Andreas Scheuer is well aware of the power of images and social media. Germany’s Transport Minister has set up a newsroom in his Berlin headquarters, where press officers, social media editors and internet whizzes – 14 employees in total – churn out releases for journalists and “fans and followers” of the minister. That’s a lot of manpower for Berlin, where ministerial communications are traditionally handled by a smattering of staff with a modicum of resources.
Scheuer’s PR spending has raised eyebrows among his cabinet colleagues. The Transport Ministry will more than double its public-relations spending in 2019 to €2.5 million ($2.84 million) from €1 million this year – an increase of 150 percent. Scheuer justified the steep increase with higher PR outlays in connection with the diesel-emissions scandal, as Germans had an urgent need for information on the topic.
Sven-Christian Kindler, a member of the Greens party, says Scheuer’s argument is flimsy because Dieselgate was made public years ago. Scheuer wanted to make a name for himself as a “marketing minister” who “likes to talk about the diesel scandal, but does not deliver in the end,” Kindler grumbled.
A minister normally known for his tight-fistedness, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, is also shelling out a lot more on PR. Scholz has penciled in €5 million on public relations in 2019, up from €3.7 million so far this year. His explanation? Due to global financial uncertainties, the minister had become a central player in international politics.
For 2019, these heightened responsibilities would require “a new form, scope and intensity of public relations work, the task of which would also be to communicate extensive measures in the field of European, financial market and international tax policy,” the Finance Ministry grandly announced.
Government figures show the PR expenditures of all German ministries will rise to €70.1 million in 2019 from €67.3 million this year. Yet these amounts seem paltry compared to those of some other industrialized countries, notably the United States – where national government spending for advertising and public relations averaged close to $1 billion for 2006 through 2015, according to the US Government Accountability Office.