We always try to keep our fingers on the pulse of the nation. In late November (2017), we conducted some research through Academy Opinions (a joint initiative of Irish Academy of Public Relations and Opinions.ie) which looked at Taoiseach Leo Varakdar and his image. The results were really interesting.
We wanted to find out how the media portrayed the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), so, we surveyed people in the communications industry. 89.5% of respondents worked in communications, and the balance were academics teaching in this area. This is a specialist group offering very insightful feedback in their area of expertise. Here is what they believe:
The results were generally quite positive:
- Leo Varadkar is portrayed as different from other politicians in Ireland (37.9%). This is a very positive indicator that the Taoiseach has an ability to reach people that other politicians lack.
- Almost a quarter of those surveyed (24.1%) believe that he is portrayed as honest.
- Just over 27% believe that coverage shows him to be outspoken.
These are all very positive traits.
Two more should be noted here:
- 4% of people believed that the Taoiseach is portrayed as young -which he certainly is in terms of both his political career and his age. However, this is a double-edged sword. Being young and innovative and different and honest is very good – if that is how he is perceived. Being young and inexperienced is another matter entirely. More research needs to be done to establish whether his youth is mostly seen as positive or negative.
- 2% believe that he is ‘cool’. This could be a genuine compliment that he is of his era, takes a different approach and is seen to be less stuffy than other politicians. It could also mean that he is seen a hip and street-wise and not really a politician and therefore not to be taken seriously. Again – more research is needed.
There are some warning signs as well. If you think that he is the Prime Minister of the country, then it cannot be good that 20.7% of people believed he was portrayed as a lightweight and 24.1% believe he is portrayed as self-obsessed. Lightweight means lacking substance or easily dismissed, and that is a political kiss of death, and, while we are all, to one extent or another, self-obsessed, being publicly portrayed as such cannot be anything but negative.
The really worrying stats, however, are that only 6.9% believe he is portrayed as a world-class leader – he has not yet made his mark on the world stage, but Brexit may offer him that opportunity, certainly on a European stage. The other worrying statistic is that 3.4% think he is portrayed as hard-hitting, which, for a political leader, must be worrying. The exact same percentage, by the way, believe that he is portrayed as exotic!
The respondents were an audience of people who understand the importance of public persona, image, and spin. Their impressions carry weight.
Trying to draw overall conclusions is difficult, but, if I was advising Leo Varadkar on his PR strategy, I think I would be comfortable enough that he has established himself as a straight dealer who is different from other politicians. I would regard it as a positive that he is seen as young (too many old men in politics internationally) but I would carefully monitor how his youth is portrayed so that it does not slide over to the negative side of the equation. I would definitely work on his portrayal as lightweight. He is dealing with serious issues and making decisions on behalf of the country on a daily basis. He needs to comment more on international issues.
The self-obsession we’ll leave for another day!