The PR Guy

Making the News

For seven years, Scott Sforza designed stage sets, backdrops, public relations strategies and television events for then-U.S. President George W. Bush. 

"People love to communicate with photographs and video. They do it all the time. You know, Facebook. YouTube. Why not give them what they want? And if you can control that image, it's win-win.

"My job was really to work on the public image of the president [George W. Bush] and make sure that his visual presentation matched his message. If a new education policy was about to be rolled out or something, I would sort of look at it to figure out: “How do we strategize for show it for two or three days in the news cycle and make it visually interesting? And also, how can we make the message penetrate through print, television and radio?”

"If the President was abroad, a natural setting was best, but then you had to have depth in the image because the detail would tell the story. Anyone can get a platform and drape it in flags, but that doesn't tell a story. For the one-year anniversary of 9/11, we went out to Ellis Island and got the walking shot of the president with a background of downtown New York and a hole in the landscape where the World Trade Center was missing. In the tight shot, we had the Statue of Liberty. Plus, we put in the American flag and all these symbolic visuals. We were communicating with the country, but also with the world.



"There is really no comparison to the United States, to the effect that the President of the United States has on media. No world leader commands that kind of exposure and that kind of attention that the leader of the free world gets.

"The Russians, we've collaborated with them many times on events. They like a very controlled environment. Because Putin is very short, for example, the Russian press people do a lot of “sit-downs”. At press conferences, Putin usually sits at a table with another world leader so he doesn't seem short in comparison.

"In Germany, when you do a press event with Angela Merkel, the stage area is very clean, very plain. That’s their look.

"In London, politicians are very good communicators with the press. Tony Blair and David Cameron are very used to battles of words in Parliament; they’re very used to banter. So when it comes to answering questions, they are very good. But [former Chinese president] Jiang Ximen won’t take questions. We went to a press conference in China, which is an event in which the press expect you to answer their questions. But Jiang just won't take questions. It was really hilarious. All these questions kept coming in, and he just wouldn't answer them. And then his team tried to unplug the lights during the event to make the Q&A end sooner. We plugged them back in.

"South Sudan is trying to do a couple things right now. They're trying to communicate better with their population, but they also want to be seen on the world stage. If you see a bunch of rag tag people trying to hold a press conference in the middle of the desert and there is no podium or anything like that, you're not going to want to support them. That’s why they had to invest in a state-of-the-art briefing room and podium.

"Here, we normally use two microphones on a podium. A primary mic and a backup. Journalists at the White House can get the audio by plugging into a box for a direct feed- they don’t have to put anything on the podium. But in the Middle East, everyone loves microphones. Look at a podium and it’s just covered with microphones and windscreens and logos, the more the merrier. They love it. People in those countries just go crazy with the microphones. And do they need it? Not at all. 

"Political leaders in the Middle East countries love mics because they think that a lot of microphones signify importance, power. But in the United States, we never have that kind of show, nor do we want it. That's totally yesterday."


Illustration: Fanqiao Wang