Note: This is the 2nd column of David Goyette's "Backroom Briefing" for PTBOCanada. For more info on it, click here.
Q. It may just be me, but the Mayor seems to show up at almost every event where the media is present. Is this on purpose? How does it work? –Steve, East City
Goyette: Politicians trade in a different currency than the rest of us, and self promotion is a part of it. While everyone enjoys basking in the glow that comes from the acclaim of others, most people in political life view this as a job requirement. This has a great deal to do with the reasons that people get into politics in the first place, but that's a topic for another day.
In the political trade, there are many opportunities for self-promotion by politicians as a result of relations with an individual constituent; the neighbourhood or community or group; the associations, advocates and lobbyists; the political party or leader; and the media. Although relations with these individuals and groups wears a legitimate face of public service, they will be supplemented by a desire to secure the personal recognition that translates into public acclaim, status within the political community of which the politician is a part and electoral votes. This should come as no surprise. It is the system we have created for politicians, and they respond and compete accordingly.
When it comes to political self promotion, the bigger the group the better the prospects. With its ability to reach an entire voting community, the media is the preferred target. It must also be said that the media is more than just a target for politicians; the media targets them as well in order to generate the news that translates into advertising and revenues. Practical politics is all about this kind of symbiosis.
Here are some of the mechanics of making this work in a political office. While there are far more opportunities for a parliamentary politician serving in government than in opposition, the principles are the same. We call the activity “scheduling” and there are two types of events to be considered: those that are invitations from others—by far the most common—and those that we create ourselves.
In the case of the former, the invitations to attend an event are collected and reviewed by staff at a weekly scheduling meeting. Recommendations are put to the politician on a weekly basis, typically a Thursday or Friday, in order to prepare for the following week. The politician decides and staff work is assigned accordingly. That work might include the preparation of briefing notes, speeches, visual presentations, proclamations, certificates, letters, mementos or thank you cards; the securing of a lectern, a sound system, screens, lighting and backdrops or props; security; and transportation.
The promotional events that we create for ourselves are fewer in number and might include a newsletter or “householder,” event sponsorship, paid advertising, or a major speech delivered to an audience on a day before an important debate or vote. Technology has played a big role in extending the reach of these events. In Peterborough, Councillors now have $1,000 to spend on these activities as they see fit.
David Goyette is the Executive Assistant to Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett. For more on his Backroom Briefing column, click here. Email your burning questions for David about City Hall to firstname.lastname@example.org.