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Marketeer of the month

By The Drum | Administrator

May 28, 2003 | 5 min read

On 6 November 2000, George W Bush, speaking about some of his many detractors, uttered the immortal words that would define his political career – “they misunderestimated me”.

In the same year he also coined the classics: “I understand small business growth, I was one”, “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family” and the almost lyrical nonsense of “rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?”

Beautiful sentences that mean so much in the mind of our Marketeer of the Month, but so little when they escape through the orifice where he chokes on his pretzels.

So, what is the reason for picking out these golden nuggets in the babbling stream that flows from Bush Junior? Well, it’s all about the issue of respect or, in this case, lack of it.

As the CEO of the most powerful brand in the world, which, by the way, is prone to the odd hostile take-over or two, you’d expect someone like Mr Bush to command huge respect throughout the globe. As it is, he often emerges as a figure to be hated, feared, suspicious of, or simply someone to be humoured by, albeit in a rather exasperated manner.

However, rarely is he seen as an icon to be revered. For proof of this try typing his name into a search engine and see what sites spring up – was one of the first that caught our eyes.

With recent efforts at courting positive publicity, such as the ridiculously gung-ho landing on the USS Enterprise, it’s clear that Bush is concerned with reputation management. It’s just that, as with his response to perceived global threats, his endeavours to date lack an element of subtlety or, some might argue, humanity. Not a boon, in terms of personal PR, for someone who could be said to have the whole world in his hands.

Rob Smith, PR director at Leeds-based Propaganda, clearly agrees: “His latest Top Gun appearance on the deck of a US aircraft carrier causes concern,” laments Smith. “It was such an in-your-face declaration of victory it provided the media with just the opportunity they needed to lampoon him.

“He should have been magnanimous in victory, immediately detailing the coalition plans for rebuilding Iraq. Instead, the US Government indulged in a lot of whooping and hollering whilst looting spread throughout Iraq. This did not help endear him to people who suspected he was a bit of a cowboy.”

Perhaps the only way to get rid of the cowboy image is to put away the guns, but seeing as that’s fairly unlikely to happen in the near future, how can Bush go about creating some sympathy for what he’s trying to achieve? By showing some sympathy himself, suggests Steve Leigh, new deputy MD at Manchester’s Weber Shandwick.

“Bush always ends up coming across as the school bully,” observes Leigh. “He needs to show genuine sympathy for the real victims of the recent conflict and current wave of international terrorist attacks. He’ll only ever achieve that by getting out from behind the White House lectern and going to see the effects for himself. The world needs to see some emotion and concern, and that he’s not afraid to put himself at risk.”

However, with the parlous state of world peace, stepping out from the bulletproof aura of 101 Arlington Road and heading off to tiptoe through the minefield of the Middle East is indeed a major risk.

“Maybe he should take a leaf out of Saddam’s book, and get a body double,” suggests the ever-resourceful Hazel Crawford-Upton, MD of Connect PR in Wolverhampton.

Crawford-Upton is at a loss to suggest how Bush could create sympathy for his role at present, stating: “Normal press techniques, such as the use of a babe in arms or small injured animals, would not even work in this case. Only an unplanned baby for Laura could help at the moment.”

If the quest for sympathy appears to be heading up a dead-end, maybe we should look for a route to an improved, more professional image for Bush. Our experts see this as an area where some headway could be made.

Connect’s PR chief Crawford-Upton argues: “He does have a tendency to ramble,” adding that, “I would persuade him to keep it short – as I tell my clients, a picture paints a thousand words.”

Leigh has similar thoughts on Bush’s verbal versatility: “The formality of Bush’s press conferences show that he isn’t confident. Also, his delivery is stilted, he sounds like a bad actor reading someone else’s words. He needs coaching on how to relax in front of an audience.”

Relaxing the propensity to resort to religious dogma might help too, opines Leigh. “He needs to stop playing to the Christian American audience and think how his words translate to people in the Middle East. He also needs to be seen alongside Muslim leaders. Some of the most significant images of the 80s were Russian and American leaders shaking hands and showing that the two countries could peacefully co-exist.”

Shaking hands with Muslim Leaders ... cracking jokes with the press ... travelling to trouble spots to show sympathy. If a dedicated PR offensive founded on such principles was undertaken, chances are it would certainly help Bush market his image globally – but can you seriously imagine him taking it on? Well, you never know what that man’s capable of. After all, woe betide anyone who dares to “misunderestimate” George Dubya.


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