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Md.'s Close-Up Looks Like Ehrlich's

Tourism, State Marketing Campaign Also Delivering Governor's Message

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 26, 2004; Page B01

BERLIN, Md. -- When the director yelled, "Action!" Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. gripped a pair of hedge clippers, gave the movie camera a quick grin, and, as he started pruning, delivered the punch line to his latest tourism ad: "Do other governors do this? I think not."

The gag in this slickly produced TV commercial, to air in mid-September, is that the governor will come do your chores so you can get out and enjoy Maryland.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. films a tourism commercial. Since the debut of the advertising campaign, requests for tourism brochures are up. (State Of Maryland)

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The reality is that the Republican governor will be entering a lot of Maryland homes in coming months, through television and print advertising and a series of Internet upgrades that will add his photo to the top of every state agency Web site.

The effort is part of a broad strategic communications initiative, headed up by a former GOP advertising executive from Capitol Hill, that Ehrlich is undertaking to better market Maryland -- and himself -- to the public.

"This is using pictures, and time-tested marketing techniques, to get out the governor's message," said Ed Blakely, whom Ehrlich recently named as his director of strategic communications, a new post. "This is how you conduct politics nowadays."

The marketing blitz blends the $2.7 million TV advertising campaign with carefully staged media events, public service announcements in print and on the radio, Web redesigns and coordinated personal visits to the state's largest businesses. One element central to all of them is the governor himself.

Democrats, especially, have questioned whether the taxpayer-financed effort is primarily intended to benefit the state or the governor's drive for reelection in 2006, which has otherwise been focused on fundraising.

But in interviews last week, Blakely, Communications Director Paul E. Schurick and state marketing director Dennis Castleman defended the effort as a sound strategy to "brand" the state as a place that's inviting to tourists and responsive to its citizens. Ehrlich, they said, has an essential role in pitching that message.

Blakely compared his use of Ehrlich to Lee Iacocca's ad campaign for Chrysler cars in the 1980s. The auto giant replaced pictures of chassis and chrome with the image of its solid corporate chairman promising that his company's cars were the best.

"He transferred his good will to the product," Blakely said. "The governor has the ability to be, and by all rights should be, the public face of the State of Maryland."

In January, Ehrlich's face became the centerpiece of the advertising campaign to promote Maryland as a destination for tourists. The ads caught the attention of the governor's Democratic rivals when, in addition to appearing in other mid-Atlantic states, they started airing on cable stations in Maryland.

Castleman said there was no plan to put the spots up in Maryland -- it was merely the result of a decision to run them on nationally televised cable broadcasts.

But it was not lost on the governor's political adversaries that, just like Iacocca, Ehrlich would not only be cultivating interest in his product but also in himself.

Democratic Party Chairman Isiah Leggett said he believes the commercials are so blatantly self-serving that they are "tantamount to election-year campaigning." He joked that the tourism ads "probably ought to have an authority line on them."

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