POSTSCRIPT / August 2, 2005 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will working overtime on her PR save Gloria?

DEEP SHIT: That President Gloria Arroyo is almost drowning in deep shit illustrates what we often say when asked about Public Relations (which, by the way, happens to be not my line).

We say: If you are a public figure concerned about cultivating and maintaining a good image, the best time to do PR is when you still have no PR problem.

When there is no whiff of a scandal about you, when you still have a reservoir of goodwill buoying you, that is the best time to step up your PR.

Do the right things like it were second nature, not contrived, and let these good deeds be known through others (not you) talking about them.

If you have to deal with media, and a public figure will have to, be real nice to them without looking like you need them (at that early stage, you really do not need them — yet). Just be nice and friendly, and useful.

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COURTING MEDIA: Useful? Yes. But there is no need to bribe anyone. In fact, giving unusually valuable gifts would be suspect.

There is one gift that reporters will find difficult to turn down — and that is a well-documented juicy story. Now and then, produce a really good story for them. Or at least, give them solid leads to big stories.

After you have established your credibility, even chismis with a grain of salt thrown in would do on a dull day.

Just make sure your stories and leads do not turn out to be a “koryente” (bum steer). Once you gain the ill-repute of being a “kuryente kid,” it would take great efforts to shake off the tag.

Reporters and columnists do not have to use your name all the time. Resist the temptation to get publicity by being identified as the source of a big story. That you are able to cultivate media’s confidence in you is enough reward.

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TO THE RESCUE: You have a budget for PR, di ba? , so spend it with the press boys. Do not pocket it or allow your PR man to shave it.

Actually, such media outreach efforts need not involve a costly, complicated communication program. Just be yourself trying to make friends.

Now and then, spend time having coffee, or even lunch, with the boys in a relaxed setting conducive to exchanging information. Even if the kapihan is spent on nothing more than kwento and kantiyaw, it is still worth your time.

If you have to go on inspection and familiarization trips that could generate news, see if you could bring along one or two of the newsmen covering your office. Such gesture can help wear down the professional wall and you may end up being close friends.

The bonus is that if later you get into trouble, like when your political foe spreads black propaganda against you or your spouse gets caught in something funny, many of your media friends will come to your rescue unbidden.

It may look unprofessional on their part siding with you, but they are just as human as the next guy.

In the end, the grand dream of every journalist is to write the biggest award-winning story of the year. You help him chase such a masterpiece — and you could be friends forever.

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POTENTIAL ALLIES: To repeat, make friends with the press when there is still no PR problem getting in the way.

If you go running to the press only when you are already in trouble, you will bleed just locating them and bleed some more convincing them to see your side.

Can you trust them to tell the story right? If they have learned to trust you, you can trust them.

When you survey the field before political combat, do not be so narrow-minded as to categorize journalists into friend or foe — and cozying up to those you think are friendly and cussing those you perceive to be antagonistic.

The healthier attitude is to think that even those who you think are against you are potential allies. Be genuinely nice to everybody, even to those who are not nice to you, even to those who you suspect had sold out to the other side.

It is possible that those who you think are out to destroy you are just misinformed. Reach out to them. This might involve a long-drawn courtship, but keep at it.

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GLARING TO DEATH: What I think does not matter, but I will still think it. I think what I just said can help explain why Gloria Arroyo is weighed down by a hell of a public relations problem.

When she was in gloria in excelsis deo upon her proclamation last year as the newly mandated president with a plurality of more than a million votes, she took for granted her PR with the press and her other publics.

Those who have been watching televised presidential news events will remember the broadcast anchors and news reporters who had found themselves at the receiving end of the President’s katarayan (temper).

She is president all right and may be forgiven for being imperious at times. But when a journalist presses a potentially embarrassing question, she does not have to glare and bare her fangs to warn the inquisitor against pursuing the point.

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GETTING EVEN: Most victims of this public display of presidential taray had been polite or prudent enough to retreat, or tone down their questions.

But do you think they have forgotten the embarrassment? I doubt it. I would not be surprised if they are just waiting for a chance to get even.

The President’s problem is that her victims, many of them well-placed, will not get even only once but might make it their career crusade to keep needling her at every turn — till she yields the presidency.

One high-profile broadcaster, for instance, cannot hide his anti-GMA bias. His sarcasm colors his supposedly objective reportage despite his boast that their network is “walang kinikilingan,” that their reports are “walang labis, walang kulay.”

He is just one of several key media personalities who apparently have made it their daily mission to look for things with which to hit Ms Arroyo.

Why so? The common denominator among them is that they seem to be still smarting from a curt presidential remark that had cut deeply.

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PASSABLE EXCUSE: After then Vice President Gloria Arroyo became president upon the abandonment of the presidency by President Erap Estrada in January 2001, it was normal for his followers to resent her “stealing” the presidency from their idol. (Mr. Estrada insists he did not abandon his office.)

Such resentment has lingered, provoking a protracted campaign to see to it that Ms Arroyo did not succeed in her borrowed time in Malacanang. This explains the endless destabilization hounding the Arroyo administration.

Being a sort of caretaker, Ms Arroyo had a passable excuse for having failed (while managing the balance of Mr. Estrada’s term) to lift the nation from the mire of poverty and political scum accumulated through many administrations.

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NOTHING HAPPENED: But when in the presidential elections of May 2004 she won her own mandate, albeit under question by the political opposition, she lost whatever excuse she had for being only a carry-over president.

The nation was waiting with bated breath for her to launch a reformist attack on traditional politics and the forces of corruption and inertia that had sapped the vitality of the nation.

She was proclaimed winner. She was sworn in. She returned triumphant to Malacanang armed with a mandate all her own.

But still nothing happened by way of reforms and an improved quality of life for the teeming millions.

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MEDIA BLITZ: She had goodwill earned via an election that at the time was generally hailed as clean and fair. She had the mandate to cut through the tangle of corruption and partisan politics to force reforms on an expectant nation.

But nothing happened.

So now she is trying mightily to push reforms. Sadly, nobody seems to be listening anymore.

Even the media that, as I said, should be regarded as a potential ally, have started (or continued?) to look at her with jaundiced eyes.

She failed to attend to her PR homework at that time right after her inauguration in June last year. She frittered away the goodwill that should have been the flying carpet to carry her and the nation to great heights.

She bungled her PR at that time early on when the media and the nation were just willing to be charmed into collaborating with any reformist program.

They tell us that Gloria Arroyo, however late it may seem, has gone on a new media blitz. I wish her good luck.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 2, 2005)

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