Article from the Newspaper «Moskovsky Komsomolets», May 11, 1999
The argument about millions of dollars released for campaigning «rather than for our boys to get fresh leggings» appears to hold no water. Leggings, indeed, are made available, but not for all. They are mostly dealt out to those who are known in Russia as image-makers. Image-makers, for their part, have to pay to sociologists, psychologists, signature collectors, computer operators, etc., etc. In the end, the lucky voters might each receive either a sack of free flour or a ticket for a rock concert. Admittedly, the principal electoral delicacies are cooked in the main kitchen made by the operating image-making firms that are now truly in for a golden season. Clearly, one just cannot resist from peering into that cookhouse.
On entering the spacious holding room in an old downtown Moscow mansion, the visitor received an appraising look from a charming young girl managing a set of three telephones.
- You have an appointment? ... Very strange. All right. Wait here. I'll go and check if you are to be received.
That happened to be the way an assistant to a candidate running for a State Duma seat, an «MK» staff correspondent at the same time, set out on a tour of Moscow-based PR agencies.
A whirlpool of the electoral race for the State Duma is seen to incrementally gain momentum. Those bent on winning soft Duma seats have already started the inconspicuous-for-the-voter effort to build up the right images for themselves. Within just a few months, looking at us from television screens, posters and newspaper pages will be the noble personalities commanding the best knowledge of what we all want and how to get there...
Sergei Viktorovich, deputy director of the PR agency, clearly failed to cut a powerful figure amidst quite impressive furnishings. Being rather small in size, he desperately tried to look important. But just as word came that a prospective customer was at the doorstep, he got miraculously transformed. He suddenly grew affable and well-mannered vis-a-vis the young man that he had passed impassively just a minute ago.
- Would you like a cup of tea, or coffee? Verochka, please.
The coffee was excellent. The atmosphere - informal. I just did not feel like leaving the most comfortable armchair I was relaxing in. The bookshelves in the office displayed their tastefully arranged backs. However, I failed to spot any fiction there. The selection mostly included reference books, handbooks, and readers on the issues of philosophy and social sciences. Sergei Viktorovich was without any doubt as interested in the client's financial status as «the young man» appeared to be captured by the books in the office. To admit, the host made a very cautious approach to clarify the question that obviously was on his mind. According to the tale, my candidate was a businessman residing in the Voronezh oblast. He was about to be running in a single-mandated electoral district. To my surprise, Sergei Viktorovich happened to be pretty well in the know of the Voronezh realities. So, I had to engage all of my resources to play-act the part believably and avert an exposure. As a matter of fact, the host's awareness about the region came from his agency sending out last summer a focus group (an analyst, psychologist, and a couple of sociologists) to Voronezh to carry out some study. The admission about my «boss» operating a range of filling stations in the area in no way made Sergei Viktorovich look happy. However, mention of my «candidate» recently appropriating a sugar-producing factory immediately put my interlocutor at ease. As I looked at him, I was tempted to please him even more by adding that my «boss» was about to purchase a candle-making workshop... in Samara. But I forced myself not to do that. My host's readily verbalized complimentary remarks about my virtual boss made me positively respectful of the person I have never met.
- From what I can judge, your candidate is really a can-do manager. He appears to clearly understand that securing a win in the elections takes a certain amount of funds. Insufficient financial inputs would never make you a winner. You are lucky to have turned to the proven professionals. We have been in this business for nearly seven years now, and we have not had a single flop. I believe you have some idea of the costs involved and are in a position to pay for the services that we are ready to provide. Roughly, the amount would stand in the area of 500 thousand ... .dollars.
He took out a sheet of paper and got down to making costing calculations to take care of all must-have engagements: the standard range of activities, focus-group trips, commercials and adverts, ... It amounted to a huge sum. As he took notice of my slightly frightened look, Sergei Viktorovich switched to take a more gentle attitude and explained that there was always room for economizing and that his agency had had the experience of conducting effective campaign drives for just 300 thousand dollars. Then he added that that was the minimum. «No victory could be had for less money», he concluded.
- Can one be assured of a win for 500 thousand dollars?
- Oh, no. I don't think anybody can guarantee anything in these matters. All we can do is promise. We will complete our job, but the final say is always with the voter...
As the experience shows, the «already-spinned» deputy, intending to be reelected, can safely launch his campaign drive some three months before the elections. The new runner for the State Duma is another matter. He who has chosen to run for a Duma seat for the first time in his life needs to turn to professional political consultants as early as nine months before the scheduled elections for the latter to have the time to «bear» and produce a nicely packaged candidate for a political office.
The sequence was largely replicated as I went to visit two more PR agencies, the only slight difference between the two being that speaking for the first one was a heavily degreed lady-scientist pushing a purely scientific approach to the matter, while the other agency just could not accommodate me on account of being already fully engaged. When I proceeded to try my fourth agency and inquired if a candidate for a Duma seat could not be properly spinned for 150 - 300 thousand USD, I was merely given a hearty mocking laugh. Admittedly, 150 thousand USD might certainly be useful extreme conditions. But serious political consultants are clearly not to be tempted by that amount. The responsible PR experts, that get contracted for that money, will only run a focused study in the targeted electoral district. To generalize, that amount of funds normally stands against the line item «Other expenses» in the financial statement or report. That is normally the cash that changes hands past the taxmen.
In the days of campaigning one can surely achieve some economies through a variety of schemes and arrangements. For example, on could very well release 500 posters rather than a thousand. However, coming out the winner usually is the one with the largest financial backing. Exceptions have been extremely rare only to confirm the rule. One million «greenbacks» is known to be the amount that can provide a 90-percent assurance of a candidate securing a win in the Duma elections. Given that an electoral district is on average populated by 500 thousand people, each voter comes to be worth in the area of two USD.
At one PR agency I ventured to ask: «And what if the money used to back the candidate has not been quite legally received in the first place?» The response was not long in coming. The question apparently was mentally applied by the responder to a concrete candidate. Anyway, when the reply finally came, it was rather cautious, though in no way ambiguous. Before committing itself, any PR agency runs a check on the given customer. Should he/she turn out to have no record of convictions for odious robberies or burglaries, he/she gets readily signed up. Should one really be surprised, given this particular circumstance, that high political offices are oftentimes filled by individuals that either had a brush with the law or continue to maintain links with the criminal world?
A cursory glance at the PR market has been enough to conclude that about twenty truly professional providers of these services are currently operating in Moscow. Understandably, they seek to cover the whole of Russia. Each agency is known to be working an average of five candidates. Overall, they have the capacity to handle the numbers of candidates that at best might produce nearly half the State Duma's 225 at-large deputies. Out of those prospective winners, some two dozen are expected to put in at least a million USD each for their campaigning drives. Other winners are likely to provide between 200-500 thousand USD each for their victories. Now, here is a question for a school-kid: «How many honest deputies will the next State Duma have, providing a candidate's electoral fund shall not go beyond 800 thousand ... rubles as stipulated by the current Russian electoral legislation?»
A Price-List For The Running Candidate
«Our crazies» even have their socks chosen for them.
Having mixed with a good number of PR experts, we not only managed to form an idea about the candidate-spinning cost totals, but also succeeded in coming up with rather a detailed price-list of relevant services. This is how our stunning findings look.
Tentative costs of promoting a candidate in a single-mandate electoral district, Moscow or Moscow oblast.
I. Researching the scene
1. Conducting polls to reveal voter preferences (two polls, each covering 1500 respondents) - 30,000 USD.
2. Researching the poll results. Looking into how the people voted in the last elections. Drafting first recommendations on molding the candidate's positive image - 60,000 USD.
3. Defining the candidate's strengths to be focused and determining the best formats for campaign propaganda materials -10,000 USD.
4. Conducting scheduled polls to track shifts in the public opinion throughout the campaigning period (four polls, each covering 1000 voters) - 40, 000 USD.
5. Analyzing the voter sentiments revealed in the polls and providing the advice on immediate corrective action in the course of campaigning - 25,000 USD.
II. Promoting the candidate
1. Drafting a plan for the campaigning drive and introducing updates as needed. Creating the candidate's image. Building up a financing plan, a detailed schedule of campaign activities, and a plan for relevant PR-functions - 40.000USD.
2. Developing targeted mockups for propaganda materials and producing photographic materials - 8,000 USD.
3. Collecting voter signatures to secure the candidate's registration (1% of the electorate; 6,000 signatures for a dollar) - 6,000 USD.
4. Producing propaganda materials (leaflets, stickers, posters) - 84,000 USD.
5. Distributing propaganda materials in the days of campaigning -39,000 USD.
6. Making personalized mailings and telephone calls - 200,000 USD.
7. Fabricating and installing promotional billboards - 40,000 USD.
8. Making arrangements for pickets in support of the candidate (20 two-person pickets for a space of 15 days) - 12,000 USD.
9. Providing for the candidate's PR support in the local media -100,000 USD.
10. Providing for the candidate's PR support in the central media -150,000 USD.
11. Making arrangements for meet-your-candidate meetings (leasing the premises and providing for a team of arrangers; holding about 10 meetings overall) - 2,000 USD.
12. Specialized functions - 50,000 USD.
13. Providing for legal tracking in support of the candidate - 60,000 USD.
14. Arranging presentation gatherings, collecting information, and maintaining the research effort - 100,000 USD.
15. The electoral campaign HQ's administrative costs - 35,000 USD.
TOTAL: 1,091,000 USD or roughly 1.94 USD per voter.
This campaign-spending plan has been put together by one of the most well-to-do PR agencies. Most of the other PR agencies are reportedly seeking to achieve this standard.
Understandably, a major blunder in the research stage might derail the whole campaign effort. Given this perception, a professional PR agency is unlikely to carry on with the job launched by some other provider. Many operators are reported to have been achieving savings in the area of one third of the budgeted resources, economizing on polls and campaign propaganda functions. Notably, few PR providers have reduced allocations for the enigmatic «specialized functions». The meaning of this budget item, as if it were part of the most sensitive information never to be made public, was divulged to me with some reluctance. For the most part, the «specialized functions» stand for the efforts either to gather and use compromising bits on the rival candidate or engage in «double-dealing»(like making late-night or very-early-morning telephone calls to voters and urging them to vote for the rival for fear of being blown out of their apartments). Interestingly enough, even the most thoroughly-conceived and elaborate effort undertaken by a team of professional PR experts might come to naught in the course of any campaign stage. Either the candidate might lose control of himself (like indulging in a drinking bout) or destroy his public image (that took so much effort to create) through some stupid escapade. (Admittedly, the PR-engineers are as hateful of their «wards» as they are dependent upon them. They might even refer to their customer as «our crazy». The «crazies» are usually given the «harsh-consulting» treatment, meaning that the customer is directed not only what to say and when to produce a smile, but also what color socks to wear. Conversely, the «soft-consulting» treatment implies a candidate that is now and again allowed to speak his/her mind). And then, if it happens to be raining on the election day, the voters might prefer not to go to the polls at all. Just imagine! Millions of «greenbacks» might end up as totally wasted? Not quite. The candidate's lunching pad will still be there. His/her name will at least continue to be in the people's memory. When such candidates spend their millions in a new election campaign, they are certain to be more confident of achieving a win...