I'm a digital campaigner, communicator, and a public and government relations practitioner.
Prior to founding Burns Strategic Communications, I was a senior communications advisor to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. I ran the New Zealand Labour Party's digital campaigns, engaging millions of New Zealanders online and building a formidable digital movement. I've also been involved with digital communications for campaigns in New Zealand and abroad, including Western Australia's state election, the UK Labour Party leadership elections, and New Zealand's Campaign for Marriage Equality, alongside working in more traditional communications contexts.
I now work for an agency called Point Blank Creative based in Vancouver and Ottawa, Canada. We're a full-service agency working with progressive and values-aligned organisations to achieve their goals. We work internationally too, so if you're after strategic support for your campaign in New Zealand or anywhere else, get in touch.
Want to find out more about what we can do for you? Let's talk.
Reposted from NationBuilder's blog, here, originally under the title "How Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand's youngest female prime minister".
The New Zealand Labour party paired a strong digital infrastructure with a resounding message to beat their fundraising goals and rally a nation around their new leader.
Jacinda Ardern became the youngest-ever leader of New Zealand’s Labour Party, she became the country’s youngest Prime Minister in 150 years, and its youngest female PM, ever. Her rise was so meteoric that it earned a proper name: Jacindamania. To understand the factors behind this phenomenon, we connected with Andrew Burns, the certified NationBuilder architect on New Zealand Labour’s digital team, who leads their email program and website development.
According to Burns, though they started with modest expectations, the campaign outreach took on a decidedly different scope once former Labour leader Andrew Little resigned and Jacindamania took hold. “We were actually blown away by how successful we were in the end,” he says. “[For her] to become the deputy leader of the party in March, to becoming the Leader at the start of August, and going on to become the Prime Minister by the end of October—being featured on the world stage alongside Trudeau, Abe, and other world leaders—it’s been absolutely incredible to watch and actually be a part of.”
Of course, much of that unexpected success came from their leader’s unique connection to voters, specifically, “her ability to communicate with people and talk in an open and honest way that [didn’t] sound like a traditional politician.” Not only did voters believe in her vision for the country, they believed what she had to say and trusted her authenticity. Fortunately for the party, by the time she ascended to Labour leadership, Burns and team had created the infrastructure to make the most of her natural momentum.
“Building the infrastructure—then using it well—is the most important thing you can do to succeed. We did have lots of people sign up for our list and express interest in joining our movement when Jacinda became the leader, but the majority of the upswing in the fundraising and volunteer space came directly from the people we had already brought on and been working with over the past three years. If you don’t have a Jacinda, you still have to build the infrastructure to succeed. Because you can still succeed.”
Having established that solid ladder of engagement, NZ Labour was able to beat their fundraising goals in a matter of weeks. “There were times when we were like, ‘we’re just not going to make it,’” Burns says. “But, the day that she became Leader and within forty-eight hours, we raised over $200,000. Within that whole first month, we raised more than our original target for the year.” Eventually, NZ Labour raised over $1 million online in 2017—more than double their initial fundraising target.
Now that Labour has begun creating a government under Ardern’s leadership, her team has every intention of keeping the same open relationship with her constituency and the world at large. Burns says, “We’re trying to do videos on her social media most days, where she actually talks to people about what’s going on. From the comments people are posting on our videos, they really appreciate that and find it to be a fresh and exciting way for the government to communicate with them about what it’s doing.”
I’ve developed and implemented communications strategies in high-intensity, public-facing environments, giving me the ability to take a high-level view, and analyse and develop effective strategies to help your organisation.
Your story is your most powerful asset – and sometimes you just need a new perspective on how to tell it.
My experience working in politics in New Zealand – particularly working for an Opposition party – has given me an understanding of how to get communications ‘cut through’ in a competitive environment. It’s all about saying the right thing, at the right time, to the right audience, using the right channel.
I can work with you to review your current communications plan and develop a strategy to build your brand, communicate more effectively, generate new leads, strengthen relationships with your existing audience, engage new stakeholders, and reach your goals.
I’ve spent my professional life at the forefront of digital communications for organisations that want to reach more people, develop deep engagement, and take their audience on a journey.
I can help you:
Social movement campaigns are an extremely powerful way of engaging your customers and supporters, while generating positive social change and building your brand. While these types of communications and campaigns have been used by political organisations and non-profits for decades, businesses are starting to catch on to the power of running social movement campaigns.
Whether you’re a non-profit that needs to run or develop your campaigns or a business wanting to activate your customers to support your organisation, my extensive experience and success in campaign communications, campaign infrastructure, and movement building can help.
Before founding Burns Strategic Communications, I worked as a Senior Communications Advisor to the Labour Leader, working closely with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour MPs on campaigns and advising on how best to engage with the public. If your organisation needs help talking to government, I can help you engage with Ministers and MPs in the Ardern Government and help you understand the best way to get your desired outcome.
2018 marks five years on from New Zealand’s Marriage Equality campaign. It was an absolute privilege to lead the campaign’s digital communications and social media, bringing hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders – from diverse background, faiths and political persuasions – together to campaign for something that meant so much to so many.
For me, the debate was of personal significance – it was about being equal with my friends and family – but it was also an incredible lesson in the way we can use the power of the internet and story to cause significant social change.
I was lucky enough to sit on the Cross-Party Committee on Marriage Equality and saw how the campaign was run inside Parliament. It was a fantastic example of great stakeholder management – lots of direct engagement with MPs by members of the committee to address their concerns and take them on a journey to support equality. We identified the marginal MPs we needed to support to get them on the right side of history, ensured they talked to people who would be positively affected by the law change, were lobbied appropriately by their constituents and had someone to talk to about their concerns. By taking these MPs on a journey and making them feel comfortable, and by countering the aggressive voices of those who opposed our movement with sense, kindness and love, we were able to win many of their votes.
A massive tool in our arsenal was the voices of those passionate about making marriage equality happen. These people were often personally affected by the Bill – they were Kiwis who wanted to get married – or they wanted to see their friends and family able to marry. People were so keen to help, and we needed to ensure their voices were used most effectively (and that they didn’t get too over-enthusiastic and say the wrong thing – a significant issue our opposition faced).
We predominantly used Facebook to engage with our supporters, encouraging them to share content to show their support, to talk to their friends and family and, most importantly, engage with the politicians ultimately deciding on how to vote. Volunteers built online tools that helped supporters contact MPs directly and submit to the Select Committee process. Without a doubt, the huge scale of personal contact from people who genuinely cared about the progress of the Bill made a difference, particularly when compared with the largely form-written submissions from opponents of the Bill.
It was incredible to hear stories about the warm responses supporters received from MPs and the positive glow they felt from being involved in the democratic process in such an important way. It was also amazing to hear from MPs directly about the impact that it was having on them and how our opponents’ tactics were often strengthening their support for the Bill.
Looking back five years on, I’m so proud to have been a part of a campaign that brought so much joy to so many people.
And from a ‘work perspective,’ it showed that with the right balance of strategic communications, movement building and stakeholder management, you can achieve something that once felt impossible.
(As a former political staffer on the left, I’m proud that my one appearance on David Farrar’s right-wing KiwiBlog (to date!) is in praise of the work I did on the campaign:
“Andrew Burns did an amazing job with social media on the campaign. I was staggered by the reach of the campaign’s congratulatory message on Facebook. Within an hour of the vote, I think the message had reached almost half a million people and been shared by over 5,000 to all their networks.” — see here.)