Drive Seeks to Put Spotlight on Ehrlich
Memo Asks State Agencies to Join In
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page C04
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s communications director is launching a strategic marketing campaign aimed at bringing "maximum exposure" to the governor and his programs, according to a memo sent to dozens of state employees.
Communications Director Paul E. Schurick's memo Tuesday said the effort is in its fledgling stages but will call on public information officers for every state agency to "help deliver a coordinated message."
It will involve a more aggressive schedule of public appearances for Ehrlich (R) and will build on such recent marketing efforts as a $1.4 million advertising blitz for the state's tourism office that featured Ehrlich in a tool belt, offering to help a couple install a ceiling fan in their living room.
"Do other governors go this far?" Ehrlich asks as he climbs a ladder and works on the fan in the ad that aired in neighboring states and on cable television in Maryland. "I think not."
Schurick predicts that the result will be "a statewide communications and marketing structure unlike any this or, to my knowledge, any other state has attempted."
The effort, according to political science professors familiar with the memo, indicates that Ehrlich is starting to make use of his office to build the foundation for a 2006 re-election campaign.
"He's doing what all successful governors do, which is to capitalize on his position to get the message out," said James Gimpel, an associate professor of government at the University of Maryland. "To me, it sounds like he's made a plain political calculation that he's going to have to start early and generate some momentum for a very tough re-election bid."
Donald F. Norris, a political science professor from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, agreed. "I'd be surprised if they weren't doing that," he said.
Norris does, however, question the use of the state's vast contingent of department-level public information officers, who were all recipients of the memo.
"Anything that comes out of the governor's office is going to be political, and we expect that," Norris said. "What we don't expect is that the departments of state government will be used as a PR tool for the governor. That's the line. That's where I'd draw it."
The memo is the latest evidence of Ehrlich's growing comfort with the political advantages afforded by incumbency -- an edge that will be crucial as he seeks to again win over an electorate in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2 to 1.
The governor showed he had an eye for such opportunities last month, when he broke from the tradition of signing new legislation in the State House and instead asked legislative leaders to the signing of his Chesapeake Bay restoration bill on a tall ship moored in the Annapolis Harbor. The ceremony had all the markings of a campaign appearance, with live orchestra music, American flags flapping in the breeze and children brought from a nearby Catholic school, in uniform, to pose with the governor.
A professional camera crew was on hand to film the event, and the director at the scene, Doug Dubin, said his team was hired by Ed Blakely. Blakely, 61, is a former Alexandria advertising executive hired last year by the Ehrlich administration and named in Schurick's memo as the governor's head of "strategic communications," a new position.
Blakely, according to the Schurick memo, is an expert at "branding and strategic communications" and is coordinating the effort to "identify opportunities to create promotional events with the governor."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company