OVER the past several months, there have been numerous comments that the messaging by the current government leaves much to be desired and that the level of believability or trust by the rakyat isn’t at an angle where it should be.
It makes me wonder — where is the disconnect?
With a huge arsenal of information officers at the government’s disposal, this shouldn’t have happened. All one has to do is to mobilise these people on what needs to be done. It should be a piece of cake if the message is loud and clear.
But if these officers are not attuned to the needs of the current government, then something needs to be done. Fast, lest the rot sets in and puts the government’s messaging into disarray.
Whether it’s mass communication or PR, you still need the human touch to drive the message through thoroughly. It’s all about human-oriented touch points for these officers to see the light and get things moving.
Therefore, having a great concept or idea is just the first step. The next step is having good PR. Good PR professionals know how to share the positive actions of their organisations (in this case, the ministries) or bosses (ministers) where they can help garner goodwill and trust, and score impressive headlines in the media.
We can’t be everything all at the same time.
This is where the area of specialisation comes in, even when dealing with a seemingly simple topic like PR. Just ponder what historian Daniel Boorstin revealed: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.”
It’s as simple as that. Get people with valuable PR skills to execute the task. Undertaking PR and marketing (or the art of selling an idea) should be incorporated into all publicity campaigns from the start and not as an after-thought.
Let’s not forget what British marketing guru Sir Richard Branson said: “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.”
To that, I should relate an anecdotal narrative that made the rounds in social media recently.
It describes how the power of good story-telling made bottles of black herbal vinegar fly off the shelves within days.
It all started when a man posted a voice message in the Penang Hokkien dialect to his friend in Penang about having found an elixir for his heart ailment. He claimed that after a few sips of the stuff over several days, he felt very much alive as he could walk without panting. His breathing was also better and he could lift heavy objects without much difficulty.
That audio posting was also accompanied by a picture of the bottle of black herbal vinegar that retails at only RM6.20. Imagine the virality that took place among WhatsApp users.
The marketing manager of the company that imports that particular brand of vinegar from China told me he now has to order another containerload of the product to fend off frantic phone calls from supermarket managers and sundry shop owners all over the country.
Stumped by the marketing phenomenon, he said the social media impact on his product should necessitate further study, especially from the marketing angle.
That WhatsApp message had brought in sales that far exceeded those generated from normal advertising through the usual mainstream channels. He did admit that the convincing story-telling had much to do with the high level of trust that triggered off the buying frenzy.
What does the story tell us? We must have a convincing and compelling narrative if we want people to trust us.
This brings to mind what former finance minister Daim Zainuddin recently advised ministers in the current administration: speak with one voice and don’t make contradictory statements when speaking in public.
Daim, the chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons, told them to avoid making knee-jerk statements as well as any negative ones that may affect public confidence in the government. They should discuss the matters in detail between each other and with their press secretaries before issuing any statement.
Furthermore, he also lamented that some ministers did not depend on civil servants for their tasks and went on to expound upon the fact that the civil service was a monolithic entity that has been around since the days of the British administrators and that civil servants would still be around long after their political masters.
It pays to get the civil service to be on your side because it’s not just about executing the right messages across or undertaking tasks well.
It’s also related to GE15, which is in about four years. It’s all about improving your PR with the rakyat, and that includes the civil service as well.
The writer is a former chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of Bernama