PR nightmare: Too late for Duterte makeover
Can a public relations makeover change President Rodrigo Duterte’s image from a foul-mouthed no-holds-barred tough guy to that of a more discreet and diplomatic statesman?
Alas, it might just be too late, PR guru Reli German, whose past clients included former President Joseph Estrada, said on Friday at the gathering of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines in Makati City.
“Naunahan na niya tayo,” (He beat us to the draw), German, who has 53 years of experience in PR, said. “Digong has been using his weakness as a point of strength. It has become his brand,” he said, using the President’s nickname.
German added that PR might work for Duterte, but only “if he listens.” Instead, he said, “what we have seen is a man who is urong-sulong (fickle-minded), who is surrounded by people who don’t know him that well.”
Mr. Duterte, who made his first international appearance at the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) summit in Laos early in the week, made headlines here and abroad for his unprovoked tirade against US President Barack Obama.
In a predeparture press conference in Davao City, President Duterte said he would take Obama to task should the US president question him on human rights in the Philippines. He also vowed to “kick (Obama) in front of reporters” if the US leader brought up the issue. Mr. Duterte’s use of the provocative expression “son of a bitch” to preface his challenge did not help any.
In response, Obama canceled a planned bilateral meeting with President Duterte, who later expressed regrets over his words that were widely reported in the international media.
German said one solution to the President’s tendency to use strong language without regard for tact or diplomacy was to train Duterte’s key communication officials on the basics of how to “explain, translate and clarify” Mr. Duterte’s statements in such a way that would leave no room for misunderstanding.
Tiff with media
The President’s communications team is headed by presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella and Secretary Martin Andanar, chief of the Presidential Communications Office.
Malacañang’s statements on the Asean forum were also released by Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo and Sen. Alan P. Cayetano.
Even Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol and former Duterte presidential campaign spokesperson Peter Tiu Lavina joined the fray with their own commentaries and explanation of the President’s tiff with the media.
“Is there anybody among Mr. Duterte’s circle who can tell him to his face that he has to change because he’s now the President?” German asked.
Knowing the principal is key in a PR program, German said, adding that confusion about the President’s actual words and his real intent was heightened because the officials explaining his statements “don’t now Duterte very well.”
With this knowledge, PR can turn the negative into positive, German said, citing as example Estrada’s “carabao English,” which became part of his charm.
A book on Estrada’s mangling of the English language—“Eraptions”—even became a best-seller, German said. TVJ
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.