The passing of Margaret Thatcher was announced yesterday by none other than her trusty PR adviser Lord Timothy Bell, the man who packaged Thatcher for an electoral win. It was a fitting end to an astonishing PR trajectory – the PR man who transformed the grocer’s daughter into a global figurehead ended up publicly drawing the curtain on the former Prime Minister’s final act, and possibly his greatest PR achievement.
To realize quite how successful Lord Bell has been in creating a myth and icon, one only need look at the media coverage announcing Thatcher’s death. Blanketing most news outlets on both sides of the Atlantic, the consensus on both political sides was that Thatcher had genuinely transformed economic policy and foreign policy with her relentless prescription for free markets and hostility to the Soviet Union.
Bell’s PR packaging served Thatcher’s messages well. Yesterday’s coverage made endless references to the deepened voice loaded with gravitas, as prescribed by her PR team, while her signature handbag portrayed an impatient common sense. Though her politics are what made her famous, her clever photo ops and bon mots made sure that even those who weren’t fans felt compelled to listen, watch, and acknowledge her achievements.
THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) for Lord Bell and Margaret Thatcher for consistent PR packaging that made a political icon.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Consistency trumps inventiveness. Thatcher’s genius was to begin working with a PR team at the outset of her political launch (as portrayed in the film The Iron Lady) that took every opportunity to demonstrate qualities that she later traded on. From her famous “This lady is not for turning” speech to her impeccably groomed persona, her packaging over the years rarely strayed or experimented with doubt or ideological uncertainty. Bell found for Thatcher a PR formula that, once firmly established, simply improved with age.