Leadership Marketing!!!

David Packard, Co-founder of Hewlett Packard famously said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department”.  He meant that in an organization, every individual – the CEO included, has to perform his/her bit in “marketing” the company’s products.  I am not sure if there is anybody else who has taken to this concept more keenly than Donald Trump, a CEO turned POTUS. How else could you explain this?? On the 28th Jan, Trump has a call with the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull as part of his global leadership outreach since he became the President. Post the call, the official White House Readout on the call went thus:

“President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke by phone for twenty-five minutes today. Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally”.

A few days hence, media reports emerged on the call which said, “Donald Trump yelled at Australian PM during “worst ever” phone call about refugee swap deal – then HUNG UP”. For obvious reasons, this report created a furore all over with the rumblings being heard for few days over. In the meantime Trump at a Prayer Breakfast added,

Believe me, when you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having – don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it,”

Now, here’s the intrigue. Apparently we hear that while on the call with Turnbull, Trump was joined by the then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and senior advisor Steve Bannon. Only. So how did reports of his so called “yelling” and “hanging up” find their way to the media??? Surely the President’s office is not bugged by some media house! It’s clear that the media reports were a part of an orchestrated PR campaign to market the product called Trump. In this case it was clearly intended to send a message to his constituency which bought his message of “America First” during the campaign that he is tough and is now “Walking the Talk”.  Notwithstanding the tremors that the news of the call created, I am sure it did the job of enhancing Trump’s image among his supporters as a no nonsense leader. So it was not just important for Trump to talk tough on the refugee issue but to communicate to the world that he talked tough.

trump

Welcome to the age of “Leadership Marketing”!!!

Closer home too, we have parallels to this. Through Narendra Modi our Prime Minister. For example, when Heeraben, our PM’s mother visits him in Delhi and spends a few days at the official Prime Minister’s residence, we get to see pictures splashed in the newspapers of Narendra Modi with his mother. The source of this being the Prime Minister’s twitter handle itself where Modi posted pictures of him walking his mother in a wheel chair along with his tweet which said “My mother returns to Gujarat. Spent quality time with her after a long time & that too on her 1st visit to RCR”.  So to his many followers, the intended message is clear. Here’s a leader who is tender at heart with his mom while being blessed with a 56” chest in his own words to take on his adversaries.  In India more than spending time with wife and children, image of a leader taking care of his mother has a telling impact. Again it was not just enough for Modi to spend quality time with his mom but to inform the world that he did so!!!

America, arguably the global fountainhead of marketing has been in the forefront of adopting this technique with Trump now but even with Barack Obama before. Routinely we were fed with images of how the Obamas enjoyed quiet dinners at suburban restaurants on weekends. On Obama’s 55th birthday which was his last in Office, we saw plugs like “55 pictures of Obama discovering his inner child” and so on!!! In the case of Obama the positioning was not of a tough leader but of an affable and lovable man who cared for everybody.

In India, giving competition to our PM in Leadership Marketing is the Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal. He wears the positioning of Aam Aadmi on his sleeve. Literally. Even as a CM of a state he walks in chappals, wears loose fit clothes, tweets reviews of films he catches up on weekends,… to reinforce his positioning. The party also posts routinely on Facebook like this:

“Chief Minister of India’s Capital. No security, No VIP treatment. Truly Aam Aadmi,”  With the following picture:

ak1

Not surprising that the post got over 30,000 likes and 5,400 comments!!!

So, Leadership Marketing is no longer the exclusive domain of Americans.

In advocating this Leadership Marketing, I must say that the advent of Social media has made the job much easier. No need to depend on your PR agency to do the job. One could time it yourself.

On the flip side, the case of Vijay Mallya tweeting a picture of himself at a Super luxury hotel in Dubai and claiming to have a rocking time when his employees were hitting the streets for unpaid salary back home were bad optics and horrendous Leadership Marketing!!! Leadership Marketing is the new double edged sword in the arsenal for leaders to “position” themselves “right” in the battle for the minds and hearts. Double edged it is and hence they can’t leave it to the party’s publicity wing or an external agency but have to be on top of it themselves. Just as Packard advised.

As leaders engage in this marketing and optics, we the people need to develop the skill of separating wheat from the chaff and make our judgement objectively rather than fall for the optics or surround sound!!!

So the next time when you see a report quoting from an “inside source” of Trump banging the table during a meeting with Tim Cook for not making Apple phones in America or a clip of O.Paneer Selvam praying to a Jayalalitha’s picture tucked in his shirt pocket, you know why!!!

Somebody famously said, “The Future of Marketing is Leadership”. I am tempted to paraphrase in tune with today’s times as “The Future of Leadership is Marketing”. Amen.

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TN, TINA and the lack of Conscience!!!

In May last year, when Tamil Nadu (TN) was in the throes of election I had written a post titled ‘The NOTA Conundrum’ (read here) where I had said that in TN, people have to make a choice when there is actually none.  Between the 2 leading Dravidian parties namely the DMK and ADMK there has been so little to choose from in the last 2 decades. Both the outfits are bereft of any ideology or ideas, are equally corrupt, excel in competitive “freebieism” and have been consumed by family intrigues – one own and the other extended. In that sense TN has been suffering from “TINA” (There Is No Alternative) syndrome. Since NOTA (None Of The Above) was not an option, the people of TN did make a choice of electing ADMK under the leadership of Jayalalitha. (I hate the Amma, Chinnamma sobriquets).  However it would be a grave mistake to conclude that it was a Jayalalitha wave or a massive mandate for ADMK. In fact analysis (read here) shows that DMK actually pipped ADMK in terms of the “Contested vote share” and was actually weighed down badly by the poor performance of its allies. Be that as it may, unfortunately for TN since the elections and the return of ADMK, it has been bogged down by one crisis after the other – the demise of Jayalalitha, the Wardah cyclone, the Jallikattu ban controversy and now the ongoing reality show of Sasikala trying to usurp the reigns of the state. Governance in TN has been holidaying in some “Bay resort” or recuperating in Apollo Hospital for some time now.

That being the case, the question that begs to be asked is what was the hurry for Sasikala to take over as Chief Minister now? After Jayalalitha’s demise, she was able to smoothly appropriate the reigns of the party and became the General Secretary without much ado. In Panneerselvam (OPS) she had a man who has always been pliable and willing to toe the line as long as his interests are taken care of. So the best option for Sasikala was to follow the “Sonia Gandhi model”. Enjoy authority without responsibility by doing back seat driving of OPS from Poes Garden.  If the Government under OPS did well, Sasikala could have still got the credit diverted to her through her sycophant brigade of MLAs and Ministers. And if things went wrong, OPS could have been made the fall guy. This could have helped in moulding public opinion in her favour as a person who listened to her inner voice and made the sacrifice of not going after power. But all this was not to be.

In a very hurried and ill-advised move just when the state was returning to normal after seemingly scoring a win in the Jallikattu issue, Sasikala decided to ascend the throne by de-seating OPS. OPS after initially playing ball decided to run Sasikala out. After his well-choreographed chat with Amma’s Atma for 40 over minutes (not 5 or 10 mins but 40 which was the time needed for the TV cameras to reach Marina beach from wherever they were) spilled the beans on the machinations of Sasikala. He put paid to her ambitions and her so far crafted public image. From being the natural claimant to Jayalalitha’s legacy just a few weeks back to becoming the Villian No. 1, the descent for Sasikala has been steep.  And OPS morphed to becoming a paragon of virtue. Meme factories the best testimonials so far to the Make in India program aided the transition of OPS from a “starter” to being the “main course”!

What explains this Sasikala camp not following the “Sonia Gandhi model”?

Was it the chase for money? I don’t think so. In fact authority sans responsibility is the best way to get a share of the booty while dodging what our erudite CEA Arvind Subramaniam calls as 4cs – Courts, CVC, CBI and CAG which today torment politicians in power!!!

Could it be the lust for absolute power? That narcissist feeling of seeing your name prefixed with Chief Minister when the opportunity is at striking distance is certainly tempting for anybody. So, this could have been the reason though as per me, the headaches that come along may not be worth it. That too when you can still enjoy the fruits of power by wielding the remote control.

I think that there is more to than meets the eye. It is possible that OPS is in the know of the shenanigans of Sasikala in the last few years. So the most plausible reason could be the insecurity that OPS may let the Govt. machinery have a go at the Mannargudi Mafia as it is called now with the sleight of hand of the centre.  This would pose a 24*7*365 check on her aspirations while giving the impression of her wielding power when she is not.  I conjecture that this could be the reason for Sasikala & Co. in deciding to pull the plug on OPS as CM so early. More time could have only cemented OPS’ position.

What would have been a smooth transition had OPS played his usual submissive self, has turned into a pitch battle now. The “Game of Thrones” is now playing out on our TV screens for the past 1 week putting reality shows to shame.  Herding and hiding of MLA’s in luxury resorts an idea contributed to Indian polity by Chandrababu Naidu I think is past its prime. MLAs one by one jumping ship from Sasikala to OPS on an hourly basis only brings to the fore the need for a “Conscience vote”. In India, the Anti defection law originally meant for stopping the Aaya ram gaya ram politics of the 80’s has put a lid on the conscience vote totally. Today a MLA or an MP has no option but to toe the high command line lest he/she will be disqualified under the Anti Defection law. This has effectively stymied dissent in democracy. Though the lack of conscience vote is not an issue in the ongoing TN saga, I reckon lack of conscience is.

I feel that if our legislators are allowed to vote with their conscience confidentially on all issues may it be related to internal democracy (like electing their leader) or voting on a bill, our country will be a better place. Till such time, those honest people wanting to enter politics may have to wait.

ops-sasiPic Courtesy: Indiatoday.in