ANALYSIS: Campaign PR - Is Gore’s new image cleared for take-off? Vice president Al Gore is closing the gap on George W. Bush, but is it too late? And is Gore’s lack of savvy PR counsel the cause or a symptom of his lackluster campaign? St

Shortly before the Democratic National Convention, PR sage Lee Levitt proclaimed that Edelman vice chairman Leslie Dach’s joining the campaign was the ’first sensible PR-professional move made by the Democrats in this election.’ A Democrat frustrated by Gore’s inability to sound a winning message, Levitt says his party lacks a ’cadre of strategic-level PR professionals to draw upon in election years.’

Shortly before the Democratic National Convention, PR sage Lee Levitt proclaimed that Edelman vice chairman Leslie Dach’s joining the campaign was the ’first sensible PR-professional move made by the Democrats in this election.’ A Democrat frustrated by Gore’s inability to sound a winning message, Levitt says his party lacks a ’cadre of strategic-level PR professionals to draw upon in election years.’

Shortly before the Democratic National Convention, PR sage Lee

Levitt proclaimed that Edelman vice chairman Leslie Dach’s joining the

campaign was the ’first sensible PR-professional move made by the

Democrats in this election.’ A Democrat frustrated by Gore’s inability

to sound a winning message, Levitt says his party lacks a ’cadre of

strategic-level PR professionals to draw upon in election years.’



Now that the convention is over, Levitt’s comments invite even more

questions.



Is Gore’s campaign devoid of savvy PR counsel? What problems are

confronting the team? And what will he have to do to overtake Gov.

George W. Bush?



Levitt’s remedy is simple: hire a PR pro. Since a major PR firm would

never involve itself in a partisan race, there are two solutions. The

first, as in the case of Dach, is to ’borrow’ one for a limited

period.



The second is a solo pro.



Joe Napolitan, president of Napolitan Associates and a strategist on

Hubert Humphrey’s near-successful 1968 presidential campaign, says

’there are some excellent PR professionals’ who could be useful to Gore.

’But not many of them are willing to give up four or five months of

their lives to work in an election to the exclusion of their other

responsibilities.’





Right-hand man



One who has done so is Gore’s deputy campaign manager for

communications, Mark Fabiani, who’s on leave from his work as a crisis

management consultant.



A Harvard-trained lawyer who worked on crafting the Clinton White

House’s responses to scandals such as Whitewater and Travelgate, Fabiani

made an immediate impression on the Beltway press corps. The Washington

Post had suggested that Gore, stung by the reaction to his statements

over the Elian Gonzalez case and the campaign finance controversy, was

avoiding the press. But soon after Fabiani’s arrival, Gore became more

accessible.



Dach credits Fabiani with ’doing a great job as a primary spokesman to

the media as well as understanding the media’s interests.’ In Dach’s

view, Fabiani possesses a sixth sense to anticipate where the news media

is heading and how to take advantage of it.



’Earned media in a presidential campaign is critical,’ says Dach, who

will serve as an informal advisor to the campaign this fall. One area

where Fabiani’s handiwork is apparent is in laying out Gore’s game plan

to the news media. ’That allows the media to frame the day’s events for

the voters in a much more meaningful way,’ explains Dach.



But GOP and Democrats alike say the problem with the Gore campaign is

not a lack of counsel but an overabundance of it. ’Gore may be receiving

too much advice from consultants, much of it undoubtedly contradictory,’

Napolitan suggests. On the other hand, Bush’s campaign has vested great

authority in the ’Iron Triangle’ of chief strategist Karl Rove, campaign

manager Joe Allbaugh and communications director Karen Hughes.



Dick Minard, deputy GM for Hill & Knowlton in DC, asserts staffing and

management of campaigns often reflect the candidate’s personality.

’Problems inside the campaign often go directly to the candidate,’ he

says.



Washington Post writer David Maraniss agrees there is a difference in

managerial style between the Bush and Gore campaigns. In Gore’s case,

’part of it is a reflection of the way Al Gore’s mind works. It’s not

instinctive or intuitive. It’s not necessarily the best to put together

a staff or find a message,’ says Maraniss, co-author with fellow Post

writer Ellen Nakashima of The Prince of Tennessee: The Rise of Al

Gore.



Even with the new management offered by former Commerce Secretary Bill

Daley, Gore’s campaign is still said to be faction-ridden. But the

problems confronting Gore run well beyond the simple fault line of

consultants versus politicos.





Reactionary relations



The constant focus over the past few years on the campaign finance

scandals and the impeachment affair also prevented the construction of a

long-term strategy, and Gore’s rancorous primary battle with Bill

Bradley didn’t help. As GOP consultant Jim Innocenzi notes, ’The problem

with long-range planning in politics is that everything goes in the

toilet once you are on the receiving end of an unanticipated attack or

news story.’



Hamilton College professor of government Phil Klinkner argues that most

campaigns are disorganized, ’but when the campaign is behind, you tend

to get lots of stories about the internal problems.’



Unlike the GOP, the Democrats have been less willing to gloss over

differences.



Gore’s choice of Joseph Lieberman as VP was a message to moderate swing

voters that Gore is his own man, as the Connecticut Democrat had rebuked

President Clinton for his conduct in the Lewinsky affair. Gore and

Lieberman do not see eye-to-eye on several issues, however.



There has also been criticism that Gore’s acceptance speech played

better in the convention hall than to the television audience. Dach

disagrees, pointing to pre- and post-convention polls showing Gore

moving from a 16-point deficit to a dead heat with Bush.



Pollster Chris Wilson, COO and president of Shandwick research firm SWR

Worldwide, says Bush had the luxury of using his convention to reach out

to the middle. ’Bush has a head start for middle-ground voters,’ he

says. Meanwhile, Democrats were more open about airing their

disagreements, which Wilson attributes to their being in power.





Popularity contest



So what must Gore do to win? In his convention speech, Gore admitted he

was not ’exciting’ but promised to get the job done. It was a brave

admission of one of his weaknesses - a perceived lack of ’personality.’

But many PR experts see the contest really being determined more by

personalities than issues.



’Personality is the battleground with undecided voters,’ says GOP

consultant Fred Davis of LA-based Strategic Perception. Napolitan adds,

’The likability factor should not be underestimated. There is no really

divisive issue in this campaign and when this is the case people often

vote for the candidate they like.’



Davis sees the wonkish Gore as a ’more substance, less style’

candidate.



He is trying to become more comfortable with a more outgoing style that

Davis thinks is being urged on him by advisors, but it’s a struggle. ’He

needs to keep working to make it more natural,’ stresses Davis, who also

sees Gore’s daughters playing a crucial role in this effort.



Napolitan concurs, but thinks Gore should listen less to what others

say: ’I’d tell him to chill out, calm down and just be himself.’ He says

Gore should stick to issues the Democrats own - health care, Social

Security and education.



Adds Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway, ’The objective is to create

opportunities to let Al Gore speak directly to voters on the issues that

matter in ordinary life. People are looking for a leader who will fight

for their interests, not necessarily (one) to have a beer with.’



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