Hate him or love him, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has successfully hoisted himself back into parliamentary power once again. The “indefatigable” politician, as the Wall Street Journal coined him this week, has lured in Italian voters for 19 years despite numerous accusations of criminal corruption and lewd sexual acts.
Italy’s elections this week in which Berlusconi’s support crippled his opposition government reminded us of lessons that even those in free societies know all too well. That is, abuse of power can occur when your public relations skills are excellent. To be clear, Berlusconi’s corruption is not overt. He did not rig the elections. But his monopoly on the national media and his granting himself immunity from criminal proceedings has allowed him to stay in politics for longer than any other modern-day Western society would allow. As Allesandro Campi, a professor of political science at the University of Perugia told the WSJ, “he’s planted a seed deep in the public imagination.”
What are his secrets to success you might ask? Follow these steps and you, too can win like Berlusconi:
1) A fresh look – For a 77 year old politician, Berlusconi looks remarkably relaxed. Like a guy you’d want to vacation with on the Amalfi Coast or throw back a few glasses of vino with. Chalk that up to a skilled plastic surgeon, a fresh tan and a sparkling smile. The International Journal of Press/Politics published a study in 2010 that said the better the politician’s looks, the higher the frequency of television news coverage. And it’s not just voters who value good looks, journalists do, too, they say.
2) A busy media appearance schedule – Staying visible in the media has kept Berlusconi at the forefront of the public’s mind and has given him the chance to speak his message, on his terms. What? You don’t own your country’s media? Then you may need to enlist some help with scheduling media appearances.
3) A targeted message – Despite all that euro zone racket, Berlusconi has learned from the most recent Prime Minister and technocrat Mario Monti that following the European prescription of austerity doesn’t win brownie points with voters. What do voters care most about? Jobs and their personal finances. Alas, a refund of a property tax collected by outgoing PM Monti will go to all citizens under Berlusconi’s plan. The bottom line is that most everyday Italians aren’t prioritizing their nation’s debt-to-deficit ratio or the risk facing international investors’ bond safety when deciding how to vote. Berlusconi’s craftsmanship in honing that message was key to his comeback.
4) A good blame game – Why is Italy in the mess it’s in? It’s all Monti’s fault! He was far too austere. Disregard the fact that Berlusconi was essentially forced to step down when the euro crisis struck Italy. He couldn’t take the pressure, so Monti stepped in and enact necessary reforms. Why were all of these magistrates trying to accuse him of corruption or sexual scandal? They were politically-motivated and jealous of his position, of course. While most people believe Berlusconi’s character to be less than rosy, he hasn’t been proven guilty of any crimes under the law!
Berlusconi is a character who aims to please, and that he has done for Italian voters very well. We recommend you take some of pointers, but please, don’t lose your integrity.