I am an ardent reader of your column, and have been quite appreciative of your efforts at enlightenment on the relevance of marketing in everyday life. As sequel to the two-part piece on the place of marketing in the activities of those holding elective positions, you would do many of us a lot of favour if you could throw some light on managing the image or reputation of public office holders. My uncle is a prominent politician, and presently so upset about the general unsavory perception of those who hold political posts in Nigeria – O.A.
As many occupying prominent positions in government get carried away by someone being a well known face on television, an amazing voice on radio, or a star in the print media, there are clear tendencies towards overlooking something quite significant. They often overlook crucial professional inclination which “handlers” of public office holders’ image or reputation must posses – The exposure to practical planning that leads to strategies and techniques for the creation and implementation of programmes aimed at influencing public opinion or public reaction about an individual, idea, product, or even organisation. This is the core of මානව සම්බන්ධතා (මහජන සම්බන්ධතා). The tag “handlers” in this regard depicts official functionaries straddled with the responsibilities of positively projecting their charge for favourable public perception.
Even where successful careers as a radio talent, advertising boss, broadcast station executive and publisher are relevant in the choice of who plays this role, PR as an aspect of marketing communications is significant to concepts of image and reputation, in alignment with peculiarities of managing them in the context of politics and public institutions. This is not to rule out the fact that some Nigerian professionals, even where they operate within the ambit of the organs of mass media stated above, can still be naïve about PR in spite of the prominent place of the media as tool of facilitating image or reputation management.
Without getting into to the nitty-gritty of plan, strategy and technique required for effecting image management here (the “how-to-do approach) as space does not permit, it must be emphasised that again that in building, shaping and sustaining politicians’ (or any institutions’) image and reputation, the media plays a crucial role. This is more so when we consider that the media constitute both a primary and active audience in image management. It aligns with Enoch Powel’s (a Portuguese politician’s) remark, that “… for a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea”.
As a marketing strategist, I have had cause in the past to conceptualize on various aspects of unraveling solutions to marketing-related problems. This has culminated in having a ‘shelf load’ of packages on various related subjects. That on input for political office holders, aside environmental analysis, policy development, contains the following related to this discuss: Communication process, reputation building, media handling and production, support from campaigning, and networking. You can contact me for details on them.
A school of thought prefers to describe politics as an “image-intensive sector”. This stems from the slant that in virtually all elections most people vote for political candidates (or parties) without even reading and studying any political programmes or manifestoes. That most of the time, prospective voters tend to express preference towards the most acceptable political image.
නයිජීරියාවේ, even where ‘muddling ’ of designations of those with occupational responsibilities of taking charge of image and reputation management or information management machinery of public office holders (e.g. press secretary, adviser or assistant on media and publicity, public affairs adviser, special assistant on information, media consultant, ආදිය) and over-lapping of their functions being always the order of the day, the issue of communicating a convincing image has to be properly maintained to avoid a degeneration into ‘spin’. Presently, image is viewed in the light of something much more than impression or construct created by graphic design or promotion.
“Spin” (in PR) depicts a form of propaganda, derived through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public personality. It often implies hypocritical, deceptive and highly manipulative tactics. This is certainly contrary to what traditional PR stands for – Reliance on creative presentation of the facts. Those who often adopt this mode in publicising favourable interpretations of words are referred to as “Spin doctors”, while this ‘unethical’ aspect of PR is termed “Spin doctoring”. When this situation is allowed to become dominant, we find that political life in a way escapes from the control of the spin doctors and ‘image masters’ themselves, and then turn out to be unfavourable for their “Oga”, as the people can not be fooled always.
Despite the usual well taunted expression in the government circle of “promoting government activities for adequate understanding of government policies and programmes by the citizenry”, and “blocking devastating wide communication gap between the government and the governed”, the elaboration above makes for easier classification of those engaged by public office holders mainly for purposes of ‘warding off’ the nosy press; conceal at all cost unfavourable publicity; playing the role of just ‘an undertaker’ by making good a completely hopeless situation, and not making any input at the related decision-making stage; stalling all moves towards exposing the ‘skeletons in the cupboard’, in spite of their number and the various sizes of the skulls.
In this context, image is so important hence its perception as the ‘personality’ presented to the public by that public office holder, why some tend to regard it as an element of a personal brand. This is why in most political dispensations an “Image maker” (sometimes termed ‘handler’) for a significant office holder, with a primary role of effective public projection of their charge for image enhancement, wields formidable clout as his or her functional responsibilities tend to span anything that affects their principal, more especially when such affect the “Oga’s” public image. (ඉදිරියට පැවැත්වේ)