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Mis-Communicator of the Week: Peer Steinbrück

17th September 2013

About 10 years ago I was working for a senior politician who was the subject of a photo-shoot for a leading men's magazine. The photographer tasked with capturing images of the politician will probably be familiar to many of you. Sharp suits, expensive shirts and ties were supplied while a make-up artist and hairdresser were in attendance to add glamour. Everything was done to put the politician I was looking after at ease and get him to relax.

After a few easy warm up shots the requests for "something a bit quirky", "something that shows you're normal" were introduced. If wearing women's make-up and pouring crisps from a packet into your mouth is normal to some people then fine, but it wasn't to me so I stepped in. The only images that came out of the shoot portrayed the politician in the right way. Yes they were safe straight portrait shots but that is the image voters want for a potential Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Now let's jump forward to today and this Sunday's election in Germany where Angela Merkel is expected to win another election based on an image of being conscientious, hard-working and a safe pair of hands. Her main rival for the German Chancellorship (equivalent to the UK Prime Minister) is seen as a bit of a gaff-prone maverick. Which is why the last thing Peer Steinbrück needed was a portrait to be published, just over a week before polling day, showing him raising his middle finger in an offensive gesture. Steinbrück should have been calming voters nerves about him not acting like he was Johnny Cash.

The gesture was part of a series of photo essays published by Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazine where a celebrity is asked to answer a question with a physical pose rather than with words. I imagine the vast majority of people reading this will be professional communicators, people like me who make a living giving expert advice to others. This is the real reason why I am making Peer Steinbrück my Mis-Communicator of the Week. Yes he was crass and stupid in front of the camera, getting sucked into the occasion rather than thinking of the wider campaign, but his real crime was not listening to his PR team who advised against the shoot and then tried to get the image withdrawn only to be over-ruled by Steinbrück who wanted it published.

When the German voters give Steinbrück the finger on Sunday he'll know why he is my Mis-Communicator of the Week. 

Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite

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