If I were molding Perot's image . . .

July 02, 1992|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

His ears are too big and his voice too whiny, and he's too short to look presidential. But local public relations and advertising consultants say the selling of Ross Perot would be a challenge they would relish.

Mr. Perot, who has criticized the slick images media handlers have created for other politicians, recently hired three media firms to work on his image and to develop paid advertisements. The consultants include Hal Riney, the San Francisco adman who came up with Ronald Reagan's "Morning Again in America" theme in 1984.

But if Mr. Perot, the Texas billionare and undeclared presidential candidate, is looking for any other ideas, Allan Charles, the creative director at Trahan, Burden & Charles, has a few. He thinks Mr. Perot should play up his independent status as a departure from politics as usual.

Mr. Charles, who has developed commercials for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, already has outlined a commercial for Mr. Perot. It would feature an elephant and a donkey walking in a building like the Colosseum in Rome. They would tear each other apart as the crowd boos in disgust.

The commercial would close with the message: "This time, don't vote Republican. Don't vote Democrat. Vote for America."

Phyllis Brotman, president of Image Dynamics, has advised numerous state politicians over the years. She would work with Mr. Perot on his television appearance, she says: "He doesn't do as good a job as he could do."

She feels he should learn to use his hands properly when he speaks. Also, she says, he needs to talk in shorter sentences and should look at interviewers rather than the cameras.

Mrs. Brotman says that if she were creating Mr. Perot's campaign commercials, she would put him on a platform and lower camera angles to make him look taller (he is 5 feet 6). She would feature his family in campaign commercials to "soften his edge a bit," and she would play up his experience as a businessman.

"I'd present him as a businessman with great experience handling budget issues, dealing with opposition groups and with boards of directors that are analogous to Congress," she says.

And she would immediately begin issuing position papers so the public would know what Mr. Perot thinks.

"I think this is going to be the roughest period for him," said Steve Eisner, president of Eisner & Associates, a local advertising firm that has advised Rep. Tom McMillen of Maryland and former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana. He also feels that Mr. Perot's most serious image problem is conveying his grasp of issues.

"He needs to get across paragraphs of ideas rather than just sentences," Mr. Eisner says.

The perceived lack of depth is hurting Mr. Perot's overall television image, Mr. Eisner said. "I don't think the camera loves him, and I don't think he loves the camera."

Mr. Eisner said that if he were working on the Perot campaign, he would portray Mr. Perot as a builder and a man who gets things done.

"If the campaign is handled in a proper fashion, you can evoke a sense of what our Founding Fathers seemed to be able to portray," Mr. Eisner said.

He does feel that Mr. Perot's physical appearance, including his buzz haircut and "Opie" ears, and his Texas twang are not really problems. "There are points in time in a country where a change is refreshing," Mr. Eisner said. "Some of his idiosyncrasies may be working."

But Susan Anthony, director of public relations for Richardson, Myers & Donofrio, has a different reaction: Mr. Perot's accent and tone of voice grate on her nerves. Still, she wouldn't advise him to change until she could determine whether others react the same way she does.

More important than his appearance, she said, is that Mr. Perot needs actions to match rhetoric, starting with officially declaring his presidential candidacy.

Once he declares, he needs to be more selective in his appearances, shying away from talk shows and increasing his exposure in more prestigious settings, she said.

But Jeff Millman, senior vice president at Gray Kirk/VanSant, said Mr. Perot already has done a good job defining himself, making easy work for his ad team.

"I wouldn't do anything complicated. He's not a complicated man and he doesn't have a complicated message," Mr. Millman said. "I would sit him down in front of a camera and let him talk for a half-hour, and I'd bet you'd get 10 great commercials out of it."

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