Amith Prabhu: Public Reputation in Politics

08 Sep,2014

By Amith Prabhu


It is good to see numerous Indian politicians investing big on their Public Reputation management. Thanks to the current Prime Minister who brought in a culture of marketing and communication, the importance for this craft has increased ever since the election victory of May 2014. Chief Ministers and Members of Parliament are setting aside time and money to ensure they communicate with their stakeholders, something they never took seriously earlier.


So what is it that these national politicians can look for from reputation management professionals? If they are expecting a quick fix to their own or their party’s reputation then they have not understood the power of this craft. Public Relations is like Rome – it is never built in a day. What most people miss is that Narendra Modi built a PR campaign over 10 years starting in 2003. He carefully laid the foundation that is today a rock-solid structure.


In doing so, he ensured the stigma of a deadly riot under his watch got gradually erased. On the other hand, few politicians let their good reputation turn bad and worse in a matter of few days. So, what then can one offer in terms of a reputation management bouquet?


I think there is much more than mere Public relations or media outreach here. It starts with communications research where talking to stakeholders, especially voters and getting their feedback is the bare minimum. The research can be through surveys or focused groups, which is better known as polling. Polling leads to the understanding of what one needs to communicate. But between polling and communication lies the real Action. If politicians do not do the right thing then no amount of communication can help. Communication needs to happen in real time and not in retrospect. Voters have a short-term memory. A politician is only as good as his or her last appearance. Hence a key messaging framework can stem from a bit of Doing.


Community relations, constituency outreach, and voter engagement are all the same thing but called differently. If this element is not in place then Doing the right thing is never good enough. Building this connect is part of the larger narrative and needs time and tools to be done well.


Then there are backroom elements of speech writing and delivery, digital marketing which includes smart use of apps, social, mobile, display, search and creativity that then lends itself to a media plan that encompasses Earned, Owned and Paid. Politicians seldom understand the difference. In simple terms Paid is what we pay for in the form of advertisements, advertorials or buying air time or print space to share content. Earned is what is written, spoken or said about us with no transaction involved in cash or kind. And Owned is having our own outlets and channels to share information.


In a nutshell, a public reputation mandate for a politician encapsulates the gamut of communications solutions and there are specialist firms emerging to offer just that. Will politicians come forward to use these services? Will they then pay ethically and offer the right price? Will they appreciate the impact of professional support? Only time will tell!


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