Top PR consultants are often seen riding to the rescue when politicians
are in trouble. So we should not be too surprised that Sir Tim Bell is
said to be advising beleaguered Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the
run-up to the forthcoming elections.
There is no doubt that PR will be vital to Yeltsin’s campaign, which has
to be fought chiefly through the media because it lacks the vast grass
roots party structure available to the former Communists. But it will
not succeed unless the Yeltsin camp agrees to follow the public
relations strategy advised. The recent parliamentary elections proved
that one cannot win simply by throwing money and publicity at the
On the face of it, resurrecting Yeltsin’s tattered image in time for
polling day seems an almost impossible task. PR can help by emphasising
his experience in high office, in contrast to his rivals. It can prevent
further recurrences of his more outlandish gaffes - such as goosing
women in front of the TV cameras. And it can present positive images -
such as the recent TV interview with Yeltsin’s wife which portrayed the
old bear as a homeloving parent and devoted husband. But it all seems
depressingly like damage limitation at this stage.
Better late than never to call in the cavalry, one might think. But
politicians might not get into such deep electoral trouble if they took
top level public relations advice throughout their term of office and
not just when the end is approaching.
Yeltsin is not unusual in this respect. As our own political parties
wind themselves up for the next general election, we are forcibly
reminded of the fact that too often they only turn to PR when they are
in a hole.
Politicians need to be reminded that the value of public relations
advice is not limited to crisis management once their electoral
credibility has been cut to ribbons. For while PR plays an increasingly
important part in staging an election campaign, it should be a vital
consideration in everything they do. In fact, it is probably least
successful when it is only applied like lip gloss in order to simper at
the voters every four or five years.
Businesses are beginning to realise that the best time to take PR advice
is before you take a decision with potentially catastrophic consequences
for your reputation - not afterwards when your customers are deserting
you in droves. It is time that politicians also realised that public
relations advice works best if you take it when it matters most. And
that’s not at the last minute.