RAHUL GANDHI’S LATEST BRANDING BLITZ: WHAT’S NEW, WHY ALL THIS FUSS?

Why so much of gyan, concern, debate and deliberation over it?

It is an open secret.

Even politicians from economically backward states like Bihar or Jharkhand or politicians from culturally backward states like Haryana or Rajasthan or from Western Uttar Pradesh use them, especially those who have lager game-plan for their political future, like playing a centre-stage role in state polity. And the situation is becoming chronic (or, alternatively, more relevant) with politicians who aspire for sustained and enhanced presence in the national politics.

A Public Relations consultant or a PR consultancy is rapidly becoming the in-thing for them.

I have been approached by some though I did not take the assignments. But I know professionals, at different levels of their PR profile, handling accounts of individual politicians.

Yes, they do all to keep it secret but as said above, such things are always an open secret, at least for them who are in the game.

So, why this fuss over Rahul Gandhi’s branding or we should say the latest episode in Rahul Gandhi’s branding exercise, so much so that the Congress spokespersons had to come forward to issue official denial(s) to the reports.

But it is not a new initiative.

Much has been written over the brand management efforts centered at Rahul Gandhi, his team of strategists, the Team RG, his ‘style’ of politics, his oratory skills and his body language and gestures.

The debate on whether Congress is hiring image-makeover consultants is a misplaced one. Irrespective of the Congress denial, the elements and the frequency of scheduling of the communication campaign of Congress and thus the projection of Rahul Gandhi and his team would tell the public the imprints of professionals behind the exercise and would certainly tell the people who can identify the experts by their work if Dentsu, JWT and Genesis Burson-Marsteller are involved or not.

Also, the exclamatory observations over this Rs. 500 crore are utterly misplaced when we see the cost of the regular political ad campaigns like a ‘Bharat Nirman’ that counts in thousands of crores.

Let’s quote some of the easily searchable (with simple, routine googling) article excerpts from media reports on Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s branding exercise:

Congress ad blitzkrieg in the works – Business Standard, September 12, 2013 (1)
Till date, 11 agencies including JWT, Percept, Crayons, Equus and Grey have made ad pitches to the team comprising Singh, Ajay Maken, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jairam Ramesh, Deepinder Hooda, Vishwajit Prithvijit Singh, Manish Tewari at the party’s ‘War Room’ at GRG Marg. The presentations are then sent to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is likely to be the party’s face of the 2014 campaign. However, the final call, would be taken by Rahul and party president Sonia Gandhi, sources added.

In the last 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Crayons and Percept had bagged the Congress ad contract. No agency had been finalised as yet for this year, said a senior Congress leader.

2014 Elections: Congress signs up JWT for Rs 550-cr poll campaign; to counter Narendra Modi’s ‘claims’ – The Economic Times, September 2013 (2)
Congress has engaged advertising agency JWT for a Rs 500-crore publicity blitz to stymie the challenge posed by BJP’s Narendra Modi and help smoothen its path to a hat-trick in the 2014 general elections by hardselling its welfare credentials.

Ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, JWT, Crayons and Percept had handled the party’s ad campaign, which included purchasing rights of AR Rahman’s Oscar-winning number ‘Jai Ho’.

In 2004, the Congress campaign was mainly handled by Leo Burnett, which packaged its Aam Aadmi messaging that helped the party undercut NDA’s ‘India Shining’ campaign. Some of the work in the 2004 campaign, notably ad films, was handled by Percept, the agency behind the ongoing Bharat Nirmaan campaign.

Congress picks Dentsu, Taproot & JWT for poll ad campaign – The Economic Times, October 8, 2013
The Congress party has opted for many of the same people who were behind its advertising campaign for the 2009 elections, picking Dentsu and Taproot to join JWT as the agencies that will handle the Rs 500 crore contract.

Okay, now these three reports should be enough to gauge for the curious fellows on how regular this practices has been. Yes, most of these reports talk about Congress and poll preparations but only an immature mind (of a communication pro) can see Congress and Rahul differently while preparing a brand management (and thus performance) strategy for Congress.

Also, before this, Rahul was running the show in a roundabout way. Now, he is the face. So, this time, it has to be more direct, centering on him, because stakes are highly unprecedented, highly delicately skewed.

So, if earlier, it was around Congress and projecting Rahul was a part of it, this time, it is going to be around Rahul and Congress is going to follow the leads from projections and imagery about Rahul Gandhi.

The change of guard is going to focus the Rahul Gandhi way of politics (the way he talks about it, especially in post-Aam Aadmi Party scenario) as the central theme of the communication campaign in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

Also, whenever there are no hopes left for the Congress party, as is the case now with absolutely high anti-incumbency against the Manmohan Singh led UPA government, the party leaders has nothing but to look to the Nehru-Gandhi family as the last resort. Now, the effectiveness of this last resort has not been consistent, but at least, it gives the party leaders a point to base their hopes in the atmosphere of 360 Degree gloom.

And to fight this atmosphere of 360 Degree gloom, the Congress party is going to soak itself deeply in the blitzkrieg of a 360 Degree communication campaign employing tools of advertising and public relations hoping it would make for the lost ground.

Rahul Gandhi or Congress taking help of image management consultants for the upcoming general elections is a regular political communication campaign, an effort that has no guarantee of ROI (return on investment), more so, in the prevailing political circumstances.

We saw the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) ‘India Shining’ campaign failing to deliver. The Rahul Gandhi brand management exercise coupled with ‘Bharat Nirman 2.0’ could well be a repeat of the ‘India Shining’ campaign.

The outcome may be as challenging as the evolution of the ownership structures of the advertising and public relations agencies and their holding groups!

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

1 http://www.business-standard.com/article/politics/congress-ad-blitzkrieg-in-the-works-113091100632_1.html
2 http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-09-11/news/41971845_1_jwt-congress-campaign-congress-war-room
3 http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-10-08/news/42829373_1_ad-agencies-congress-party-election-campaign

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