Berlusconi has begun to rationalise and theorise his ‘cucku’ model of public relations

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…

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21 Replies to “Berlusconi has begun to rationalise and theorise his ‘cucku’ model of public relations

  1. It is now 7.30 pm November 27 in Rome, Italy.

    A few minutes ago the Italian Senate voted to oust Silvio Berlusconi from its institution.
    The streets in central Rome where Berlusconi resides are crowded by his more affectionate followers and, as the Senate was voting, tired and worn out, he addressed his crowd vowing to return to the premiership soon. In the meantime opinion polls give him a strong leadership in case of elections.

    Not being protected by parliamentary immunity as of tomorrow, and having at least four diffrent trials coming up: the first is an appeal over a conviction to seven years in jail for prostitution of minors and concussion; the second formally accusing him of having corrupted at least one self confessed senator to make the past Prodi government fall thus leading to political elections some years ago; the third for having corrupted at least ten of his bunga bunga girls so that they would testify the false in the trial that sentenced him to seven years…. Berlusconi is clearly subject to at least house arrest or serving time in some sort of social service, given his age and possibly his health condition.

    We will see, but what is alarming is that, in case of political elections, he will not be allowed to run as he has lost his political rights. Yet he leads opinion polls.

    I was in class when the vote happened a couple of hours ago and one bright student asked me: but how is it possible that at least 10 million italians will still vote for him? Is this what communication is all about?

    Gasp…. sadly the student could only receive from me an embarassed ‘this is what communication can be about, but I hesitantly added: not all about.

    The saga will go on, as I wrote in a previous update, until one morning he just won’t wake up.

    And to close this update:

    As it is hypocritical for us to say that fascism, communism, nazism and many of today’s rulers, including Berlusconi’s great friend Putin who, by the way is on an official visit to Italy (irony..) and dined with him the night before last, are all episodes that have nothing to do with public relations…we cannot relieve ourselves of our profession’s responsibilities by saying that Berlusconi is only an Italian phenomenon.

    Sadly my friends, he is only a much more effective communicator and there are many other political and business leaders around the world who are studying and applying his model….

    I will now go to dinner and very, as the italians say ‘con la morte nel cuore’ (with death in my heart), I will sadly celebrate today’s event.

  2. Yesterday’s news that SB was found guilty of paying a minor for sex and for abusing his power of premiership to relieve the girl from arrest for a theft, has produced a ‘ much ado about nothing’ effect on italian public opinion. Three more judiciary decisions related to other criminal behaviors attributed to him are coming in the next few weeks. Last night he had a three hour one with one conversation with our current premier over whom he holds the key to survival of the cabinet… Cordial and normal said the official press release. Astounding, amazing, depressing… But factual proof that the combination of money, maniacal passion for communcation and his cucu pr model is invincible. By the way, despite that he was declared guilty by three female judges, the unexpected recent positive results of political elections revealed that more than 60 percent of his electorate is composed by women voters… Honny soit….one might say….. Hopefully for him, for me and my fellow italians he will simply just not wake up one morning..

    1. More than ‘divine’ Berlusconi (this update is May 2 2013), has done a terrific (in every sense..) job of re-establishing himself as an undisputed leader of the grand coalition that Italian Parliament approved as our government.

      He is also a self but possible and likely candidate to guide a special institutional body for reform.
      At least three trials pending will come to conclusion (?) in the next few weeks but he was accepted amongst those world leaders who participated at George Bush junior’s opening of his dedicated library. How is that for performance of his cuckoo model of pr?
      No words but only anguish.

  3. Tuesday February 26 2013

    For the long tail, as you might have picked up for the media, Berlusconi has proven capable of gaining 10 electoral percentage points in 50 days of a massive, slaughtering, kitschy and mind boggling campaign.
    His coalition managed to be the largest in the Senate and the second largest in the House with only a few thousand votes from the so-called winner Bersani.
    What only a few weeks appeared to all as a fairly easy ride for Bersani with the only real threat of the Grillo populists, has turned into an airconditioned (miller) nightmare for the whole country and, as financial markets clearly demonstrate, for the whole of Europe.
    Hang on..we are in for one hell of a ride.

    Besided being depressed and bloody angry with my compatriots, I humbly bow to how Berlusconi, openly standing and rooting for every single possible more negative aspect of human (and more specifically Italian) nature, succeeded in this truly extraordinary success of disrupting our country to the verge of and beyond moral, social, economic and political bankruptcy.

    To be honest I have always been attracted by mischief, but in this case the repellent nature of this feat makes me chill with horror.

    God save Italy, from an atheist…

  4. Monday, December 10, 2012

    Next Friday (Dec 14) this event will take place in Birmingham.

    Given the more recent news, it certainly will be a very lively symposium

    As I feared, SB is now definitely back in the arena and has already begun a massive campaign for political elections that are now scheduled for the second part of February 2012.
    He has so far succeeded in ensuring that his prostitution of minors trial case will not be sentenced before end February and this is possibly the more likely reason he decided to accelerate and impose the withdrawal of his party’s confidence, thus provoking the fall of the Monti Cabinet.

    Not much to comment. Markets act and we are in for one hell (in every sense) of a ride.

    Anyone interested in a lucid 72-year-old pr professional and adjunct professor?

  5. The drama continues, and will not stop.

    When the Milano judges were in closed doors for five days deciding what to do with the tax evasion case, Berlusconi announced publicly, in a two step approach, that he would definitely not seek reelection in next spring’s political elections.

    He issued a statement to the media, read their reactions and then, the next day recorded and distributed a video message with the same content but keeping in mind not only the morning papers, radio and tv reactions but also the results of his new passion for social media.
    24 hours later the jury emerged from its conclave and sentenced him to four years, 10 million provisional deposit to our tax authority and 5 years of interdiction from public office.

    His reaction was, as expected, total fury.

    Whether he knew this would happen and therefore decided to anticipate, or whether (as he claims) he expected to be acquitted, I fear his fury will lead him (for the nth time) to rethink his decision to abandon active politics.

    Few sources mention this, but he still is under the minor prostitution trial that will conclude in the next few weeks. So my guesstimate is that he will leave us up in the air until that sentence is decided.

    If acquitted (very doubtful..) he will have one great platform to recruit votes, if sentenced… then it’s definitely over.

    By the way, the paper on his cucu model of pr that I presented in Bournemouth last July will be discussed in Birmingham on December 14 in the context of a ‘colloquium’ titled “Silvio Berlusconi and Post-modern Politics”. One-day conference, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT

    Conference Organisers: Dr Daniele Albertazzi (Birmingham) and Professor James Newell (Salford)
    Steven Gumble and Bill Emmott will deliver keynote addresses.

    1. Fascinating Toni. I did think about this on hearing the news. It is hard to envisage anyone like Berlusconi giving up even when the odds are against him. A bit like Lance Armstrong who is saying nothing, probably fuming privately and from what you see, still training hard and competing in triathalons. I believe that various authorities will seek to stop him competing in these – but as with Berlusconi, he is still a wealthy man who undoubtedly will not give up that easily.

      What is interesting in many such cases, is that society accepts “fallen heroes” provided they do the whole apologia thing so they can be rehabilitated. Part of me admires the bloody mindedness of those who refuse to play this game. They never admit their guilt (perhaps even to themselves), and this strategy is so at odds with the zeitgeist that they remain seen as villains when others who have done equally questionable things are able to carry on after a suitable period of penance.

  6. Heather, amusing thought.

    Some time ago, during a summit in London, B was posing with all his other heads of governments for a photo-op with the Queen.

    He (short) was in the lower row while the Queen (not tall, but similarly as B….. with high heels) was on an upper level.

    Of course B. was speaking loudly with his neighbours telling, as usual, dirty jokes and laughing at his own joke.

    The Queen was annoyed and shouted ‘who is making all this unnecessary noise?’ and everybody looked at Berlusconi.

    He smiled and laughed and appeared statisfed because he had succeeded in getting the Queen’s attention.

    Over these last hours on the issue if he intends to run for office again in the coming elections he has succeeded in grabbing everyone’s attention by remaining silent. He even cited the bible: there is time for words but there is also a time for silence. I am sure you would agree Heather. Loud silence can often be an effective PR strategy.

    As for your pun over Blair, London would not have had the Olympics had Berlusconi not turned all his African votes in favour as a ‘gift’ to Blair and Madame for having joined him in his Villa in Sardinia, rather than staying with their chiantishire and ‘third way’ friends. I wonder if that would not have been a goods thing.. for Britain. Probably so…

  7. Hearing that Berlusconi’s company owns the French version of Closer magazine which has published the topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge made me recall Toni’s post on the cuckoo model of PR. The cynic in me wonders if he’d offered the royals a ‘gift’ of staying at one of his private palaces as I’m sure their utmost privacy would have been assured there. Although I can’t imagine Prince William ever accepting an offer from B, unlike the former British prime minister, Blair.

  8. @ Toni, I doubt history will treat him kindly. It has been a long wait for you Toni and perhaps his popularity in the Italian public finally ran out of credibilty, forgiveness or amusement. About time although I worry that the financial legacy he (and others in Europe) leaves behind and the very serious European debt crisis will bring down the world economy sooner rather than later and perhaps for more than a few years this time with the cold reality that no one can spend their way out of the new impending recession.

  9. Rome, Italy. Sunday morning October 30 2010.
    Is this the final stop?

    Berlusconi’s narrative has come to what appears to be an end to his 16 year streak in the global political arena.
    My sudden optimism relies on a number of explicit and implicit ‘enough is enough’ statements from his closer friends as well as from the Pope’s inner circles (rumors imply a procedure of excommunication..).

    And maybe the final sanction will come in conjunction with the tea party in the US cashing in on Obama’s loss of narrative (see here

    Yet, while the ‘tanned’ President ( from a famous expression the Italian Premier used to identify the new US President in an official press conference in Moscow with his buddy Putin) will have two years to recover his narrative, the ‘cuckoo’ Premier will collapse with a big and hige BANG, and the media fan will infest Italian society with shit well beyond the Neapolitan area.
    We Italians are not famous for chivalry (remember what happened to Mussolini in Piazzale Loreto in 1945…).
    My friends, let’s buckle up and be ready to use a significant amount of toilet paper !
    I cross my fingers….

    1. today is november 10 2011, one year later since the previous comment on this issue and… Berlusconi is still prime minister of my country.

      my fingers are still crossed and I anticipate serious problems in disentangling them if -as he has officially said last night. he will resign on sunday…

      the authentic reason why he finally gives up (if he does, ouch my fingers..) is that financial markets have begun to severely hit his own listed companies and his ‘friends and family’ are negotiating a ‘truce’ with the magistrates so that he doen not pass the rest of his life behind bars…
      so sad, so kitsch, so sordid…

  10. You might be right. I had studied Cool Britannia years ago, had read all the negative books about this that never convinced me. I am also an old admirer of Mandelson, ever since he was only a pr practitioner, and fascinated by the excalibur program he had developed for Clinton way back then.

    Often I loose detachment in exchange of an irresistable attraction to evil… which sort of sums up my present atitude towards B&B (bliar and berlusconi).

  11. Thank you Toni – interesting that you seem to admire the “command and control” method of PR that was evident in the early days of New Labour. The appearance of using focus groups etc was classic two-way asymmetrical communications combined with mastery of press agentry especially when Mandelson was involved. I feel the impact of this can be seen in the legacy of organisations (and many PR practitioners) believing that the media can be controlled and that PR is all about spin. Of course, some of these practices predate New Labour and can be seen in organisations and other political parties these days. Interesting how those in power seek to restrict access to public information throughout time.

  12. I apologise for not having been more explicit, and appreciate that an educator like yourself might be worried that some readers might have taken me seriously.

    Yet, in my country today, one either remains silent (but certainly we are not at the level of an Iran or what might be in South Africa if the proposed new press law becomes reality, or other less fortunate countries, in terms of freedom of expression) or is tempted to surf towards a farsical and caustic view of reality. We – or at least I… – seem to have lost that right to a sentiment of indignation versus the format of our political (?) discourse.

    As for Tony Blair, I do not agree at all that the Cool Britannia program was poor pr at the time it was acted.
    Above all, it was excellent politics, and began to produce negative externalities only after Peter Mandelson had left its helm… a classic situation where an organization loses its creativity and proceeds bureaucratically. A theme for another post, taking a critical look at institutionalization of pr….

  13. I am not sure if you are being tongue-in-cheek here or serous Toni, but please do not hold up Tony Blair to be admired, or welcomed to the PR world. Apart from the undoubted damage caused to PR’s reputation by the spin/control method of media relations that New Labour inflicted (let alone all the loss of life on all sides in Iraq and Afghanistan), there are many other reasons to keep a distance.

    Interestingly, if what Blair has written that you cite is true (and a lot of what is detailed as fact in the memoir is being criticised for being impossible eg timings relating to advice given to Princess Diana), then Blair praising Berlusconi for winning the London 2012 bid is an insult to the official professional public relations efforts (and vast amounts of money that has been spent).

    However, perhaps all political biographies would be best seen as an example of personal rhetoric reflecting press agentry communications as they seek to gain the headlines to sell more copies. Or simply evidence of the rewriting of history in the style of the novel 1984.

  14. September 3 2010

    Once more on Berlusconi’s cuckoo model of pr: a third party endorsement from Tony Blair, one of our now-senior colleagues.

    In his recently published and highly debated memoirs, Tony Blair authoritatively endorses the effectiveness of Berlusconi’s cuckoo model of public relations.

    While narrating a holiday period with his wife Cherie in Sardinia as guest of the Italian Prime Minister
    – remember? It was when the latter was artificially growing his hair ..and probably of else .. besides the height of his shoe heels to appear taller .. and invented the use of a coloured ‘bandana’ that covered the otherwise ugly visual impact of his implanted skull … a fashion immediately adopted by many of his accolites and admirers –
    Blair confesses the real reason behind his much publicized visit (a move that had much antagonised his Italian friends of the left, as well as his betrayed Chiantishire anglophile community where he had been vacationing since many years).

    In that period the British PM was deeply involved in bidding for the 2012 Olympics in London and his experts had informed him that Italy’s Olympic authorities had much power in swaying the undecided of Africa.

    In the book, Blair refers to the cuckoo model of public relations by saying that Berlusconi had developed a very effective process that consisted in listening very carefully to his (Blair’s) arguments and in committing to explore what was doable, but with no pledge of success.

    Blair concludes that the London bid was won principally by the Italian PM’s behind-the-scenes pressures, and adds an admirer’s description of the latter’s relationship building qualities described in this post.

    Today is one of Berlusconi’s darkest moments (from any perspective you choose…) of his career, that also coincides with Blair’s officialised transition from international political relations to international business relationships, … as much as the two may be considered distinct.
    Of course, you will remember that, once removed from office, Blair had immediately opted for the classic revolving door path.
    I recall with some trepidation JP Morgan’s press release announcing his advisorship in January 2008 that explicitely cited (as we say today….what an authentic and transparent gaffe!) Blair’s little black book as the fundamental motivation behind the assignment.
    Blair had swiftly replaced that profile by taking up and publicising other UN and peacekeeping assignments, to the point that we all forgot he was in the meantime doing public relations for JP Morgan!

    Now however it has been made official that the ex PM’s personal agency is dearly commercializing his little black book, and so we can readily accept him in our professional community!
    An important antecedent, you will remember, was Henry Kissinger and his consulting company.
    Of course they do not define themselves as public relators, but if the proof is in the pudding (in our case in the reason why client’s give you assignments..) then the JP Morgan press release tells it all.

    So welcome Mr. Blair to our professional community.

    On a more personal note: in 2004 in my acceptance speech of the very precious honorary fellowship received from the CIPR , I had expressed the hope that Blair, following his dramatic and tragic Irak war incident, would ascend to the European Presidency, as I believed at the time that he was the only European politician able to govern the consolidation of that region.
    Although he recently went very close to this assignment, it did not happen, and we bear the consequences (mostly due to the British anti-EU faction..).
    In reading his memoirs my impression is that he has profoundly changed his persona for the worst..
    So … what better than to have him as a colleague?

    To return to Berlusconi, I have a hunch that if his political demise should finally come, we will need to welcome (?) yet one more colleague…
    but at least he has his own proprietary and rationalised model of practice, not inspired by any Alistair Campbell.

  15. He’s done it again!
    Yesterday, Sunday July 11, while speaking in Milano at a Euromed conference, he referred once more to his successul ‘cuckoo model’ of pr claiming that by ‘listening to others’ and playing with them, many complicated and bureaucratic issues are more easily solved, even by a simple phone call….

    I am told by friends close to him that, following this post on prc more than one year ago and a more recent one here
    I was downgraded from the end of the list of his first two hundred enemies to the end of the list of his first three hundred.
    Which might even make one think that he has a sense of humor…
    Doubt it.

    Yet, only a few days ago, a doctor friend told me that B. has two senile health issues:
    the first is called priapic dementia (and I dwelled on this in my second post about him), but the second, that I did not know existed in medicine, is the verbal incontinence dementia.
    He simply cannot stop himself from saying silly things…

    Ironically, both of these dementias gratify the lower instincts of my compatriots and therefore his personal popularity remains very high, as he incessantly repeats every day, wherever he is, with whoever he is and whatever the issue.

    I guess we all have our problems.

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