The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec


Boris Johnson: the master of intentional PR disaster?


By Andy Barr, Head Yeti

August 10, 2018 | 5 min read

So Boris Johnson has not so much stumbled into another crisis as abseiled into it in full riot gear. When his advisors told him to increase his media exposure for a potential run towards being crowned as the new prime minister, I don’t think this is what they meant. Or did they?

boris johnson

While the furore grumbles on, the reality is that this is no doubt another lesson in political public relations done the Boris way. As idiotic as his comments about people wearing burkas looking like "letter boxes" clearly were (for the record, I in no way agree with them), they were clearly calculated enough to know that they would not go far enough to warrant a chat with the rozzers of Scotland Yard, but would cause outrage among the normal thinking folk of the UK.

Interestingly, Bozza would have also known from his own Leave campaign adventures that this kind of comment would actually resonate with some of the less tolerant folk out there. It has certainly kept him front of mind across the UK and a critical benchmark (maybe in my mind alone) for this is when a man best known for playing the hapless Mr Bean character comes out to support you, you know you have gone mainstream.

Is this a new PR tactic for Bozza though? Nope! He is famous for skirting with disaster, but I put it to you that, actually, it is all a well planned out public relations machine, rather than the uncontrolled “firing from the hip” that he would like us to think goes on.

The timing for the current Borisism could not have been more perfect. His profile was waning, some four weeks into his, public-resignation-caused, back-bench MP career. His Tory party boss was on holiday and, to be honest, probably had other things on her mind. And finally, it is silly season in the media, where odd stories seem to get more pick-up than they deserve.

If we look at just a few of his other PR stunts/political gaffes, many of them have the same modus operandi: say enough to get headlines through being vaguely/openly offensive, but not serious enough to get you kicked out of office.

The cannibalism comments in Papa New Guinea; the goat-sex row with Turkey; throwing shade at the god-like Barack Obama about his “Kenyan” thoughts on the British Empire. Then we move on to the comedy element of rugby tackling a small child to the ground in Japan, and then, again, rugby tackling a German to the ground during a televised charity football game. The latter being the more acceptable element of his tally of mishaps to date.

In short, Boris knows what he is doing.

To the untrained media eye, he may appear to be taking the Prince Phillip approach to international relations, but Bozza’s overall image lets him get away with this kind of thing time and time again because it is just “Boris being Boris”. As far wiser minds than mine have consistently pointed out, he has carefully crafted this image; it is not something that has arrived accidentally.

He is a cold, calculated, media machine. I don’t say the last sentence in anger or in mock outrage, I say it with respect.

Having had a dance in the political public relations arena, I know how crazy some of the players in that sector can be, and believe me, Boris is one of the savviest operators out there.

He manages to do something in the political PR world that very few other politicians have ever done; he makes the transition across both the political and mainstream media, and he does it very well. I have no doubt that, were someone to do vox pops with the great unwashed, he would be recognized 10 out of 10 times, compared to May who would be lucky to get five out of 10.

Make no bones about it and I am calling it, he WILL run to be the next prime minister, he WILL destroy Corbyn in prime minister's questions and he will create enough of a smoke and mirrors campaign in order to go on and win the next election for the Conservative party. God that is a scary last sentence.

Andy Barr heads up the PR agency 10 Yetis. He tweets @10yetis


More from Media

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +