The Public Relations Scene: Mad Men In Government

“The President is a product.” - Pete Campbell, Mad Men

For most politicians, a YouTube video showcasing their screw ups and viewed by thousands upon thousands of potential voters would equal a personal and professional public relations disaster.

Most politicians aren’t Brad Wall.

Early in the New Year the Sask Party posted a one and a half minute video on their website consisting of funny outtakes of the Premier filming his 2010 election campaign commercials. He trips over a stair, flubs his lines, and requests new takes. He betrays the odd flash of frustration as he clearly demands perfection of himself, but mostly chuckles warmly, and a bit sheepishly, at his own mistakes.

Not once does he curse, or lash out at those behind the scenes. Instead, he maintains his signature charm throughout: a powerful Premier leading one of the fastest-growing economies on the planet, yet humbly self-deprecating, displaying a solid sense of humor, while apologizing repeatedly to the crew for just wanting to get it right. It’s political gold.

The film was reportedly released at the urgings of Wall’s wife Tami, and their kids. If that’s true, then they are a family full of political and PR geniuses. Why? Because the very nature of this video is that it was never supposed to be seen, hence its unscripted authenticity is indisputable. To that end, what we observe is an authentically likeable, good natured politician whose off-camera demeanor matches up seamlessly with his on-camera profile.

You can’t buy publicity like that. You sure as hell can’t script it. It’s a special kind of magic that Wall has dazzled us with over and over again since grasping the reigns of first the Sask Party, and then the province.

Its just one more nail in the now firmly sealed coffin containing Wall’s opponents’ theory, which still occasionally, and half-heartedly, insists that behind the Premier’s public charm lies a greedy, Machiavellian monster.

In Season 1 of Mad Men, the boys of Sterling Cooper were stymied – how would they elevate a grim, dry Dick Nixon’s image above that of the dashing and personable JFK? Surely a campaign highlighting Nixon’s economic policies and experience would be enough to outweigh Kennedy’s charm. Pete Campbell knew better.

A recent New York Times article showcased how Americans are making their decisions in the Republican primaries. “Voters readily acknowledged that their decisions would be driven as much by personal chemistry and biography as by political positions and policy,” it said. “For candidates who have sometimes labored years over policy books and memoirs, stump speeches and sales pitches, campaigning for president means accepting seemingly whimsical judgments and serendipitous connections.” In other words, it’s the personality, stupid.

Premier Wall is a humble, humorous and kind person – I’ve witnessed it myself at events where he’s still tossing a football with a sick kid, having a heartfelt conversation with a fellow parent, or goofing around with the catering crew long after reporters have packed up their notebooks and recorders and gone home. From a cold, calculating, public relations perspective, the problem with moments like that is that they are impossible to package without appearing, well, packaged. Until now.

An unscripted peek behind the political curtain, revealing a leader who despite his power and popularity, is Just Like Us – voter connections don’t get much more serendipitous than that. Brad Wall’s blooper video drives home the fact that what we see is what we get. And what we have is one of the most popular Premier’s this province – and currently the country – has ever had.

- Tammy Robert’s columns appear weekly in print in the Saskatoon Express