Jaldi 5 with Amith Prabhu: Only so much ‘spin doctors’ can do in election campaigns

07 Nov,2012

It’s US Presidential Elections week and given the importance that United States of America affairs have on India (apart from family and friends in all parts of that country), it’s not surprising that our media too is working overtime to bring you comprehensive coverage over the next few days.


Having read the tweets from Chicago-based Amith Prabhu, former head of communications at VivaKi and co-founder of the Promise Foundation and co-chair of the upcoming PRAXIS 2012, we asked him a few questions on the US Presidential elections and how much of a role the campaign managers of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney played in their respective campaigns.


Mr Prabhu keeps a keen eye on Indian and American politics and hopes to manage his own campaign someday. The views here are personal and do not represent that of any organization Amith is associated with.


01. Having tracked the run-up to the US Presidential elections closely, how much of the campaigning do you think is a creation of the respective campaign managers?

Matt Rhoades and Jim Messina have definitely played a big role in shaping the campaigns of their bosses Romney and Obama respectively. Unless the machinery is run with exact precision and thorough planning there is no way for a fight to be as close as it has been.


We read that Obama’s campaign is aided by the way he handled Hurricane Sandy. Obviously perception-management at play? Or he did work to ease the plight?


Hurricane Sandy was able to influence a few undecided voters who are certainly crucial. Obama is a politician at heart and he knows how to do the right things at the right time. That won’t change the decision of staunch supporters of either party. It definitely had a small role to play.


It’s obviously naïve to say that the Presidency of the world’s strongest nation is won thanks to spin doctors? Or, is that how it really is?


American voters are educated and understand the difference between the ideologies of the two parties. There is only so much the so-called spin doctors can do. The rest is what is done and what is seen by the well-informed citizen who finally takes the call on whom to vote for.


02. With general elections round the corner in India – 2014 or earlier, do you think our political parties too should appoint professional image management practitioners for their positioning?

Indian political parties have been working with professional firms but like in the US most of the marketing and communications is managed in-house to have better control and for ease of management. I don’t think image management is a positive term. The phrase has been abused and people mistake image management for spin doctoring. What Indian political parties need is a panel of mentors who have great credentials and solid values to guide them to do not just the right things but everything right.


03. We know that you were at the Obama rally in the early hours of today (India time) and we also figure from your tweets that you actively follow Indian politics from your base in Chicago. As a PR professional, is there an Indian politician whose image you would like to work on?

I would prefer never to work on individuals but rather would prefer to work for an organisation. I was a summer intern in the Congress party media office way back in 2003 and I subscribed to some of that party’s ideology and had the option of working there in the future but I chose not to, since I wanted a decade of corporate experience. However, two interesting men who have fascinated me are Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal. I would like to work with the former someday. Another politician who knows how to be in the news is for wrong and right reasons is Lalu Prasad Yadav and is a case study on his own.


Rahul Gandhi?

Not likely because from what I have gauged he is not keen on running a government unless push comes to shove. He would prefer to operate like his mother where he runs the party and appoints a PM who can manage the government.


04 Is there an Indian politician who could do well with US-style image management?

I think Arun Jaitley and Jairam Ramesh could do very well if they build a mass base, which is not difficult for them to do if they choose to.


05. Narendra Modi, for instance, seems to have got his ‘image’ in order?

Narendra Modi had two options after 2002. To either let it all crumble or go the other extreme and focus on building a solid positioning based on development and an iron-hand. He chose the latter, which was a smart decision. He has a bunch of excellent IAS officers with whom I have had the pleasure of working who drive a lot of what is seen and heard about him. Unfortunately, his support base is restricted to his state and to sections of citizens in various parts of the country and on Twitter. His image problem is within the party and that is something he needs to focus on.


PS: We also asked Amith Prabhu one last question: Your gut feel… Obama or Romney? And his response:  Obama all the way.

Ah, well. Psephologist, loyalist or just a good observer of political trends?


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