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.

Downloading in Delhi – the app of the season!!!

On the same Sunday two weeks ago, Indians in general and Dilliwallahs in particular were waiting in bated breath as the counting for the state elections was in progress to know who will be the next Chief Minister(CM).  2 weeks hence one is still waiting to know who will be Delhi’s next CM as another counting is underway and announcement of result is awaited tomorrow.  Few years back (2008 I think), IDEA cellular ran a TVC for their mobile service in which politicians were seeking opinion from people on an issue related to governance thro SMS polls. That time the idea of seeking referendum using technology streams like mobile/internet seemed like an extreme fantasy of a creative brain.   However the Aam Admi Party (AAP) the new kid on the block in India’s politics has been in the forefront of re-writing the rules of the game and what seemed like fictional has indeed become a reality. As I type these words, in a reality show type SMS poll, AAP is conducting a referendum exercise in Delhi on whether to form the Government or not.

Everyone is in unison when they say that this Delhi Election has seen a new coming of age of Indian democracy. And this has been mainly engineered by the presence of AAP in the election ring. Can you imagine of a situation few years ago where the single largest party with few seats short of majority soberly declaring that they will sit in the opposition and serve the people without making an attempt to form the Government??  To borrow from Vinod Mehta’s piece one feels that suddenly India these days has become “the Republic of Utopia – St. Thomas More’s imaginary state in which laws, government and social conditions are perfect”!!! From the days of “Aaya ram, Gaya ram” to “Hamare pass numbers hai” and the usual scenes of MLAs being holed up in some remote resort to prevent horse trading to today’s “Pehle aap, Pehle aap”, I think this is a fantastic and refreshing change.  In that sense, AAP has already won the battle if not the war.

Once the single largest party-the BJP showed no inclination to form the Government, there has been a huge clamour on AAP to stake claim for forming the Government with support from the Congress or BJP.  The conundrum which ensued on AAP was understandable. “How can we take support even if  its outside from any of the 2 parties whom we opposed tooth and nail during the campaign???” “How can we form the Government somehow by striking a deal with the Congress or BJP when we were exactly against their wheeling dealing type of politics???” So when this conflict played out, the AAP leadership took the stance of not staking claim and as per me rightly so. But they were reviled by the opposition first and then the press.

 “AAP is shirking its responsibility by not forming the Government” was one refrain. How can they, when they didn’t have the numbers or the mandate to govern on their own terms?

Politics is the art of the possible. So AAP should take the support from Congress and form the Government with a Common Minimum programme (CMP)“ was another theory. As per me this whole Common Minimum Programme is nothing but a recipe for “Common Minimum Governance”!!! We saw this during the UPA-1 regime when Congress formed the Government with “Outside” support from the Left under the premise of a CMP. What followed was nothing but a Left rule by proxy. While the CMP ensured that the agenda of the Left was followed, the growth agenda of the country got left behind 😦 😦

“How will the people know what AAP is capable of if you don’t govern? Since Congress is providing “unconditional” support, AAP should stop posturing and take their support and change Delhi as you promised” – this is another missive.  India’s political history shows “Unconditional support” means “And Conditions apply for support”!  So I’m not sure if Congress will play ball on all initiatives and changes AAP wishes to usher in Delhi. Maybe they will. May be times are changing.

So all this egging of AAP to somehow form the Government is as per me a well thought of strategy by the parties to make AAP govern and then flounder. After all how has AAP managed to capture the imagination of people in a short time? Not just by promising to root out corruption but also to govern with Aam Admi’s interest in mind on every issue. If AAP comes to power and makes mistakes, it will be good news for BJP and also Congress when they face the same public in 2014 for the Lok Sabha polls. But if AAP does really govern well, still 6 months is a short period to make any impact which will affect 2014 elections.  So the National parties with their sights firmly on 2014 Lok Sabha polls want AAP to rule and probably fail.

On the other hand, if AAP had stuck to the original stand of not forming the Government under any circumstances, may be Delhi would be subjected to President’s rule and re-poll held along with Lok Sabha polls.  That would have been a win-win situation for AAP.

  • If they win with a majority then, they get full undisputed mandate of Delhi and they can rule without anybody looking over their shoulders and give the Governance they promised.
  • If they lose and BJP gets a majority, they can sit in opposition. It allows for some time for the young first time legislators to learn and prepare for the long haul in the future. At the same time they can continue to put pressure on the Government like they are doing today and bring in paradigm changes. Somehow my take is AAP is best suited to be in opposition and bring in changes rather than govern. While everything else of AAP is inspiring hope, somehow their economic agenda is not. It smacks of more socialism, Anti-business and hence worrisome.  Hopefully they will change their thinking when they understand what matters most to Aam Admi.  It is not doles but jobs and hence empowerment.
  • The only issue is what will happen if it’s a hung assembly again with no clear majority. I feel that there is lesser chance for the same as constituencies where either AAP or BJP won with smaller margins will vote more decisively the next time over.

Somehow in the last few days, coming under pressure from media and commentators, AAP leaders decided to dilute their stand from “Not forming the Government” to “Will form if people say so”. Hence that “What an idea, Sirji” was put to use.

As I come to the close of this piece it is clear that AAP has been the “app of the season” in India. It looks very possible that this is App is “downloading” itself in Delhi and we may have Arvind Kejriwal as the new Chief Santa this X-mas and Aam Admi Party governing Delhi in the New year.  Here’s wishing AAP an error free run and more downloads in the future!!! Jingle Bells, jingle bells,…,…

aap