Gavan Reilly

thinking out loud

Transparency, or How To Mess Up Before You Begin

with 13 comments

I’m sat at home watching Liverpool play Real Madrid in the Champions League right now, where Liverpool are doing a commendable job – as Man United did before them in Milan last night – of taking the game by its horns and rather than simply hoping not to lose, they are actively chasing victory. Liverpool know the score. Away goals count double and even if they lose tonight, a small loss coupled with a priceless away goal will go a long, long way towards advancing and overcoming a major obstacle.

The attitude is summed up very well by Eamon Dunphy at half time, who casually remarks (as Dunphy does) that “many teams go to the Bernabéu having already lost”, a very succinct remark indeed: many teams are so fazed by having to take on the Spanish giants in front of 80,000 of their own fans that they’re already writing off the chance of success.

While I was listening to the half-time commentary I happened to log into Twitter where the hubbub over the launch of Fianna Fáil’s new website was beginning to hit full swing. They’d invited Joe Rospars, who was in charge of New Media on the Barack Obama Presidential campaign. The press release that was circulated publically, asking bloggers to come along – and to bring friends – was as follows:

Strawberry Media are pleased to organise an open seminar with Joe Rospars, founding partner of Blue State Digital and New Media Director of the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign.

Joe will be discussing the lessons of the Obama campaign, how it can be applied in other fields, and will take a Q&A on his talk. Attendance at the seminar is free.

This event is open to all, and would be particularly suited to bloggers and those interested in technology and politics. Numbers are limited, so please register your interest below if you are able to attend.

The event takes place at the Camden Court Hotel, Dublin City Centre at 6pm on Wednesday, February 25th. Click here for a Google Map to the venue.

You’ll notice, unfortunately, that there’s no mention of Fianna Fáil. Nor is there a mention that Strawberry Media, the “communications powerhouse” handling the event, is run by Cllr Damien Blake, a Fianna Fáil councillor in Letterkenny (a decision I still can’t really absorb – even with the FF connections, why have a Donegal-based company operate a Dublin event? Surely FF have better connections or abilities than farming out an event to a councillor who, although having the expertise to run it, is based hundreds of miles away?).

The following, meanwhile, was the substance of the Fianna Fáil release to party members plugging the event:

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.

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.

A very different tone, mentioning the words ‘Fianna Fáil’ four times. Clearly one that lets on that it has nothing to hide.

The question arises, why would Fianna Fáil want to give such mixed messages? Surely Fianna Fáil must be aware of the negative public sentiment out there for them; the opinion polls putting them into third place behind Labour surely ring testament to that. Surely, also, they must be aware of the demi-deity that any association with Barack Obama carries.

Why, then, if Fianna Fáil are making the concerted effort (which, I have to say, I do applaud; it’s not perfect but Christ, it’s a start, and from the party’s perspective they’re better off making political hay while they need the boost, and not while plateauing at the top) to seem like they’re changing their ways, starting up an official Facebook group, YouTube channel, Twitter feed and Flickr account, not want to associate themselves with the fact that Joe Rospars was in town, and speaking? Why not pitch the event as an interactive Q&A with bloggers themselves, answering questions on online policy aswell as taking suggestions from bloggers and Twitterers on what they’d most like to see on the site?

It nearly seemed like it was an impossible thing to do, but somehow Fianna Fáil have managed to come out of this whole event – the culmination of what I’m sure is a lengthy build and co-ordinative process in launching a new site and social media network – in lesser standing than they entered. How couldn’t they think that by mentioning their own name and that of Barack Obama in the same breath, that they would surely be seen in better light?

Damien Blake, to his credit, is currently trying to tackle the online hullaballoo head-on over at his own blog. He does, however, state that

“This wasn’t the launch of the Fianna Fáil website.”


“The new website will be launched tomorrow [the message being sent on the previous day] and will develop further in the weeks and months ahead.”

To suggest that the event wasn’t supposed to be a plug for the new website, or to showcase what was there, is a fallacy – and I don’t need to have been there to state that. It’s pure, unadulterated hypocracy. The event wasn’t a FF website launch, but they launch the website the same day as they have an event to announce that the Obama Web Guy is working with them? Such semantics don’t have a place when a hugely valuable outlet is coming out of incubation at a time when FF so badly need a boost.

Liverpool played the game, and won 1-0. Rafa Benitez’s type of football isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done. Maybe that’s the biggest lesson Fianna Fáil need to take from this shocking, shocking waste.

Edit: the Irish Blogs cluster will be appearing soon – keep an eye on this and have a read of the thoughts of Damien, Suzy, Green Ink, and Slugger O’Toole.

Written by Gav

February 25th, 2009 at 10:06 pm

13 Responses to 'Transparency, or How To Mess Up Before You Begin'

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  1. […] Blake the organiser replies , Slugger,    , Green Ink  , Mulley Communications , Gav all weigh […]

  2. […] of the new Fianna Fáil website, to which FF members were invited (see comment #14 here) (update: Gav has the actual text of the internal FF […]

  3. […] Gavin has text of event invite as sent to FF members – hence the […]

  4. […] More venting at Gav Reilly, Mulley, Green Ink, and Irish Election. Damien Blake explains. Twenty has a screenshot. ▶ […]

  5. To suggest that the event wasn’t supposed to be a plug for the new website, or to showcase what was there, is a fallacy

    Absolutely, completely and totally. What’s worse is that for an event ” particularly suited to bloggers and those interested in technology and politics.” the big message – the whole thrust of it, the big learning from such a well connected man is…

    “Make sure online is an important, integrated part of your campaign”.

    ‘Disappointing’ is only the beginning of my thoughts on this.


    26 Feb 09 at 9:30 am

  6. […] being bloggers descending on an FF event with a scent of blood it was engaged in with enthusiasm. As Gav highlights on his blog this was a different event depending on who you were. That is the issue at […]

  7. Gav,

    Sorry I didn’t comment on your blog last night; I was around here but for some reason the comment didn’t take.

    I’ve put up my thoughts on my blog, as to why I organised the event the way I did. Long story short, I wanted to get as wide an audience as possible in there, to avoid it being an FF-only session and to have people in there to ask the difficult questions. I was concerned that if it was advertised as an FF event, we’d only get FF people and the event would be poorer for it.

    The post is at

    I screwed up; this has clearly back-fired and I acknowledge that it was my fault. I actually thought it would be better this way, shocking as that may seem.

    We (FF) are going to do everything we can in the coming weeks, months and years to engage as strongly as we can online. I appreciate that we now have an opportunity to make up for what happened, and the annoyance that is out there about this.

    Damien B

    26 Feb 09 at 11:08 am

  8. @ Darragh – the contradictions are one thing but the main thing I can’t get my head around is why FF simply didn’t see the positive vibes that were there to be had if it was publically known that THEY’d gotten Rospars to talk, and were running his event. There was a guaranteed feelgood factor on offer that it seems nuts to turn down.

    @ Damien – First of all, thanks for the comment, and a sincere ‘fair play’ for doing the rounds addressing peoples’ problems. My real question is what I addressed to Darragh above – while I understand you wanted to make sure that a wide enough crowd came so that tougher questions could be asked, would you accept that the simple reality is that when Fianna Fáil run so few public meetings of the sort, an FF-branded Q&A where people could ask whatever they liked (as opposed to a number of pre-selected questions being asked, where I believe it was yourself in charge of the mic) would have been perceived as a far more open, transparent and consultative exercise?


    26 Feb 09 at 11:13 am

  9. Gav,

    Yes and yes!! I’ve posted a few comments on this across the board so I’ll keep this one brief. I’m a blogger and an FF activist, (in fact recently promoted to candidate). I’m an admitted obamaphile and spend far too long online for my own good. So in a sense this was the ultimate gig for me! In fact I tweeted something out on Tues night about FF, Obama, BlueStates (Red States) and my own private Idaho or words to that effect. But whilst plenty folk seemed miffed on discovering this was an FF hosted event I am equally miffed it was not shouted from the rooftops as such!!! It was an incredibly positive engagement and lets tell all!! For my limited part, and I was on the end of the chain, I forwarded my FF invite to as many bloggers and friends as I could think of. No secrecy, no lack of transparency, no coverup. Jeez why on earth would you want to?!? Obviously the principal organiser involved wears two hats and sometimes that just doesn’t work. Credit to the guy for all his efforts in bringing this thing together and trying to reach many audiences but he’s said it himself he got it wrong. But it aint just one side of the house that’s irked on this one. Anyway rant over better get back to the day job..


    James Lawless

    26 Feb 09 at 2:10 pm

  10. […] story short an online backlash ensued here here here and here for starters. Some wailing, some gnashing, some grumbling and some grievences. Some gems […]

  11. […] it also seems that an internal release by Fianna Fail to its people DID mention that it was to  launch the web […]

  12. […] people became very confused at what event they were actually at. "The plot thickens, with Gav publishing the content of a Fianna Fáil internal message which appears to reveal that the event was being […]

  13. […] More venting at Gav Reilly, Mulley, Green Ink, and Irish Election. Damien Blake explains. Twenty has a screenshot. « […]

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