Marketeer of the month
In the past few weeks, Iain Duncan Smith has chucked fourteen eggs at David Blaine, set fire to a paper bag containing a dog’s doing on the doorstep of Number Ten, and spent a considerable amount of time loitering in the female changing rooms at his local swimming baths. Next week he plans to spend an evening with the Chancellor, repeatedly whispering, “he hates you, Gordon” whilst he’s watching TV. Unnamed sources have also suggested he may write “redrum” in lipstick on the Brown’s bathroom mirror and leave an axe and bottle of whisky on the kitchen table.
Mischievous? Yes. Out of character? Perhaps. But when you realise that you’ve suddenly attained the power to become completely invisible, surely it’s time to have some serious fun?
IDS has never exactly been the most dynamic, charismatic or campaigning of Conservative messiahs, but surely even his most adoring acolytes must have been praying for him to attack the Government in the wake of their recent tumultuous times. Think back to the halcyon (and I use the word advisedly) times of Thatcher, Major and even, yes even, William Hague and imagine what they would be doing to their opposing party’s leadership. Their faces would adorn the TV every day on every news report; they would be urging resignations, further inquires, and demanding that the Government stop spinning and finally walk a straight line with the much maligned electorate. As it is, Smith has been enjoying the anonymity bestowed upon him by his new super power, or more believably, as opined by staunch Conservative supporter and revered novelist Frederick Forsyth, “been too busy fu*king fishing”.
It’s fair to say Smith’s image needs a well-placed boot up the arse, and we’ve found a few PR experts who are laced up and ready to rumble. Stefan Lepowski of Newcastle’s Karol Marketing took first swing of the leather with his observation that IDS has failed to build bridges with the media. He commented, “To get access to the media platform, he should have built a relationship with the media some time ago with relevant comment and a clear agenda. He has failed to do this. I believe he has missed the current opportunity – but the roots of his lack of success can be firmly put down to a lack of anticipation, a lack of planning and a lack of media communication structure.”
Ouch, he won’t be sitting down for a week after that one. Richard Rawlins, head of PR at Gratterpalm, refrained from adding another dent in his derriÃ¨re with an appreciation that Smith’s media absence could have been deliberate, particularly with regard to the Kelly affair. Rawlins noted, “He avoided the temptation to jump on the bandwagon and exploit this sensitive issue for political gain,” adding, “He was also in the unusual position of seeing the BBC fight his battles against the Government for him. Of course, the uncharitable would argue that his absence was in part because he is not seen as a serious contender. It was a case of the big boys fighting out an issue to which he was never seen as having a credible or meaningful input. I tend not to agree with that. For now.”
Although the Iraq situation and its manifold ramifications have provided IDS with an opportunity to put in a few free punches, potentially below the belt, it’s not been the only time when he’s been left swinging fruitlessly at fresh air. To date, most political observers put him well behind Blair on points. A situation that Stuart Ledger, of Sheffield’s McKevitt and Kenwood, puts down to the fact that he’s “probably a nice fella” but clearly belongs “in the rose garden with a pot of tea and a Victoria Sponge.”
Speaking about Smith’s image, and that of the Tories, Ledger said, “I saw a PPB recently and it said everything that was wrong with the Blues. IDS chaired a meeting in what looked like an office straight off an industrial estate in Slough. He was taking updates on his party’s prevalent issues – on the agenda were items such as the effect of speed bumps in villages! The whole thing was hilarious and came across like a meeting at the church hall. It summed up their image and communication problem at the moment – they are way out of touch and it all seems so desperate and irrelevant.”
Ledger, Rawlins and Lepowski all made the point that our marketeer of the month needs to create the image of a strong party with a clear and independent agenda focused on relevant political issues. Fair enough, but is he a serious enough contender to deliver a seriously effective manifesto? What can he do to reverse his perceived charisma bypass and warm the hearts of people who seem to think that his is made out of stone?
“Beneath the grey packaging, IDS is probably quite a character. We’d develop a programme to reveal it,” says Gratterpalm\'s Rawlins. “What is he into? What football team does he support? What is he passionate about? We hear he has a great sense of humour – let’s see it. We’d target the lifestyle press and get him as much coverage off the news pages as on them. We’re not talking about an image makeover, but we are talking about showing some personality and colour.”
(The Big) Lepowski agreed that “he should open himself up and make himself a man of the people” but went further to say that “he must avoid the safe image and speak out on every subject. He should offer alternatives.” Our man from Karol also suggested “a new haircut” but stopped short of saying whether he’d advise the Bobby Charlton comb-over look or some Elton John implants. A tricky decision.
What isn’t so difficult to determine is that Iain Duncan Smith has to act soon if he’s ever going to make an impression – as Rawlins observed, “There has never been a better time. The public is ready to look for an alternative.” But of course they have to know there is an obvious option ... and IDS needs more than a few well-placed bandages to reveal himself to the voters as the visible choice.