Paying tribute to Mark Hanson

March 3, 2011 7:26 pm

Mark Hanson Profile

Update: If you want to make a donation in Mark’s name you can do so here to MIND and Mayhew Animal Home.

After the sad passing of Mark Hanson yesterday, his friends from across both the Labour Party and online worlds have come together to remember him. Below are only a small proportion of the tributes that are being paid to Mark today, but we hope they provide a picture of a man who was both loved and respected by those who knew him.

The thoughts of everyone at LabourList are with Mark’s family at this time.

Alex Hilton
Mark was a kind and caring person, instantly likeable. He was the sort of person who inspires confidence, enthusiasm and respect. He wasn’t the type to brag about his professional prowess but was often nevertheless the first person to go to when you needed advice – and when I needed him, he was there. This is what I thought of him, a truly nice person, dedicated to the causes in which he believed and admired for his outstanding professional skills. I wish so much his family could have been spared this tragedy.

Jag Singh
The Labour Party lost a true friend, supporter, advocate, and advisor yesterday.

Mark Hanson, died the afternoon of March 2nd, 2011. Mark had been depressed for a very long time and bravely battling against the illness.

I met Mark over six years ago through the comments section on the biggest American political blog, the Daily Kos. Over the years that I’d gotten to know him, he became more than a friend – he was almost a brother. Mark was always a true gentleman, a doting husband and caring son, a dear friend, a fantastic public relations practitioner, and (he would consider most important, as a true-Merseyside boy) an Everton FC fan.

His contribution to Labour’s web strategy was nothing short of spectacular, to the extent that we’re able to call it Labour’s “web presence” today.

Several years ago, Alex Hilton and I reeled Mark in to help out with Labourhome’s media relations. The British political blogosphere was in its infancy, but Mark had a plan, as he always did. And the plan wasn’t just for Labourhome – it was for the Labour Party, and the movement as a whole. As I type this, I can’t help but think his plan worked.

Whilst Alex and I would (inevitably) get excited over minutiae, it was Mark’s calming presence and instincts, honed from years of experience as a journalist and then a PR whiz, which would always set us straight. Mark loved working behind the scenes, but always remembered his roots. He once told me ages ago that he would have loved to be the mayor of Liverpool a decade or two from now, and we often joked about it.

Mark was instrumental in helping our party not just overcome the Conservatives incredible spending advantage in the run-up to the election, but also in helping the party recover afterwards and in the run-up to the leadership election. Mark’s legacy will be that he helped us discover our online soul, and then helped strengthen it.

You were supposed to be the best man at my wedding, Mark, when I finally grew up and settled down. I wish you hadn’t left us so soon, but I trust you have found your peace.

Love,
JS

We all grieve in our own ways, but please feel free to leave a fitting social media tribute for our friend, Mark Hanson. We’re using the hashtag #markhanson or just tweeting our thoughts with his name, his twitter username was @markhanson, and his facebook profile is available here.

Mark was the Deputy MD at Wolfstar PR, and their statement is available here.

Sue Macmillan
The Labour blogosphere owes much to Mark Hanson. He used his extraordinary talent and skills to encourage and advise a wide group of bloggers, young and old alike, on how they could do their bit for the Labour Party.

What people might be less aware of – is how he helped those of us on the “inside” as well. Inside Labour HQ we were overhauling the way we did digital. It wasn’t that we thought we had all the answers, but we weren’t thinking to ask outside the building for them. Until Mark came along.

A communications professional with a deep passion for the Labour Party he understood that there was much he could contribute above and beyond the usual knocking on doors and delivering leaflets. His background was in traditional communications – but he understood from an early stage the opportunities that digital brought and how to use it effectively.

Through quiet persuasion and an unnerving degree of persistence, Mark got us to see what we should have always known – that there were a large group of people out there who would rather help than criticise us and who, like him, wanted to contribute more than simply trudging the streets. Thanks to him, bloggers and new media professionals were brought into HQ, to beta test new products, chip in their ideas and generally be kept in the loop about what was going on. Overnight the conversation changed from “why isn’t HQ doing xyz” to “how can we do xyz” together. Mark crucially knew how far to push it. When I’d tell him what we were working on his constant refrain was “Can I give that to a blogger? Can we publish that?” – when I said yes he’d contact the right people and when I had to say no he’d make an argument but then know exactly when to stop. He also had a deep passion for making sure the Labour Party got the credit it deserved for the innovations it was making in this space – at a time when it wasn’t sexy to be writing about what Labour was doing online – and he gave a great deal of his time and energy to doing what he could to make this happen.

Unlike some in his profession he had a low tolerance for bullshit. Over a beer, I remember trying out a phrase that I’d come up with on him – something about “exploring the undiscovered frontiers of new media”. He quite literally laughed in my face. I’ve never used the phrase since. Mark understood that the people who do most dis-service to digital comms are those who try to dress it up as something that is different and hard to grasp.

Mark was a great guy to have around. Funny, personable and always interested in what you had to say, it wasn’t hard to see why he was loved by so many. He will be sorely missed.

We are only at the beginning of understanding effective online political communications and I know that this is something Mark was still working with the Party on until the end. It’s important to avoid self-indulgence at a time like this – Labour’s loss pales in comparison to the loss his family and friends will be feeling – but my sincere hope is that he knew how grateful we were.

David Prescott
Many of you may not have heard of Mark Hanson. He never sought fame or fortune or put himself up as a ‘social media guru.’

He just quietly got on with the job of making a massive difference to the party he loved.

In the mid noughties, Labour was YEARS behind the Tories in new media and we all knew it. The party didn’t seem to understand online campaigning that wasn’t controlled from the centre. And we were in government. It was too much of a risk!

So along with Jag Singh and Alex Hilton, Mark helped set up Labourhome. For me, it was the first online community where like minded lefties could talk about policy, politicians and well, gossip!

Mark’s Labourhome was like going down a really good CLP meeting without the drafts and the smell of musty copies of The Rose lying undelivered in the corner. Slightly chaotic at times, but genuine.

He even inspired John Prescott to use Facebook, get a Blackberry and start tweeting. He helped him and Labour find their online voice. Cabinet ministers who found it hard enough to handle mobile phones, let alone smartphones, were guided by Mark to take their tentative steps in cyberspace.

So after emails brought down the more well-known McBride and Draper, it was Mark who was there to quietly help pick up the pieces and get the party back on track with online campaigning.

As an unpaid New Media advisor he gave great counsel to No10 and the Labour Party but never boasted about it.

He was passionate about enabling members to start conversations online and meet up offline. When we held the first Labour tweet-up in Brighton back in 2009, there was Mark beaming away that @bevaniteellie and @msgracefh were meeting up and exchanging campaign tips.

The measure of respect we all had for Mark was born out by Twitter – he’s been a top trend all day. Just between Blade Runner and Neil Lennon. He’d have loved that.

Labour owes an awful lot to Mark Hanson. That most of the shadow cabinet can tweet and blog is down to Mark’s encouragement and foresight.

I hope in the fullness of time a room in Victoria St will bear his name.

Of course, he wouldn’t have asked for it. But we should.

Mark Hanson. A top trend and a top man.

Alex Smith
The messages of sadness and shock that have flooded in from all across the normal political divides this morning show the deep measure of affection and respect people had for Mark. He was a caring and honest friend to so many, and his is an awful loss.

Few people know quite the level of Mark’s massive contribution to the Labour Party and to online political campaigning generally in this country. He was a pioneer, one of the first to really grasp the potential of social networks and to champion their use in the mainstream.

With friends, he established and grew LabourHome as the first forum for grassroots debate within Labour. He was instrumental in setting up and supporting LabourList in good times and bad – always kind, patient and brilliant, always restless with ideas and buzzing with energy. And his work with the party during the general election last year truly helped define our campaign.

I’ll always be grateful for the support and kindness Mark showed me, even in recent weeks when he was unwell. He will be hugely missed by so many who knew him, and by those for whom he blazed a trail.

Mike Joslin
Mark’s death is a sad loss for his friends & family but he left a legacy that deserves to be remembered. He did a huge amount for grassroots online campaigning but above all he was a pleasure to work with. He had unmatched enthusiasm, vision and determination bringing together online activists, pioneering new techniques and persuading CLPs to realise the potential of new media. He will be greatly missed.

Derek Draper
I’ve not written or said anything publicly for a long time and don’t intend to again, but I want to add my own small contribution to the growing on-line tribute to Mark. Since I first met him when he asked me to speak at a conference fringe meeting in 2008 I saw Mark every once in a while, the last time at a lunch meeting about a month ago. He was always a pleasure to see, and you invariably left him having learned something. He was always engaging, enthusiastic and encouraging. He was certainly part of the Labour tribe, but he never, unlike some of us, exhibited the worst traits of tribalism. He was, in short, the kind of person that politics needs many more of. Now, because of the dreaded illness of depression, politics and the world has one less such person. I like to imagine that Mark is somewhere watching his name trend on Twitter and smiling that wry, self-deprecating smile anyone who knew him will remember. One last thing, Mark. You did what you felt you had to do. Sadness, anger, grief and regret, but also, mate, respect.

Tom Miller
I am extremely saddened by the tragic death of Mark Hanson, who we know had been struggling for some time with depression. Since learning the news yesterday I find it hard not to revisit my own conversations with him.

Mark was somebody who a lot of younger people involved in new media on the left looked up to. He was a brilliant communicator and a top strategist – but his real value was a human one. Mark was the sort of person who exuded openness and friendliness. He was always anxious to involve others in things that he was doing, always interested in helping other people to do what they were doing themselves. He was adept at bringing others together.

He spent a lot of time trying to involve those of us who were younger and had been plugging away at blogging or social media, because he saw in them a kind of latent power. He would coordinate petitions, build websites, set in place plans for chains of interviews, and all sorts of other things to keep us occupied. In doing so, he showed us what could be done. He worked closely with some of us who had been involved in the earlier days of Compass Youth, and ended up working closely with the Labour Party centrally – two very different political approaches, which he rightly saw as complimentary. His willingness to engage and general openness meant he had spent time with people all across the political spectrum – an antidote to tribalism and some of our more ‘old politics’ habits.

He would always ring you and go for a coffee if he happened to be passing through town. I would always make time for him, because he always had time for me.

Mark was essential to LabourList during the early stages of its formation – whilst working here during those early days I found him an invaluable provider of insight and support. I cannot help but think that without his innovative advice, his antennae, and his capacity to listen, my own life would have lacked some of the richness I feel it has now. At several points he influenced my own direction in life, in what I consider to be an enormously positive way. He was worth listening to.

Mark was a huge talent and a good man. It is extremely sad to have to talk about him in the past tense. He was a rock to many of the rest of us. I will miss his contributions to communications and to politics, but mostly, I will miss the very human way he made them. I hope he finds peace.

Mark McDonald
The news of Mark’s death came as such a shock, he was such a lovely man. I know people often say things like that after someone dies, but genuinely, it would be hard to find someone with such a gentle, kind and generous spirit as Mark Hanson.

I first got to know Mark when I decided to run to be the Treasurer of the Labour party in 2008. The campaign was led by Mark, Jag Singh and Alex Hilton who headed LabourHome, which at the time was the largest independent blog for Labour supporters. It was to be the first major online campaign in the UK, using blogs, Facebook, and other on line social media. Mark was so enthusiastic about the campaign, recognising early the importance of the internet in elections. Mark wrote at the time that “All parties are dipping their toes in the water… but there is still a sense that watching politicians trying to use new media is a bit like watching your dad dance at a wedding”. He knew that digital campaigning was not ‘astonishingly clever’ or required significant financial investment. The key he said was is in the approach: “always talking to people where they congregate (not building a website and trying to ‘drive’ people to it), talking in their language and getting into proper conversations.” Mark later took this approach to the party during the last election, helping establish an online campaign where before there was hardly anything.

Although in the end we did not win the election for Treasurer, it was a wide ranging campaign that generated discussion within the Labour Party throughout the UK. The campaign was essentially about ensuring a greater transparency and accountability at time when the party was coming under so much media scrutiny. I believe the party is better for the discussion. For the first time in many years we had a Treasurer who had a mandate from the members of the Labour Party.

Mark’s contribution to the Labour Party and campaigning in the UK was significant. Mark was a friend and comrade and he will be truly missed.

Will Straw
Two years ago I met Mark Hanson for the first time. He was someone with a huge reputation in Labour circles for his forward thinking on new media and ideas about how to make the party a genuine 21st century campaigning organisation. Given his reputation I was somewhat nervous about discussing my hair-brained idea to create a new left-wing website modelled on some of the leading American ‘rapid response’ blogs. But Mark could not have been more supportive.

That first meeting with Mark and subsequent conversations always left me feeling energised and buzzing with new ideas. He had a lazer like sense of which initiatives from the evolving worlds of modern communications and social media would work well in a political environment and which were best left on the shelf. His judgment was always top class and he had nothing but enthusiasm and encouragement for what a new generation of left-wing bloggers and campaigners were doing.

His passing is all the more upsetting since his outwardly positive personality clearly betrayed a man suffering deeply from depression. My heart goes out to his family, close friends and to all who, like me, were lucky enough to have his light – no matter how fleetingly – in their lives.

Adam Dustagheer
Mark was a part of Labour’s new media firmament, a consistent guiding presence for as long as I can remember. He brought a no nonsense attitude to everything he did, from getting people out locally on the doorstep to delivering the best at a national level. His skill for artfully stating the case that needed to be made was second to none.

He was one of the first pioneers and indelibly shaped the digital landscape we inhabit. He was still helping us at Labour, full of ideas, and providing the kind of advice we had come to rely on him for. It was clear to anyone who spoke to him that this was a man who was as passionate about politics as he was making sure we ‘got it’ online. The sheer number of people who owe him a debt of gratitude reflects this, and the kind of open and approachable person he was.

Mark had battled with depression for some time, but this was never visible in the positive and smiling Mark who I knew and shall remember. It is not only for the person that he was, but for his lasting contribution to the online community that he will rightly be remembered and life and work celebrated. It is with deepest sympathy I pass on my condolences to his friends and family for their unimaginable loss.

Thank you Mark for all the help and guidance you selflessly offered over the years, you will be missed.

Paul Staines, Guido Fawkes
Mark for somewhat obvious reasons treated me gingerly, nevertheless he was a straight bat in all my dealings with him, modest and unassuming. I last saw him a couple of weeks ago for some cheese and wine over my kitchen table. We gossiped, with me probably giving away far more than him, since he never seemed to empty his glass. Was stunned to learn he was prone to depression, he was good company.

He was instrumental in getting Labour’s senior circles to take the internet seriously and it seems appropriate that his name was trending on Twitter this morning.

My prayers are for his friends, work colleagues and wife.

Laurence Durnan
I originally met Mark through our mutual efforts to foster a network of Labour-supporting blogs in our native North West. Let me reassure anyone in any doubt that this was certainly not the route to plaudits (or even acknowledgement) within the party but the kind of unglamorous task to which Mark, a true evangelist for new media in political life, would apply himself with passion.

It has been truly moving to read the tributes, appropriately enough in 140 characters or less, from people touched by his kindness, shocked by his sudden loss and saddened by the illness he hid so well. But my enduring memory of will be of someone who was a complete and utter pleasure to be around — whether with a laptop in your hand or a pint of beer. We’ll miss you, mate.

Tim Finch
Mark and I met up for a coffee just before Christmas as I wanted to pick his brains about our communications strategy. This was just the sort of area in which Mark was among the best in the business and it was great to hear him say that he thought the ippr ‘brand’ was so strong. What about our use of new media, I asked him? “Well, it’s pretty old fashioned,” he replied. “But no worse than most of the rest of the sector!” This was a typical assessment by Mark – who was a leading figure in helping all sorts of centre left bodies – notably the Labour party itself – to embrace new media and to exploit its myriad possibilities. That we are all blogging and tweeting and using facebook and audio boo and the rest is a great tribute to Mark and other pioneers like him.

Mark only spent a few months actually working for ippr – as a communications consultant in 2009. He was hired by our then co-directors Lisa Harker and Carey Oppenheim to help with strategic communications – but Mark being Mark he threw himself into many other areas. The best media coverage we have ever had for a single publication during my two years as Director of Communications was for the Security Commission report. It is no coincidence that Mark took a strong lead in the media strategy for that. He was always up for a challenge – even persuading Conservative Home that they should publish a piece by an ippr contributor. That was a one off. Only Mark could have swung it.

Mark’s passing is a great loss to everybody who cares about progressive politics. As we all know now, the tried and trusted ways of communicating and campaigning can be supplemented and enhanced by using new media. The virtual world is not without community and humanity – people do talk to each other in meaningful ways – and there is something very poignant in seeing the heartfelt and deeply personal tributes to Mark being posted or tweeted on so many sites and blogs Mark was in the vanguard of this work and it is truly tragic that he will not be around to use his unique skills to the task of rebuilding the centre left.

Mike Kenny, Guy Lodge, Rick Muir
We each worked closely with Mark during the time he spent at ippr in 2009. Like others we too are immensely saddened by the news of his passing. During his time at ippr Mark showed that not only was he an extremely savvy thinker about the new media but that he also possessed an acute policy brain. His warm-hearted nature, unfailing commitment and non-tribal approach to politics meant that he gained immediate respect across the Institute. We found him, quite simply, one of the nicest, most genuine people you could hope to work with. Mark was always willing to go the extra mile for his colleagues, and continued to help and advise us even after he had left ippr. He will be sorely missed and very warmly remembered. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family at this very difficult time.

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