. so there are “local campaigners” and then there are “national experts” but there are In fact so many people who are both. The party did make a commitment at a recent conference to do more about tapping into expertise so it would be nice to have some updates on this.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Apr '14 - 11:15am

    Paula Keaveney

    To argue that we don’t need staff in PR roles is ridiculous. The mere level of media interest, which has to be dealt with, on its own justifies experienced people to do the job.

    Sure, of course we need staff in PR roles. However, I cannot help but observe that the greater “professionalism” in our party, and in the others, with more such staff and them having a much greater influence than used to be the case, has coincided with a decline in public interest in politics and public attachment to the political process and public support for the very idea of representative democracy. So, surely, Paula, you can agree that something is going wrong? If it were all going in the way those people saying we need more of this professional PR stuff and less of the old-style amateur approach argue to support their line, would not the people of this country be feeling more supportive of its political parties than in the past? Would not all these professional communicators have built us a much more popular and attractive public image, as the argument goes they are there for, so the people of this country would really feel their political parties were good things and interested in them?

    When I first joined the Liberal Party in the 1970s, one of the things that excited me was the way you were largely free to do your own thing. The party offered an informal network of support and advice, but you could go out and campaign in your own way, and that seemed to work. It also fitted in with the philosophy of the party about giving power back to the people, about things being run in a co-operative way rather than a top-down way. Nowadays I observe there seems to be so much more central direction, so much more in the way of centrally imposed ways of presentation and campaigns. Although it is argued here that the central PR people and the campaigns and presentations they organise aren’t about them deciding policy, it isn’t about policy, I can’t help noting that the topic they choose to emphasise and the lines they choose to promote them often do have quite strong policy implications. A lot of the recent stuff is not politically neutral at all. It has an underlying tone and emphasis which supports the right-wing economics of this current government, and so is pushing the party to a position where it is one of what we used to call “Thatcherite” economics, distinguished from the Conservative Party by a more pro-EU line and by not having what remains of the old social conservatism of the Tories. That is a profound change of direction from the party I joined.

    The old “do it yourself approach” worked in a Darwinian way. In those places where the party had people with a natural ability to communicate it did well and grew. In those places where the party was dominated by people who weren’t good at getting the message across, or did not manage to connect with the people on policy, it did badly. I didn’t find, as our opponents claimed, that it meant we were saying completely different things in different places. Back in the 1980s I moved around a lot, so experienced the party in many places of a completely different social orientation, ranging from wealthy rural areas to deprived inner city areas, and it was much the same sort of people saying much the same sort of thing in all of them.

    I have tried in recent years through comments in Liberal Democrat Voice to explain why I feel so much of the top-down professional PR constructed lines the party is using won’t work. In most cases I’ve said IN ADVANCE why I feel they won’t work, and I’ve suggested alternative approaches that would work. That is, I’ve tried to be constructive in my criticism, not just knocking Clegg and the Cleggies. I’ve made clear I understand the reasons for the formation of the coalition, and understand the limitations on what can be achieved in it – indeed part of my concern is that the PR approach hasn’t managed to communicate that effectively because the ad-man’s “it’s all wonderful” optimistic approach just doesn’t work in this situation. Look, I’m a modest person and I know it’s easy to say things from the outside and not appreciate the difficulties of what it’s like on the inside, but I will boast here. So far everything I’ve said has worked out 100% as I’ve said it would. All the things where I’ve said it would go wrong have gone wrong in the way I said it would go wrong. The party centrally had almost always adopted the opposite line to what I’ve suggested – I’m not saying anyone in it pays any attention to what I’m saying, I’m just suggesting that the professional PR mind works in the opposite way to mine and so they would so it that way. And the party has slumped in public support.

  • I’m privately disappointed that the best candidate for this role is an established lobbyist but I wish the new appointment well. I look forward to seeing how the Lib Dems will communicate policies to a very alienated public and increasingly disenfranchised membership.

    I say I’m disappointed and this is because the role of communications is being responsible for the external face of the party. How its messaging comes across in the most effective form of media. It also is the conduit between press and what would represent the party. Perhaps this is me but I’d really hope this was a role screaming for an established former journalist or a campaigns director, not someone whose specialism is client relationships and damage limitation.

    Finally, I note with interest that more attention is paid to the new appointment’s employment terms. More should be paid to when that employment terminates. I believe there is too much of a revolving door between big lobbyist firms and political parties and government departments. I’d hope that unless suitable restrictions were somehow negotiated, that this appointment isn’t sowing the seeds for future reputational risks for the party.

  • John Clough 7th Apr '14 - 5:36pm

    Surprising that with all her considerable “strategic global, corporate-focused communications experience,” Emma Gilpin-Jacobs still took a job that was so unsuitable for her that she resigned within a few weeks. Replaced by another slick professional lobbyist, no wonder ordinary folk are disillusioned with the goings on in the Westminster village and increasingly willing to listen to facile Poujardists like Farage.

  • Replaced by another slick professional lobbyist, no wonder ordinary folk are disillusioned with the goings on in the Westminster village and increasingly willing to listen to facile Poujardists like Farage.

    John Clough hits the nail. But then what do I know? I do not have considerable strategic global, corporate-focused communications experience,and I have never worked for Bell Pottinger. I have just been a member of the party and an activist for more than forty years whilst holding down a real job and bringing up a family .
    Nothing I could ever contribute would match the skills and insight of someone who will work closely with the DPM’s Director of Strategy, Ryan Coetzee, and the communications team at LDHQ, to ensure that our strategy is fully implemented and aligned.
    Does anyone here know how we will measure the success of those responsible for ensuring that our strategy is fully implemented and aligned? Will it for example be manifest in the opinion poll ratings for the party? For example if the opinion poll ratings improve from around 9% to say around 15%. Will that be a measure of success? Or an increase in pollratings

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