Perception mgmt and travails of two presidential spokespersons

By Tunde Animasaun

The build-up to the 2023 elections will reach a crescendo next month when campaigns will start in earnest. The two major contenders, in the presidential elections, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of The All Progressive Congress and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, are therefore arming their high command with the people who supposedly possess the head (cognitive capacity) and hands (experience) for the job.

Of major interest to us as marketing communications practitioners and a company committed to promoting the brand idea, is the recent appointment of the spokespersons of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organisation, and Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Organisation, Festus Keyamo, and Hon. Dino Melaye respectively.

Festus Keyamo, SAN, a learned fellow who has plied his trade up to the Supreme Court, social crusader, activist, and a scion of the Gani Fawehinmi School of the public defense, a wordsmith with impeccable oratory and writing skills, and columnist with national daily comes with an impressive and intimidating C.V.  As the Director, Strategic Communications in President Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidential Campaign Organisation during the 2015 and 2019 elections, he gave a stellar performance of promoting his principal and selling him to Nigerians. He is therefore returning to familiar grounds, the terrain and topography with which he is well acquainted with.

His Achilles’ feet may however be this impressive resume. We should also not lose sight of the fact that irrespective of his natural gift and proficiency, he is not a professional image maker and brand builder. Image-making is not just about anything. It is about everything. In public relations business, being vocal, and having oratorical prowess count, but caution, courtesy, and diplomacy are key.

Perception management goes beyond mere theatrics or undue comedies that sometimes border on infantile radicalism. Diplomacy, tact, and wisdom are key ingredients in purposeful and value-driven image management.

While Dino Melaye may not have the training and natural proclivity of Keyamo; the geography graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University is however not a political neophyte. He came to the political limelight when he became a member of the House of Representatives, representing Kabba/Ijumu federal constituency in Kogi State, and in 2015 he was elected as the Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District. He is however more popular for his political shenanigans. his appointment to that sensitive office seems also premised on ‘reward for loyalty’ rather than competence, “what informed his selection is the fact he is a very strong supporter of Atiku”, said Audu Mahmood, Director General, PDP New Generation.

However, his garrulity and recklessness, if unchecked, may cast a dour shadow on his principal. A spokesperson is not a man who needs to be constantly checked and kept in line as may be the case with Melaye

These are the ‘imperfect’ men who will project, defend, sell and promote their respective principals. They will try to manipulate the perception of the voting public in favour of their principals towards earning their ballots on Election Day.

Beyond being the mouthpiece of campaign organizations, therefore, the spokespersons’ real job description is serious brand building and perception management. Of all the skill sets required to creditably excel at the job; these two are most likely to impact the fortunes of their principals directly.

Perception management was coined by the US military which described it as, “Actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders at all levels to influence official estimates, ultimately resulting in foreign behaviours and official actions favorable to the originator’s objectives. According to them, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations.” Extrapolating this for general usage, it means perception is the conveyance or denial of selected information to influence audiences’ emotions, motives, and decisions based on truth projection.

Evidently, the best fit for this job goes beyond a mere gift with words, oratory or written. It is a professional job that can best be handled by professionals. In climes from where our type of participatory democracy was borrowed, the job of the image maker is either given to a consultant (firm) or a time-tested professional. For instance, in 2016, Donald Trump appointed Hope Hicks, a communications and public relations consultant as the director of Communications. With her skill and dexterity, she turned the tide against an incumbent party whose candidate, Hilary Clinton, was the wife of a former President and wrought such communications magic that eventually led to Trump’s success at the polls. She was also the communications director and director of strategic communications in Trump’s administration and it was not until her resignation in 2018 that trump’s image started plummeting.

As it stands now, both parties have sacrificed professionalism in the choice of their image makers. However, the effect of this can still be mitigated by fortifying the communication directorates with seasoned professionals as consultants. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not new at this. He did it in Lagos by creating political brands out of relatively unknown men who later occupied the number one seat in the state.

As the 2023 elections draw nearer and issues in the polity are crystalising, the party with the stronger communication and image-making machinery is most likely to have the day. This is especially so because both the ruling APC and the opposition PDP come with political baggage. What will make the difference is how each is able to touch the passion points and ease the pain points of the electorate.





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