Illinois' embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich skipped his impeachment hearing at the state's capitol this week, and took to the airwaves instead. His media blitz, which included appearances on shows ranging from The View to The Rachel Maddow Show, was largely penned as irresponsible and a mockery. Defense lawyers were beside themselves, worrying about how every word he uttered would dig a deeper grave for the court trial on the horizon.
PR pros know, though, that Blagojevich's goal likely wasn't to retain his seat as governor, but to defend his reputation and prepare for his next objective. If he aimed to get a book deal or take the job that a local Chicago radio station offered, the tour was effective. However, if he hoped to sway public opinion in his favor, he failed. Blagojevich, and all of his personality ticks, came across as desperate, scattered, and unconvincing.
A media tour in of itself wasn't a bad idea. The political machine in Illinois was largely not in his favor, so Blagojevich hoped to turn around public opinion by going straight to the people. Unfortunately, instead of sticking to an effective batch of key messages that could have resonated with people – such as being railroaded and not being able to call witnesses in the impeachment trial – he drew parallels with Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather than appearing stately and serious, the governor seemed out of control.
A more controlled media tour with limited interviews and heavier media training, in which Blagojevich learned his key points inside and out and didn't step over himself, would have better allowed the public to understand his defense. Moreover, the smart PR move would have been to step down in deference of the process, while mounting more strategic outreach. Then people might have seen the governor as at least a statesmen who took his role seriously.