leadership

Gillard’s smackdown speech: Personal branding at its best?

Gabrielle Dolan /

Last week Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a blistering 15-minute attack on Opposition leader Tony Abbott for his sexist behaviour. Labelled the ‘smackdown’ speech, it received mixed reactions from journalists in the traditional media. It also made headlines around the world, including America, UK, India, Canada and South Africa. The New Yorker suggested that US President Barack Obama fans might be wishing Obama could take some lessons from Gillard.  In the UK, The Spectator reported there was “much to admire” about Gillard. Closer to home, the reactions were less positive, with some local journalists deeming her speech “desperate”, “a terrible error” and “completely over the top”.

Ignoring the traditional media, where we are subjected to views of a handful of journalists, what is of interest is the wider public reaction, which has been overwhelmingly positive. The video has gone viral around the world. It has been trending on Twitter under the hashtag ‘smackdown’ and by this morning, it had been viewed more than 1,560,000 times at ABC News on YouTube, with almost 15,800 likes and 1000 dislikes. To put that number of views into perspective, the next most popular ABC News video view of a Parliament speech attracted 14,000 views, and was when Gillard shed tears in 2011 for the Queensland flood victims.

Putting political views aside, it is interesting to look at this speech from a personal branding perspective. Personal branding is not what you say about yourself; is what others say about you. That includes the opinions they form and the stories they tell, as a result of your words, decisions and actions.

Management expert Tom Peters, who brought us the concept of self-branding says: “Branding is ultimately about nothing more and nothing less than heart. It’s about passion… what you care about.”

Gillard has always been a strong advocate for women’s rights but that 15 minutes was the first time we saw her address this issue with such passion. She was angry and relentless and it was personal.

Anne Summers, in her opinion piece on The Drum, put it perfectly when she stated: “Here, finally, was a powerful woman speaking out against the sexism and misogyny that so many of us have to deal with. It was something that Julia Gillard has rarely done since she became Prime Minister and certainly not in such personal and impassioned terms. That was what got the response. That was why the speech was so exhilarating – and that was why it has attracted such a huge and impassioned response, here and around the world.”

The speech resonated with many – and predominately women. I sat my 11-year-old daughter down to watch the speech. Talk-back radio and social media comments indicate I am not alone. When was the last time people did that?

Regardless of your political persuasions and regardless of whether you think Gillard’s smackdown speech was good or bad for her brand, it defined her.  In that 15 minutes, Gillard entrenched her brand and what she stands for, perhaps more powerfully than in her entire tenure as Prime Minister.  And she did this because it came from a place of personal passion and authenticity and that is why it resonated so much.

I came across a couple of branding quotes from two very different people yesterday. Elvis Presley once said “Do something worth remembering!”, and Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO, said “Customers must recognise that you stand for something”.

If social trending is any indication of impact (and it is) then Gillard has certainly done something worth remembering and we now know what she stands for.  Imagine if she did this every time. 

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Gabrielle Dolan

Gabrielle Dolan is an expert in business storytelling and the author of "Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results" and "Storytelling for Job Interviews".

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