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Alastair Campbell        

Consultant; Strategist; Communicator; Campaigner; Best-Selling Author; Former Director of Strategy & Communications to Tony Blair

Alastair Campbell is a writer, communicator and strategist best known for his role as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy. Still active in politics in Britain and overseas, he now splits his time between writing, speaking, charitable fundraising, consultancy and campaigns.

He has written eleven books in the past eight years, including six volumes of diaries, three novels and a personal memoir on depression and the pursuit of happiness. His latest book, Winners, is about winners in sport, business and politics and what lessons mere mortals can learn from them. It is due to be published in 2015.

A former “Mind Champion of the Year,” he is an ambassador for the Time to Change campaign to raise awareness about mental illness, and chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. He continues to advise the Labour Party, and other left-of-center parties, most recently acting as strategic director for the Albanian Socialist Party, who won a landslide victory in June 2013. He is a Humanitas Visiting Professor on media at Cambridge University, and was also recently honored by University College Dublin for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. He is on the advisory board of Portland PR, and independently acts as an advisor to governments, businesses, charities, sports organizations and high-profile individuals.

He was born in Yorkshire in 1957, the son of a vet. His family moved to Leicester in 1968, and he attended school there until going to Cambridge University in 1975. He graduated four years later with a degree in modern languages. His university education included a year in France when he had his first “journalism” published, articles on sex in Forum magazine. He also busked around the world with his bagpipes. Finally, he decided to become a journalist and trained with the Mirror Group on local papers in the West Country before joining the Mirror itself in 1982.

He left in the mid-80s to work for Eddy Shah’s Today newspaper as news editor, but had a nervous breakdown and left to return to the Mirror after convalescence. He rose to become political editor and the paper’s chief political columnist. He then worked briefly for Today under new ownership in 1994 before being asked by Tony Blair to be his press secretary when Blair became leader of the Labour Party. He did this for three years. Blair, in his own autobiography, credited Campbell with coining the phrase ‘New Labour’ as the label for the party’s strategy, and described him as a ‘genius’ for the role he played in helping to create New Labour, return the party to power, and win three general elections. After the 1997 election, he became the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary and official spokesman, which entailed the coordination of government communications and twice daily briefings of the press. He was seconded to NATO in 1999 to oversee communications during the Kosovo conflict. After helping Blair win a second landslide election victory, he became director of communications and strategy. He did this until he resigned in September 2003, saying it had been an enormous privilege but he wanted more of a life with his partner Fiona and their three children.

Campbell’s main hobbies are running, cycling, bagpipes and following Burnley FC. He took up running in 2003 at the instigation of his sons and has since run the London Marathon, the Great North Run and the Great Ethiopian Run, and completed several full triathlons, all for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, (Campbell lost his best friend to leukaemia). He returned to the Labour Party for six months prior to the 2005 general election and continued to advise the party informally under Gordon Brown, including during the 2010 campaign, in which he “played” David Cameron in rehearsals for the historic first TV debates between leaders. He is one of the party’s most in-demand speakers at fundraising and motivational events. Together with former sports minister Richard Caborn, he pulled together two of the most successful fundraising dinners in Labour’s history, both on the theme of sport at Wembley Stadium.

Passionate about sport, he was written about different sports for The Times, The Irish Times and Esquire magazine. He was communications adviser to the British and Irish Lions rugby tour of New Zealand in 2005. He has raised funds for Burnley FC, a team he has supported since the age of four. His charity projects have involved playing football with both Diego Maradona and Pele, and appearing in a one-off version of the popular TV program, The Apprentice.

In July 2007, he published his first book on his time with Tony Blair, The Blair Years, extracts from his diaries from 1994 to 2003, which was an instant Sunday Times #1 best seller. He has since published four volumes of the full diaries, and a special edition of the diaries focused on the Northern Ireland peace process, The Irish Diaries. He has continued to keep a diary and is expected to publish his post Downing Street diaries in the future. Campbell’s first novel, All In the Mind, appeared in November 2008, to enthusiastic reviews for its frank examination of mental illness. His second novel, Maya, a gripping analysis of fame and the obsession it attracts, was published in February 2010. His third novel, published in September 2013, is called My Name Is… and tells the story of a young girl’s descent into alcoholism. He has since become an ambassador for Alcohol Concern.

In October 2008, Campbell broadcast an award-winning one-hour documentary on BBC2 about his own breakdown in 1986. Both the films, Cracking Up and All In the Mind, won considerable praise from mental health charities and campaign groups for helping to break down the taboo surrounding mental health. He received the Mind Champion of the Year award in May 2009 in recognition of his work to break down the stigma around mental illness, and continues to campaign on the issue both in Britain and overseas. He has also made a BBC documentary about alcoholism.

In his time in Downing Street, he was involved in all the major policy issues and international crises. Campbell has said that in ten years in the media, and a decade in politics, he saw his respect for the media fall and his respect for politics rise. He was called to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards twice, first for his insights into modern journalism, and second to give his views on the changed relationship between politics and media. He is a sought-after speaker at events around the world, specializing in strategic communications, leadership, team building and crisis management.

Speech Topics


Winning

Alastair Campbell is a proven winner, obsessed with others who win. His latest book is called simply Winners, and looks at winners in sport, business and politics—in that order—to see what makes them stand out from others, and crucially, what all of us can learn from those who win. He sets out all the things needed of a winner—strategy, leadership, teamship, boldness, innovation, the ability to handle setback and failure. In looking at the best of the best—from Clinton to Merkel, from Brady to Beckham, from Lincoln to Churchill, from Anna Wintour to Arianna Huffington, from Branson to Buffett—he explains how mere mortals can learn something from all of them.

Strategy

Alastair Campbell is commonly referred to as the architect of the New Labour New Britain strategy that led to Tony Blair’s three general election victories. But what is strategy? How is it shaped? How can it be executed in a faster, more complicated and more aggressive media landscape? Campbell draws on his experience of winning with Blair, and the work he does now in business and sport, to answer those questions. He brings his forensic skills to strategies that work and strategies that don’t, and leaves audiences with simple messages that can benefit any individual or organization seeking to be more strategic in an ever-more-tactical world.

Campaigns

Though his background is in politics, Alastair Campbell has brought his campaigning skills to bear in a number of fields. After losing his best friend to leukaemia, he has fronted charity efforts to raise funds and research into cures and better treatments. He has won awards and plaudits home and abroad for his work on mental illness. He has taken his campaign skills to different issues. British radio presenter Nick Ferrari said: “When Alastair Campbell picks a fight, the chances are he is going to win that fight.” But how do you campaign? What are the essential elements needed to separate a great campaign from a good one? From experience and analysis, he has those answers, and they can help any cause, charity, business, party or government trying to make change for the better.

Strategic Communications

Alastair Campbell made his name as a tough, no-nonsense media operator that earned him the title “the world’s best spin doctor,” and a job offer from Bill Clinton. But spin, he says, is doomed to fail unless underpinned by real principles of strategic communications. As the media world becomes more atomized, as old certainties die, how does a modern brand—human or organizational—communicate a message? How has technology changed the way that leaders communicate, and the led listen? And given how much change there has been in the last decade, how much more is to come, and what are the threats and opportunities presented? Campbell has ridden the waves of these changes by adhering to certain principles of strategic communications, which can be applied by any organization or individual who understands that in a world where the pressures are to be more tactical, strategy and strategic communications are the answer.

Sport As A Metaphor For Life

Alastair Campbell is a sports nut. His latest book was inspired by his insight that too many politicians pay lip service to sport when in fact they can learn from it. A man who counts Manchester United’s former manager Sir Alex Ferguson as a close friend, who has played football with both Pele and Diego Maradona, been out on the bike with Lance Armstrong and met and worked with sports leaders around the world, Campbell hoovers knowledge of sport and tries to apply it to the other worlds in which he moves. What can a political campaign learn from the way Jose Mourinho leads Chelsea FC? What links Billy Beane to Formula One to global business brands? What lessons in life can we take from a Joe Torre or a Tiger Woods, and what lessons could they take from the way other winners operate? Campbell is a marathon runner, triathlete and soccer fan whom rarely misses a game played by his lifelong team, Burnley FC. Partly that is because sport is his passion. It’s also because sport is where he finds lessons in winning, and lessons in life.

Crisis Management

When the conflict in Kosovo was going wrong, Bill Clinton had a message for Tony Blair: “Send Alastair to NATO.” Clinton got to know Blair’s right-hand man in the early days of the New Labour government, when the President was engulfed in scandal, and found great support and strategy coming from Blair and Campbell. As the Milosevic regime started to win the propaganda war, Clinton and Blair realized that until communications were fixed, the military strategy would continue to struggle. So Campbell was seconded to NATO to oversee a complete overhaul of the entire Alliance’s communications. Campbell says the first rule of crisis management is that it is probably not a crisis. He believes that in a decade with Blair, there were only five—Kosovo, Iraq, 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, and two domestic crises, massive fuel price protests and an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. Drawing on lessons from what went right and what went wrong, and analyzing examples of good and bad crisis management in the private sector, he lays out simple lessons to help anyone who is hit by a genuine crisis.

Mental Illness

Alastair Campbell knows all about mental illness. At 29, the youngest national news editor in Britain, he had a drink- and pressure-induced nervous breakdown, was arrested and hospitalized and diagnosed with depression and addiction issues. He rebuilt himself and his career and went on to take on one of the toughest jobs going—running the media operation for Tony Blair in Britain’s highly aggressive media and political environment. He is now a global campaigner on mental illness, fighting to break down stigma and taboo and also to urge business to better understand mental health and mental illness, and to see the advantages of doing so. Campbell’s latest book, Winners, has a chapter on ‘the extreme mind,’ setting out the great figures of history, from Lincoln to Churchill, Florence Nightingale to Charles Darwin—and great winners of today—who have had what doctors define as mental illness. He argues not just for better understanding but better appreciation of what people living on the edge have to offer.

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