Posted by: cindystephenson | October 8, 2009

Stephen Harper performs with a little help from his friends

What did you think of Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s surprise appearance at the recent National Arts Centre Fundraiser Gala?

While I disagree with his politics, I think it was a brilliant more. Made all the more so by the fact that it wasn’t the idea of his handlers, but the brainchild of his wife Laureen.

Here’s the YouTube clip if you haven’t seen it:

So what worked:

Two things worked in his favour. First, he sang a Beatles song that we all know the words to. Second, he was accompanied by well known classical musician Yo-Yo Ma.

Was he taking a risk:

I think so. Definitely.

Everyone in the audience would surely have remembered his disparaging remarks about arts galas during the last election campaign. The Harper government has also slashed $45 million to arts and culture programs.

He risked coming across as a hypocrite.

Would it have worked for Jack Layton or Michael Ignatieff? All three of Canada’s political leaders have trouble resonating with the Canadian public. However, I don’t think either could have pulled it off as well.

The result:

Many pundits have speculated on just how much impact that had. I think Andrew Potter,  who writes a weekly public affairs column for MacLeans Magazine , nailed it when he said that the frame of Harper’s brand has been stretched and expanded in a very positive way. “All he had to do was expand his frame just enough to open it up to people who had never given him a look before, and there is no question that he did that,” said Potter.

What’s the key takeaway:

For every successful public relations event that goes off smoothly, invariably much work went on behind the scenes to make it so.

In this case, it was Laureen Harper who initially pitched the idea to Yo-Yo Ma. She then got the National Arts Centre onside. Then came choosing a song that was in her husband’s vocal range that she knew he could sing, and a suitable band. And they had to fit in a rehearsal.

When things go smoothly, the PR professional (or in this case his wife Laureen) is often working quietly in the background to make sure that is so. It may look spontaneous, but it’s usually not.


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