I wish to inform our global professional community that, directly from the horse’s mouth, we now also have a formal definition of Berlusconi’s public relations model:
la politica del cucù (pronounced cucku)!
The term comes, I presume, from a recent televised joke he exposed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel when he suddenly appeared in front of her, stepping out from hiding behind a huge statue with a great smile, his two waving hands next to his head and yelling ‘cucku, cucku’….
I know… this is not the global definition of public relations proposed by our Canadian friends, but it does gives an interesting insight on how some political leaders around the world interpret their public relations role.
I read his first literal reference to this ‘policy’ in a public statement a couple of weeks ago; a second in a television interview over the previous weekend; and a third in an off-the-cuff chat with journalists five days ago following his return from the Washington visit to Obama.
Three direct references in less than a week imply that he has carefully thought it out, liked it and has decided to thematise.
His outreach plan to persuade Italians that his cucku policy is saving the country from the worst impact of the recession, has now been temporarily suspended given his most recent and nth public stumble in yet another group of his young girl friends confiding to Magistrates as well as to Italy’s major newsmedia their 2000 euro per night performances with the elderly macho….. But we can be sure he will certainly pick the theme up again, as soon as this recent storm clears away and…. until the next one.
Why does this, apparently silly, item deserve an ad hoc post in this blog?
I believe it does, from different perspectives.
Disclosure: Between 1981 and 1984 I was one of the two principal advisors to Marcello Dellutri then Ceo of Publitalia 80, the Italian advertising giant which for the last 30 years has culturally, commercially and managerially dominated the Italian market.
The other consultant was Antonio Pilati, a reputed intellectual and writer who now sits in the Antitrust Authority.
Publitalia, fully owned by Mediaset, Berlusconi’s media corporation, is the latter’s financial safebox and a highly profitable business.
Dellutri, even today, is considered the closest advisor to the Premier; he sits in the Senate and has been involved over the years in many judiciary cases involving improper, criminal behaviours and rumoured to be the Premier’s principal direct connection with organised crime. My distinct recollection of Dellutri is instead that of a highly curious, intelligent and erudite gentleman, with a natural and richly groomed talent for organization and outreach.
At the time, our task was to assist the company and its hundreds of young salespersons (many of whom have subsequently become prominent locally and nationally politicians) rationalise, absorb and practice what we then defined a ‘service culture’ , and which today we could call a ‘relationships culture’.
Every time I would encounter B. I remained impressed by his dynamic and relentless devotion to homework (never caught him once unprepared) and, most importantly, to the strengthening of the relationship with his interlocutor.
Berlusconi (honny soit qui mal y pense) gives every individual, male or female, he relates with that impression that his only interest in life is to gain your approval.
This is what he means by cuckoo, and the process begins with a very meticulous gathering of information prior to his entering any relationship with any single individual.
Information, clearly, not only picked up from official sources…and this gives you an idea of the contents of his many files (nothing new here…many Ceo’s spend and millions and millions to access private info on managers, relevant shareholders, obnoxious employees, competitors, partners, suppliers, politicians and what have you: a substantial business for many pr and otherwise agencies worldwide.
Being very close to Putin, it is clear where he got his doctorate from.
Cucku also implies that, once he has met you.. not one birthday, personal or family celebration, occasion or encounter will go without receiving a message from him and, in many cases, a present, usually a costly wristwatch, a bracelet and/or weekend invite in one of his many coastal or country villas and residences….
Through his network it is easy for him to learn what your objectives are and if his objective is to get you to stand by him on any specific issue (he has that stigma so typical of many leaders, by which you are either for him or against him), you can make sure that he will intervene, most of the time without your prior knowledge or consent, to support you.
When the objective has been achieved, he will let you know (usually indirectly) that you owe it to him, whether you recognise it or not.
He will not take no (not even a no thanks) for an answer and may be obsessive in his overwhelming attention.
How he finds the time is beyond anyone’s imagination.
The fact that he sleeps only one or two hours a night implies that while you are resting he is thinking of you and many others.
Having said this, there is really little justification for some of the current stereotypes, in Italy but more and more internationally. Don’t want to sound defensive, but the risk of over interpreting and of generalising, is strong.
For example I was somewhat shocked a few months ago when, in one of my NYU classes, a student asked me what had happened to free press in Italy.
I tried to explain that this was a unfounded question, but only a few days later I was obliged to bow when Freedom House downgraded Italy by tens of points in the international freedom of the press list.
A more recent case this week: while every print newspaper was loaded with info on the recent scandal, you would find it difficult to find any reference to it in the two major tv news channels.
Yet… to the risk of appearing to too close to the situation, I do not think that Italy has less freedom of the press than most other western democracies.
And Italy is a democracy.
In fact, I was once more shocked the other day when, being interviewed by a group of foreign pr students on a study trip to Italy, they asked me if Italy was truly a democracy.
Of course it is! It has its problems, but please indicate to me a democracy which doesn’t!
Students also asked me: why do Italians fear Berlusconi?
And this was truly too much!
Italians love Berlusconi!!
They find in him the day-to-day physical representation of what they would like to be (crass, macho with a paranoic attention to the opposite sex, rich, powerful, televised, visible, focussed on self…).
These are the values he impersonates and which are current today, particularly in the younger generations).
In fact, one could even say that Italy is the only democratic country in Europe in which elites are, rather than the illuminist one step ahead of the people (as we have learned in our younger years that any elite should be), one step behind and strive to overlap precisely with the lower stomach urges of the people.
From this point of view our Premier, who has been prominent in day to day politics now for 15 years (remember: he is everything but a novelty or a newcomer and has been a strong influencer of politics since the late seventies), has recruited and attracted a new class of politicians which perfectly fit this profile.
What is even maybe worse is that opposition politicians, but also industrialists, academics, intellectuals, lawyers and financiers, envious of his success and popularity, have also embraced many of his values, tools and processes.
So the cuckoo policy is gaining consensus and imitation and not only in Italy.
He has ‘cuckuud’ the Italian people and he is ‘cuckuuing’ the leaderships and fantasies of many other countries.
If you run an organisation by reading four short reports from as many polling companies every morning on issues you have dictated the preceding day according your sniff; if you then publicly and daily express the views on those issues which are a rational summary of those four reports, you will not only raise your popularity but you will force the rest of the country’s leadership to stay on your agenda as others simply do not dare to say different things unless they are ready to remain in a small minority.
Is it a coincidence that Italy has become a declining society and economy since he was elected for the first time in 1994?
The cuckoo model, not yet rationalised, has been with us for some time.
Has our professional body of knowledge gone another step forward? God forgive us…