Is President Obama taking lessons from the Putin PR playbook? The Premier of Russia is notorious for ludicrous photo ops and a clumsy PR strategy that includes releasing Marlboro-man style photos of himself to the media. There’s Vlad diving in the deep sea, fly fishing bare-chested, and parachuting out of an airplane. The photos usually provoke rounds of snickers, rather than admiration. Could the latest White House PR ploy have the same effect?
The Putinesque moment in question is the release by the White House of a photo of President Obama shooting a rifle. In an interview published by the New Republic, Obama claimed he had used the gun at the Camp David Presidential retreat. “We do skeet shooting all the time,” the President said. Cue derision from conservative foes who, in the midst of national acrimony about gun control, were justifiably puzzled by this previously undisclosed hobby.
The White House caption accompanying the photo by the official White House photographer notes: “President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012.” If Obama has a history of shooting, then it was probably best to have released a photo way earlier than this, rather than make it look as though he’s just assuring the NRA he’s not anti-gun.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco). A bad idea, poorly timed.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: No one likes to be played. The unintended upshot of the photo’s release is fodder for the gun lobby and skepticism by journalists. Even if the President is a routine skeet shooter, this photo would have been better uncovered by the media much earlier in the gun debate and not released by the President’s own PR team. Whatever the PR short-term gains, trust and credibility are lost with these overtly manipulative releases. Just ask President Putin.