Gillard knitting photo shoot raises eyebrows amongst senior PRs

Courtesy: The Australian Women’s Weekly/Grant Matthews

Courtesy: The Australian Women’s Weekly/Grant Matthews

Many of Australia’s most senior public relations executives have questioned the strategy behind a staged photo shoot by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, which featured her knitting a stuffed kangaroo for the royal baby.

The photographs, which have been published online today and will be in tomorrow’s Australian Women’s Weekly, have this morning caused a media stir with Sydney’s Daily Telegraph running them under the headline “Spins & Needles”.

“I’m trying to find something positive to say about it but I really can’t,” said Teri-Helen Gaynor, managing director of public relations firm Reputation.

“From a strategic point of view I can see what they are trying to do, which is appeal to a larger female population, and the Weekly is filled with cooking, hobbies and knitting and it is a big selling magazine among women.”

“And I can see why they would put something there, but this is not what should have gone in.”

Sam North, media director of Ogilvy Public Relations, said he thought the story and photo was “too smart by half.”

“It doesn’t fit with everything else we know about her and is too smart by half. They are trying to manipulate an image of her that they hope people are gullible enough to accept,” said North.

A former senior editor with The Sydney Morning Herald, North cites similar attempts by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd which hurt his credibility.

“When Rudd became Prime Minister and he used the phrase ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ four times in one day, we all said turn it up Kevin. That’s not who you are.

“We thought he was trying to be someone who he wasn’t and this is seems to be the same thing with this photo it’s too staged, it’s too much of an attempt to set up a persona,” he said.


Julia Gillard in the Australian Women’s Weekly Photo: Australian Women’s Weekly – Grant Matthews

Chairman of the Public Relations Council, Stuart Gregor said the photo shoot shows how in the modern media environment there are no longer distinct audiences.

“From a media management perspective I don’t understand what they thought they’d achieve. This whole idea that you can do this shoot for the Women’s Weekly and other things for everyone else is gone,” said Gregor, who is also the founder of PR agency Liquid Ideas.

“This is a brilliant example of how in the modern media environment these barriers (between media) no longer exist,” he said referencing how other media, such as the Daily Telegraph, had picked up and commented on the story and photo.

Today’s Daily Telegraph not only ran the image but included a caption stating that the image was not altered.

“This extraordinary image of the Prime Minister is not digitally altered, but a photo actually arranged by Ms Gillard and her chief spin doctor, John McTernan, for the Australian Women’s Weekly,” the newspaper reported.

TeleWhen contacted by Mumbrella this morning, editor-in-chief of The Australian Women’s Weekly Helen McCabe said the idea for the shoot had come from the Prime Minister’s office.

The story is really clear about this,” said McCabe, “we did contact the PM’s office in advance of the election and asked what they wanted to do.

“They rang back and said they would be delighted but what they really wanted her to do is to reveal that she is knitting a stuffed kangaroo for the royal baby. That’s how it came about.

“We did an interview with her as well, and that interview is now online, but the primary point of the story from their perspective was for her to knit the kangaroo and we have carried the pattern as well.”

Feminist and social commentator Melinda Tankard Reist this morning conceded the image appeared staged but defended the Prime Minister’s decision to appear in the photo shoot while knitting.

“The picture does look a little bit staged and a bit contrived however, I would come down on the side that says if knitting keeps her sane then why shouldn’t she be in a photo like that,” said Tankard Reist.

“It’s a nice gesture that she is not sending off some boring Royal Dalton silver, she is putting the time into knitting something which is quite personal. I don’t know that many Prime Ministers would do that.”

However, Tankard Reist also noted that similar images have been taken of other leading politicians.

“Political is all about staged photographs”, said Tankard Reist, citing similar photos of Tony Abbott. “At least this is something she actually does. If she wasn’t a knitter then I think we’d have a problem.”

This perspective has been shared by many on social media sites like Twitter and praised the Prime Minister and criticised some of the media coverage.

Elizabeth RedmanJames Nankivellamanda meade

Gabriel McDowell, managing director of Respublica public relations, said he thought the photo was unlikely to have an impact on Gillard’s popularity either way.

“I don’t think it will damage her prospects at all but unfortunately I don’t think it will shift the needle — if you pardon the pun — either,” said McDowell.

“I think it was attempt to put her in a different light. Politicians do that all the time, kissing babies, knitting it is a different look for a politician.

“Unfortunately for her, the (media) debate about whether this was a good idea is the least of her problems. Gillard’s problem is that people aren’t listening.”

Gaynor said the Prime Minister could have appeared in a side photo knitting but that the overall focus should have been on her strengths.

“Gillard has been a really strong advocate of women, on female education, a strong performer in Parliament and these are all positives,” said Gaynor.

“I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it but it could have been a side photo with the main focus around the strong women. Leadership, education, being a role model should have been the focus, that is far more important than sitting on a chair knitting.”

Former adman Russel Howcroft, a panellist on Gruen Nation and GM at Network Ten, told Mumbrella: “The strategy is revealing itself. As a result the more sophisticated thinker will not take it seriously.

“It’s targeting a niche audience. But the error is that when you are the PM, there is such a thing as niche media.”

Nic Christensen 


  1. Encyclic!
    25 Jun 13
    11:52 am

  2. Honi Soit had a satire piece “Gillard Cures Cancer in Spare Time, Approval Rating Plummets”.

    “When questioned at a press conference as to whether she saw any meaning in this slump, Ms Gillard responded: “Fuck them. Fuck the lot of them. They deserve Abbott, those fucking hyper-critical sheep. I mean seriously, he hasn’t even got a platform to run on; all he’s done is criticise every single fucking move we make and then failed to meet us halfway when we try to actually govern the country for you fuckwits. I give up. Enjoy your dial-up internet and corporate overlords. I’m moving to New Zealand.” Gillard’s press team later issued a correction to this statement, clarifying Ms Gillard had actually mean to say, “No”.

    – See more at:

  3. Bert
    25 Jun 13
    12:11 pm

  4. I’d always wondered if Gillard had a hubbie and three kids if she’d have been more popular with the electorate??? There’s no doubting she’s a fine politician, it’s just that connection to the electorate – the kissing babies, the meet and greets – she just comes across utterly barren and hapless; totally out of her depth. This may sound strange, as a male Coalition-leaning voter I actually really like her (although I appreciate that puts me in a tiny minority.)

  5. Nought +then some
    25 Jun 13
    12:45 pm

  6. The reason we get no policy is because of spin agents. And here they are whingeing about the spin of others. Shoot them, I say. And anyone who employs one.

  7. Terence
    25 Jun 13
    12:55 pm

  8. I don’t care if the PM knits a kangaroo for the royals. It’s great she knits for some relaxation – awesome.

    If the photo had shown her in a Bulldog Tracksuit, on the couch at The Lodge, with the dog, a glass of wine and Game of Throne on the TV, it would not be treated with as much contempt as this one that makes her look like Whistler’s Mother.

  9. Gerry
    25 Jun 13
    12:57 pm

  10. I think Gillard’s fundamentally a good person; but this shoot illustrates where she has come unstuck since 2010 – listening to really really bad advice.

  11. Black Tooth Grin
    25 Jun 13
    12:58 pm

  12. She’ll have plenty of time for knitting in October…

  13. Technical Troglodyte
    25 Jun 13
    12:58 pm

  14. Oh dear. Poking yourself in the eye with … sorry, couldn’t resist.
    It’s a sad study into how to dismantle one’s reputation with each ill-thought-out “strategic” move. I’m a fan, I really, really am and this is heartbreaking. If I were advising I would say, get over the “real Julia” bs please. In fact sack the damned spin doctors.
    And this from a PR

  15. Rebecca
    25 Jun 13
    1:00 pm

  16. What’s wrong with knitting? Is there anything wrong with knitting? And is there anything wrong with women bringing something unique to politics? Why do we need her to me a man in a suit playing golf? Which leads me to my last rhetorical question – if she was a man playing golf in a magazine photo shoot, would anyone care? And there’s the problem.

  17. Andrew L. Urban
    25 Jun 13
    1:01 pm

  18. Maybe if it had been a real photo at home … without the wind machine?

  19. Robbo
    25 Jun 13
    1:01 pm

  20. Surely McTernan is a double agent working for the Libs?

    And Bert, yes, she a ‘fine politician’, she’s just crap at everything else, like policies (unfortunately for Australia), and shyt like this.

  21. Ex Suit
    25 Jun 13
    1:02 pm

  22. This is a styled publicity photo……people …..

    Can everyone grow up and get over it!

    Seriously, the woman is implementing important and groundbreaking policies (disabiltiy scheme) and all the media can cover on Gillard is this!

  23. Wendy
    25 Jun 13
    1:03 pm

  24. Her dog is actually smiling for the photograph. Definitely the best part of this whole thing.

  25. milo kerrigan
    25 Jun 13
    1:09 pm

  26. Idiot person that demeans the PM Position…she will probably knit it with 5 legs….if one of her Taxpayer funded minions doesn’t finish it off.

  27. PR Pro
    25 Jun 13
    1:15 pm

  28. Julia is pretty handy with the needles. Wonder if she could knit up a chaff bag for Alan Jones

  29. J
    25 Jun 13
    1:22 pm

  30. She’ll have plenty of time for knitting post Sep 14.

  31. Richard Moss
    25 Jun 13
    1:27 pm

  32. So long as she fashions it with good Australian Wool and she actually sends it to the royal baby when it’s finished then what could all the fuss be about?

    Is it too mummsy? too non-feminist ? too daggy? what?
    Leave her alone and let her be human, let her show a human face and a human spirit.

    If you want to criticise anyone, have a shot at the lousy art direction; just study that chair and the dog and the wool spread about the floor, a la 1960s US glossy home craft magazines.

  33. TG
    25 Jun 13
    1:29 pm

  34. She looks hot. I like it. I think it’s fun and fresh. Nice to see the homely side of the PM.

    All the other politicians get to show off their hobbies but for some reason, no matter what comes from Gillard the fact that she has a c__t makes everything appear contrived. So what’s this really about people?

  35. Groucho
    25 Jun 13
    1:37 pm

  36. @milo kerrigan perhaps she could knit you a brain.

  37. Kate Dorrell
    25 Jun 13
    1:38 pm

  38. I think it was a good idea by her PR team. It’s a profile piece in a women’s magazine. Gillard likes to knit. it humanises her. She is a real person with hobbies and a pet.

    Profile pieces eek to provide a fuller character profile than what we see in the news, and I think the image achieves this.

    Why isn’t there a fuss made when Abbott is photographed in lycra?

  39. I wish I could knit a kangaroo
    25 Jun 13
    1:46 pm

  40. I agree with @Rebecca. She knits. So what. Good for her.

    Would there be such a fuss a stylised photo of Abbott kitted for a bike ride or a swim?

    I doubt it.

    The Telegraph and The Aus are campaigning so hard against her personally, it’s as though they were under orders to take her apart or something.

    Surely not.

  41. mondayitis
    25 Jun 13
    1:49 pm

  42. It’s interesting that Russel Howcroft referred to the Australian Women’s Weekly as niche. I’m pretty sure it still has over a million readers – how many Channel Ten programmes can boast a million viewers

  43. Dennis
    25 Jun 13
    1:51 pm

  44. What a load of non-credible crap. Does anyone really believe that a PM, even one as bad as Julia, has time to sit down and do her knitting? My opinion is that it is a desperate attempt to try and strike some rapport with Julia and the knitting communty. Maybe you should be asking a group like the ladies at Wraps with Love, if they believe that Julia is a cosy fireside knitter? I don’t think so.

  45. JB
    25 Jun 13
    1:53 pm

  46. @ Kate Dorrell…. Agreed. Also I’ve always wondered about the Abbott/Speedos thing. He’s often derided and caricatured for it but I think a lot of Australians actually respect a guy who basically volunteers to save peoples’ lives. Far from downplaying it, it should be played up, I reckon. Other than the Digger’s slouch hat and cricket’s Baggy green, a lifesavers cap is probably the most respected bit of headwear in the country. I don’t know about women, but I think a lot of Aussie men would think highly of Abbott for doing it (more so than the triathlete/cyclist thing they often market him as.) Plus he’s a bloody fit bugger for a 56 year old.

  47. Paul
    25 Jun 13
    1:55 pm

  48. I’d rather see Julia knitting than Tony in a speedo any day.

  49. Michael
    25 Jun 13
    1:57 pm

  50. Sad to say this but Julia could ‘shit bricks of gold’ and would be criticised for it.
    Why can’t she knit, what is wrong with that? Why not let her try something different?
    She really deserves some credit!

  51. Robbo
    25 Jun 13
    1:57 pm

  52. Ex Suit, you idiot – she initiated this.

    In future, please read things more carefully before you comment.

    Kate Dorrell – why no fuss over Abbott? Because he doesn’t ring magazines and ask for them to come out and photograph him and 5 of his staff.

    It was the PM’s idea. Get that in your skull.

  53. journofromafar
    25 Jun 13
    1:57 pm

  54. I feel sorry for her. It seems it doesn’t matter what she does at the moment, people want to stick the knife in. I wonder if history will treat her more kindly. She isn’t as terrible a PM as many make out – especially if you compare her to Abbott, who is hardly an inspiring pollie.

  55. Carol Brett
    25 Jun 13
    2:06 pm

  56. I like it. So what if it was staged? Isn’t that what you expect from a photo shoot? She looks fantastic and if she pulls out her knitting to cope with the knit wits in politics that’s far better than what many others do for stress relief: smoking, drinking, prostitutes… And I reckon the royal baby will love the kangaroo.

  57. Teresia Fors
    25 Jun 13
    2:26 pm

  58. Brilliant. Only a stateswoman with enough courage and inner strength would dare to pull something like this off. Throws the stereotyping political sensationalists off their thought pattern. I dont agree with her policies all the time but have a deep respect for her. Such a daring move this is to play on her femininity in a composed and dignified way fitting a woman about to enter the world stage of politics. Unfortunately I think we’ll have to suffer Abbott after September but all the best to Prime Minister Gillard. Her real contribution is about to begin. She’ll be snapped up in no time by any of the UN sgencies, IMF or the like and will make us all proud with her effective governance. Pity we’ve treated her so bad, I hope she still likes us enough to call Australia home.

  59. David
    25 Jun 13
    2:49 pm

  60. @ Richard Moss….yes, you are spot on Richard….Utterly unprofessional styling, zero Art Direction and if what we hear is true, it all emanated from her own office!
    My God, if that was done by Industry Professionals and took 7 hours as quoted on Radio this morning…I would have fired the lot in the first half hour and contacted the MEA! There was no wind machine…just an overdose of hair glue by the looks of it!
    ….really sad that that was the Prime Minister of Australia as the talent……

  61. Jane
    25 Jun 13
    2:55 pm

  62. Has anyone noticed that the wool she is knitting is not even the same colour as the cute kangaroo in the photo with the dog?

  63. Linda
    25 Jun 13
    3:06 pm

  64. Err, Kate, notice that Abbott hasn’t been photographed in lycra for a while? That said, this may be a good compromise for both of them:

  65. Steve
    25 Jun 13
    3:30 pm

  66. It’s a montly magazine. The photo’s likely to have been taken before the current leadership speculation started. Had there been no leadership speculation, the article would have gone largely unnoticed and been well received by the WW readership. Though saying that, it’s the kind of photo you’d expect of the first lady, not the PM. What will the leaders of other countries think when they see this? A strong leader of one of the world’s leading nations? I don’t think so.

  67. Joe
    25 Jun 13
    3:38 pm

  68. My immediate reaction on seeing this photo was to see the parallel between
    Madame Gillard knitting while Australia is being destroyed AND Madame Defarge in Dickens story ” A Tale of Two Cities ” knitting while the guillitine is in use as France is being destroyed. In both cases, “Socialist type” women.

  69. Angie T
    25 Jun 13
    3:44 pm

  70. I just saw this on NZ’s Stop Press eNews. Maybe Mumbrella and all of us should consider …

    This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:
    1.Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
    2.Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
    3.Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
    4.Don’t pretend to be someone else.

  71. Lucio
    25 Jun 13
    3:52 pm

  72. Idiotic. At a time when the business community and economy at large is about to experience a full-on recession, this is the message she chooses to send out to international investors???? Fuck me, get someone, anyone at the helm of the government who can actually spruik what this country has to offer.

  73. BenC
    25 Jun 13
    4:06 pm

  74. The fuss about the PM doing this stuff is that it lacks any authenticity whatsoever and everyone knows it. Abbott might look terrible in the ‘smugglers’ or in cycling gear but it’s not an affectation – he might be uncool but authentically so.

    Julia Gillard’s problem is that she is a brilliantly competent Minister and political technician who got a job, which the electorate prefers be held by someone who is more than a competent technocrat, before she could develop a broader public identity in any strategic way. From the beginning her image looked confected and every time she has backed away from a policy this perception has been reinforced .
    But electoral/political communications is very different to consumer and corporate comms and, with respect to the senior pr people assembled for comment, I think they misunderstand some of the strategic thinking behind this kind of pr which Labor aligned pr firms like Hawker Britton and Essential Media also often pursue.

    The Women’s Weekly stuff is defence not offence. It’s about reinforcing, to the ultimate extent you can, the support you already have. It’s not about winning new voters. It’s a ruthless strategy because you don’t care which audiences you annoy and you can easily come to care less about the ethics of what you say as long as the audience segments your polling has identified in your key marginal seats stay with you. Stay tuned for it to get worse.

  75. Super
    25 Jun 13
    4:32 pm

  76. Seriously, I feel sorry for this lady, she just can’t win. She gets bagged no matter what. She’s too stern, she’s got big earlobes, she’s ‘barren'(??), her partner’s gay, she’s got a fat arse, there’s no fruit in her fruit bowl in her kitchen, etc. etc. etc. It wouldn’t have mattered how or where she was photographed, some media outlet would be bagging it. We’ve shown so much disrepect for this woman, that kids think it’s ok to throw sandwhiches at a Prime Minister. I never realised how sexist and just plain uncouth and horrible this country and its media could be until we had a female Prime Minister. We are embarrassing ourselves globally.

  77. Mike
    25 Jun 13
    6:33 pm

  78. Does no-one remember Senator Cheryl Kernot? Photographed by the Womens Weekly in a red dress and matching feather boa? It was a photographic assassination, and her career ended shortly after. Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. In Gillard’s case, a simple “condemned” is probably closer to the mark!

  79. fraser thomson
    25 Jun 13
    6:53 pm

  80. I think this would even make Malcom Tucker lost for words

  81. Dee
    25 Jun 13
    7:50 pm

  82. Knitting? A toy kangaroo? For the new royal baby?
    Could it be any more lame?
    The timing so the hell did they talk her into this travesty?
    PS: I’m not saying strong, interesting intelligent women shouldn’t knit. I’m not even saying the Prime Minister shouldn’t knit. Knit..knit to your heart’s content. But NOT BEFORE A BLOODY ELECTION WHEN WE’RE ALL DEBATING GENDER POLITICS AND HOW WOMEN ARE PORTRAYED IN THE MEDIA.
    Unless..maybe Julia is really, really brave and wants to shake things up? Take that, divided Australia – I’m the Prime Minister and I knit!
    PPS: Does this mean we’re going to see Abbott at the barbecue? I bet this guy plays war games for relaxation.

  83. Oscar
    25 Jun 13
    8:36 pm

  84. I think most PRs should be tarred and feathered and run out of town but that’s just me.

  85. MaryMagdalene
    25 Jun 13
    8:50 pm

  86. This is crazy. Hasn’t she already got all the women she’s ever going to get after her misogyny speech? I guess she’s trying to shore up the Country Women’s Association vote, but they’d all be rusted on LNP. Someone who knows about these things said she has a tin ear for politics. He’s right.

  87. Mike
    25 Jun 13
    8:55 pm

  88. Well said Super. Although I’m not going to vote for her (or Abbott), I agree that she’s copped more than her fair share of disparaging, personal remarks from media commentators (many faceless).

    I think Australian women are the real losers here. If it’s acceptable behaviour to speak about the PM in such a lowly way, then it’s acceptable to speak about all women like this? What message are we sending to our kids?

    A cheesy photo shoot. So what.

  89. Mike
    25 Jun 13
    8:57 pm

  90. And brilliant marketing for the Women’s Weekly! Good on them.

  91. Super
    25 Jun 13
    9:56 pm

  92. @Dee Would love to hear your thoughts about what the Prime Minister should do??

  93. Dee
    26 Jun 13
    7:49 am

  94. @Super…well – according to the polls – it doesn’t really matter what she does anymore, does it? I admire her tremendously. I would like to BE her…although I’d probably need a lot more sleep than she gets.
    But, if I WERE her, I’d be staying away from stereotyping profiles. She doesn’t have to prove her femininity to anyone’s innate, she’s female. It’s a shame, a real shame, that is enough to scare the hell out of so many voters.

  95. Jim
    26 Jun 13
    10:27 am

  96. Good to see a nice photo of Julia in the murdoch press for once. Usually they only publish photos of her looking like Voldemort.

  97. Carmen
    26 Jun 13
    10:48 am

  98. Knitting is a creative art practised by both sexes either professionally in the fashion industry or privately. Julia is showing us that she too is skilled at knitting ! It can be meditative as well as relaxing and would no doubt assist the thought process. Do not be ashamed of your knitting skills people – ignore the critics !

  99. Rebecca
    26 Jun 13
    11:00 am

  100. Go @carmen. I wrote my response in a very excited mood about a new skein of hand dyed wool. I didn’t realise the craft was so politicised.

  101. Mark Schroeder
    26 Jun 13
    12:20 pm

  102. Just so I’m clear on this: we are going to be voting for somebody to run the country, is that right?

    Sorry, I just got a bit confused.

  103. Jaqui Lane
    26 Jun 13
    2:46 pm

  104. Not a smart image on so many levels. Young women won’t relate to ‘an oldie knitting’, knitters will be offended at the backlash, those interested in politics are simply bemused, Juila will be inundated with requests from charities that provide toys to children in detention and ‘we the voters’ just want her to govern the country as it slides into a low productivity, recession period. But, all this may be academic by tomorrow lunch time.

  105. journofromafar
    26 Jun 13
    3:15 pm

  106. Jim, the AWWeekly magazine is not Murdoch, it’s Bauer Media formerly ACP magazines. Bauer Media is a German company who bought the ex-Packer stable after it was taken over by an equity conglomerate who wanted to get rid of it before the Nine Network’s debt escalated even further.

  107. Lucio
    26 Jun 13
    8:00 pm

  108. GONE!