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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
How to best sell brand Brown?
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

Peter Kay
Could Mr Brown learn from Peter Kay's 'no nonsense' approach?
After a decade as the serious minded bank manager to Tony Blair's rather flashier salesman, what would advertising experts advise Gordon Brown to do to win over the British public in his new role as prime minister?

Would they agree with his decision to make a virtue of the fact he has "never believed presentation should be a substitute for policy. I do not believe politics is about celebrity"?

Or, in the 24 hour media age, is that the type of forlorn hope neatly summed up by his advisers' in-joke of saying "no spin is the new spin".

"The simple fact is that governments have to communicate with the public," says Lord Bell, who played a key role in shaping Margaret Thatcher's public image in the 1980s.

"Of course he is going to communicate - and in modern politics the personality of the leader is an important factor."

He is incapable of becoming a superstar - he tried but it did not work, his heart wasn't in it
Ex-Thatcher adviser Lord Bell on Gordon Brown

The Tory peer is suspicious of any politician who says they will put an end to "spin", arguing the business of running the country makes it impossible to be "100% transparent" at all times.

And he pours scorn on the suggestion Mr Brown has rejected celebrity culture.

"He can not help but become a celebrity. He will be the prime minister of Great Britain.

"He is surrounded by public relations people and people advising him on what his image should be. If that is what his spin is, he is telling a lie."

Leadership contest

Mr Brown's decision to project a more "humble" image is born out of necessity rather than clever politics, he argues.

"He is incapable of becoming a superstar. He tried but it did not work. His heart wasn't in it. Actors have to want to act.

"The point he is trying to make is 'I am not like Tony Blair'. Everybody hates Tony Blair because they think he is a liar and Brown wants to say he is not like that."

David Cameron
David Cameron has shown a keen eye for a picture

But without the platform of a leadership contest or a general election, he may struggle to make an impression with the public, argues Lord Bell.

But PR expert Mark Borkowski believes that by appearing to reject celebrity culture the chancellor has hit on a winning strategy.

"He is trying to create an image of conviction politician. He has made a very assured start. You feel that Gordon Brown is a man that would actually admit mistakes, whether he will or not I don't know, but that's how he came across.

PR 'secret'

He adds: "I think people are curious and surprised to see what he is doing.

"We have had enough of spinning and bluster. You have to reject the celebrity culture."

He may lack Tony Blair's natural ease in front of the TV cameras, says Mr Borkowski, but Mr Brown can afford to come across as slightly awkward on the GMTV sofa, as long as people think he is being himself.

Gordon Brown
Brown photo-opportunities have not always been as slick

"Blair completely blew it. The great secret of political PR is to make sure no one sees the strings being pulled. If the media are talking about spin, it means you have failed," he says.

Rather than trying to give their man a fashionable makeover, Team Brown have been concentrating instead on cultivating key opinion formers, such as Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror, says Mr Borkowski.

"Surprisingly, there is a lot of work that has gone into that, but no one knows about it."

Mr Brown will not be short of advice on how to present himself to the public.

'No nonsense'

His wife, Sarah, is a leading public relations practitioner, who co-founded her own agency, Hobsbawm Macaulay.

His older brother, Andrew, is also in the PR business, as the UK head of media relations for French energy giant EDF.

And Mr Brown is himself no novice when it comes to handling the media.

David Cameron is like Stella Artois
Neil Hourston, TBWA ad agency

In his student days, his campaign to be Rector of Edinburgh University was a masterclass in grabbing column inches - he was even accompanied to photo shoots by a mini-skirted group of female fans called The Brown Sugars.

As chancellor, he has pulled off a number of spectacular coups, such as his surprise announcement that he was giving up control of interest rates to the Bank of England.

In his most recent Budget, he did it again - guaranteeing himself front page headlines with a surprise cut in the basic rate of income tax - even though the concurrent cut in the bottom rate of tax meant in reality it made little difference to people's take home pay.

He has also faced accusations of re-announcing spending pledges in an effort to grab headlines.

Last December, he gave the impression that he was unveiling 36bn of new capital investment in schools, colleges and universities, when, in fact, all but 150m was old money that had already been announced.


By opting to present himself as "unspun", he may feel he is being true to his own character and political instincts.

But in these cynical, media savvy times, it may be difficult to convince voters he is the real thing.

Neil Hourston, of TBWA, Labour's advertising agency at the 2005 general election, believes Mr Brown could pick up a few tips from another of the agency's campaigns - for John Smith's bitter.

The ads - fronted initially by downbeat comedian Jack Dee and then straight-talking northern comic Peter Kay - helped the resolutely unfashionable "no nonsense" bitter brand fight back against more frothy and flash competition.

"It was the 'no-nonsense' ale against the nonsense of lager," says Mr Hourston, who worked on the campaign.

'Charm and wit'

The parallels with politics are obvious, says Mr Hourston: "David Cameron is like Stella Artois."

But, he adds, the key to the John Smith's campaign was humour - something he would advise Mr Brown to employ more often.

"I quite admire the fact that he is trying to position himself against celebrity culture, but people need to like you as well as respect you.

"We had to have charm and wit. We were actually being a lot funnier than the opposition.

"If we made John Smith's too rational and literally no-nonsense, they would not understand the appeal of those values. They would probably find it a bit boring."

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