A sure way to gain 'thouands' of column inches


Déirdre de Búrca’s election campaign launch would have been a minor affair without a misspelling on her poster. Was it a PR boost or blunder, asks FIONA MCCANN.

THERE WILL BE plenty of candidates in the upcoming European Parliament elections, but few whose campaign launches will make for water cooler conversation across the country.

So what are they doing wrong? Apparently, it’s what they’re doing right that’s the problem, such as following accepted rules of spelling and punctuation that these days are par for the course in any political campaign.

But take maverick speller Déirdre de Búrca, the Green Party’s candidate for Dublin in the elections this year, the woman who stands for “thouands of new green jobs for Dublin”.

As the misspelt billboard poster was unveiled at the launch of her candidacy on Monday, the Green Party claimed “a mistake” to be filed “under ‘S’ for spilt milk”. Yet given what it’s done to the profile of a heretofore not quite household name, they might want to rethink their assessment of Poster-gate.

The fact is that the great embarrassment of the missing ‘s’ has given de Búrca’s profile a very strong boost.

Newspapers have splashed her picture across columns, the airwaves have hummed with her name, and bloggers have been buzzing with comments, if not quite in their “thouands” then still enough to indicate a flurry of interest in this candidate with the cavalier attitude towards the 19th letter of the alphabet.

All this means we now know who de Búrca is and what she looks like (beige suit, arms crossed, a fada over her left eye) , bearing out, perhaps, the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

After all, de Búrca is not the first to see her profile rocket thanks to a bit of spilt milk. Have you heard of Fine Gael TD Terence Flanagan? If you have, it’s less likely to be because of any particular political accomplishment, and more for a speech he made last year which proved so like a speech made only the previous evening by Labour’s Joan Burton that he was forced to admit her “influence”.

Then there’s Fine Gael’s John Deasy, who was sacked from his party’s front bench after lighting up in the Dáil bar within days of the introduction of the smoking ban. Despite the party line, the incident did little to dent his support – he achieved the second highest vote in his constituency during the following elections – and even earned him some international coverage.

In fact, on Googling “spelling error gaffes” yesterday, the de Búrca poster popped up as the second result, just pipped to the number one slot by a blog post about Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin and George Bush.

Surely such an immediate impact is manna from the media gods for a candidate seeking to raise her profile with the masses? Not according to one public relations expert. “I would always contend that yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity and bad PR,” says Gerry Davis, chief executive of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland. “What does it show? Lack of attention to detail

. . . it looks shoddy.” While Davis acknowledges that De Búrca herself may not be responsible for copy-checking all the party posters, it won’t reflect well on her image and campaign.

“I would think that if we regard ourselves as having a sophisticated electorate, it would be a very poor show if they were impressed by a glaring typo on a launch banner.”

As Thomas Jefferson once told his daughter Martha, the importance of spelling should not be underestimated. “Take care that you never spell a word wrong,” he cautioned. “It produces great praise to a lady to spell well.”

Not much good to de Búrca right now, so the Green Party might do better to pay more heed to the counsel of Brendan Behan, who claimed there was no such thing as bad publicity, “except an obituary notice”.