In September 2014 University news at Auckland published ‘my story’ outlining my background and nature of my work. A picture of the newsletter page is below followed by a word version of the content. It explains really well what I am all about – nuturing leadership.

JLM My story Sept 2014

My story: Jennifer Lees-Marshment

Associate Professor of Political Studies Jennifer Lees-Marshment is academic adviser to New Zealand’s Vote Compass – the online election tool,  hosted by TVNZ,  which enables voters to find out how their views on a range of issues compare to the positions of parties in the build up to New Zealand’s 20 September General Election. Jennifer has a BA (Hons) in History and American Studies from Keele University in the UK, an MA (with Distinction) in Politics from Manchester and a PhD in Politics from Keele.   She was a senior lecturer at Keele and Aberdeen universities before joining Auckland’s staff as a senior lecturer in 2005.  She became an associate professor in 2012. Jennifer is an international leader in political marketing which explores how politicians and government use tools like branding and market research to win and retain power.  Last year she pioneered the development of a new Stage Three course at Auckland “The Practice of Politics, (the only of its kind in New Zealand), which teaches students about the diversity of career options in politics and the challenges they may face.

What did you love doing when you were a child?

I read a lot of books. My favourite author was Enid Blighton.  I also wrote plays and stories when I finished the set work in class. I was born in Birmingham in the Midlands and then moved to Staffordshire when I was about 10.

Tell us about your first job?

The first job I had was picking strawberries.  From the 30 pounds I earned,  I brought a special disc for my typewriter so I could type italics.

Did you have a favourite teacher?

At Sir Graham Balfour High school in Staffordshire, my history teacher Mr Stephen Day generated my love of political history. He brought it alive by comparing 18/19th century events to those happening in the 20th.

At University my PhD supervisor, Dr Matthew Wyman was very supportive of my new ideas on political marketing and we’ve kept in touch, authoring a chapter on teaching professional politics. I got the idea for doing a Practice of Politics course from the one he created in the UK.

How and when did you decide what your career would be?

My mother did a degree in psychology at Aston University in  Birmingham when I was five and I vividly remember going into university lectures with her in school holidays – daycare was not so available then.  I distinctly remember this professor putting up on an overhead projector a simple picture of a house with windows and doors and I thought: “I could draw that.  I could be a professor.” He was probably talking about environmental psychology and was doing a very complex analysis but to my child’s eye it seemed easy!

I also grew up in the time of Margaret Thatcher. It was absolutely brilliant having a woman prime minister; you had the sense that you could do anything.

I didn’t plan on doing politics at university though – I’d wanted to be a barrister but didn’t get the grades at age 18 to do law, so instead I did a foundation year which turned out to be the best thing as I realised I really wanted to do politics and history.

I found political marketing during my masters at Manchester when discussing how Tony Blair was changing the British Labour Party and life-long Labour voters like my Dad were very unhappy.  My lecturer said “what about looking at political marketing”?  And off I went…

What is the purpose of your present position

Research wise I explore what goes on behind the scenes by looking at political marketing and public input into government.   I then teach this to my students so they know what’s going on and so they are prepared for the workforce. I see my job as an academic as to conduct high-quality research but to make it useful to the community through applied politics teaching and reporting recommendations for best practice.

What do you love most about your job

Challenging conventional wisdom through research into real world practice.  One of the key contributions I made early in my career was to argue that political marketing wasn’t just advertising. For my latest research on political leadership I interviewed 50 government ministers and found that they recognise they have limited power and knowledge and need input from the public to create workable policies.

I also love the fact I get to travel and meet loads of people around the world. Vote Compass came out of a book I co-edited with Canadian colleagues on Political Marketing In Canada. I was once flown to Malaysia and met the Prime Minister there; and I‘ve done interviews in the White House, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

Do you believe what you do changes people’s lives

I know I’ve made a big difference in my field.  When I started researching political marketing it was ridiculed and seen as just spin-doctoring and adverts. Now it’s viewed as much more ubiquitous: it affects government decision-making and policy and is discussed in the media and in movies. I’ve made that happen not just through my own books (I’ve published 12!) but through supporting and connecting other scholars and linking academia with practice.

What do you do when you’re not working

Gardening and my two young children.  It’s the same kind of thing as my career really: nurturing potential and seeing it grow.