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Unspun mudik-ed to his kampung in Malaysia for the Chinese New Year and was tickled pink by the desperate efforts of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s attempt to shore up his support among the Chinese community for the upcoming national elections that must be held in the first half of this year.
The context to this desperation is that Najib, who heads the Barisan Nasional, a coalition of race-based parties, that has ruled Malaysia in one form or another since Independence in 1958, has been losing popularity.
In the early days when Malaysians were easier to be duped the party, particularly under Mahathir on, played the nationalist card and fears of mayhem if the coalition lost their two-thirds majority in Parliament.
The formula for electoral victory was simple and effective. Gerrymeander the electoral districts so that a party that had the support of the Malays as a solid voting bloc would always win. The calculation was that if most Malays voted for the Barisan Nasional or BN, and the votes of the Chinese or Indians living in the electoral districts were split, the Barisan Nasional would win.
They then spiced up the electioneering by playing on the fears of the populace by spreading rumours that an opposition victory would destabilise the country and cause racial riots, ad hominem attacks and lots of money and a smooth-running electoral machine.
This all worked when the economic pie was working for Malaysia. But somewhere in the early 2000s the growth of Malaysia began to slow down. The pie shrunk and the inner circles within Umno (the Malay-based dominant partner in the coalition) began to scramble for the limited resources. Corruption escalated.
The fortunes of the Barisan Nasional began to slide even further after Mahathir stepped down and was replaced by Abdullah Badawi, who did not have the vision and the ruthlessness of Mahathir to drive the country forward and keep the Umno elite from their rapacious scramble for mollah.
Badawi, predictably, did not last and was quickly replaced by Najib, son of second the late Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Razak. Like many scions of the elite Najib grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, went to the best schools in the UK and had no clue about the rough and tumble of realpolitik.
The feeling that Malaysians have about Najib is that he’s smart enough to figure out that corruption is eroding the support of Umno and the Barisan Nasional, and ruining the country. But he’s so hemmed in by the Umno elite whose main preoccupation these days is to rake in as much as they can while the ship sinks that he’s helpless to do anything.
Their rapacity has resulted in even the Malays withdrawing their support for the Barisan Nasional ruining the age-old formula of victory that the BN had relied on through gerrymeandering and social engineering.
Which leads us to the extent of desperation that Najib is showing in courting not only the Malays but also the Chinese, the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia, a task usually outsourced to their junior BN partner the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). The probem with the MCA, however, is that it can’t deliver any votes because it has lost all credibility with the Chinese. The president of the MCA, for instance, is Choi Soo Lek a 60 plus Chinese whose most notable claim to fame was to star in a leaked video of him and a prostitute in a cheesy hotel.
So Najib now has to court the Chinese themselves. Unspun doesn’t know who’s advising him but it would make a Public Relations professional cringe at the bad advice that he’s getting and the horrible execution of events.
For a joke Unspun’s friends gave him this “any pow” (literally Red Packets containing money that Chinese give to their juniors during Chinese New Year). Najib’s answer?
An “Ang Pow” with his face on the cover (the moustache and weak mouth is a turnoff to most Malaysian). But the juxtapositioning of his face and the year of the snake (they couldn’t get their English right even then) seems to suggest that Najib is a snake. Doesn’t his PR people pay attention to things like that?
Serperntine travails aside Najib also tried a different beat in his new year TVC to the Chinese. So you have here a so called Malay leader whose record has been one of championing the rights of Malays (against the Chinese who would swamp them with their economic prowess if their rights are not protected) doing something very Chinese-y, some would say cheesy. Notice the bad editing where the weak mouth and moustache gets a cameo role.
As if that was not enough, the BN sought to cash in on the popularity of PSY and his Ganggnam Style that has take the world and Malaysians by storm. But Najib forgot that while you can bring the horse to water you can’t make it drink (no pun intended). It resulted in this embarrassing what they hoped to be the rallying of the troops.
All goes to show: you can fool some of the people all the time; all the people some of the time; but never all the people all the time.
Najib should change image consultants. Better still, he should just resign and enjoy retirement and no amount of image making can help him increase his and BN’s electoral chances in the short span of time they have left before the next elections.
Last month Unspun was speaking at the International PR Summit in Bali. The talk was entitled was “Sleeping with the Enemy” where essentially Unspun lamented how the Advertising Industry — in defiance of Al Reis’s prediction about The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR — has not only checked its fall but have encroached on PR territory in the use of social media and being very creative in doing so.
The talk was delivered at the Spikes Asia Awards in Singapore and in this year they had a PR category. The submissions for this category were very creative and well documented and packaged. The only trouble with them was that they were all the work of advertising companies, but packed so that it looked like PR programs so they can add another award to their shelves.
No shame in that for the Advertising industry. But shame for the PR industry players who are consistently outclassed by their advertising brethren when it comes to submissions for such awards. And in the creatie ideas employed in the programs.
The study mentioned below is further corroboration that the PR industry needs to jolt itself out of its smugness and be more creative.
GLOBAL – Nearly two-thirds of PR professionals agree that it’s fair to criticise their industry for lacking creative ideas, and about half would label the industry’s creative output as no better than “ordinary”, according to a study published by The Holmes Report in collaboration with Ketchum and No Go Create.Just 6 per cent label PR-industry creativity as “inspirational”
Titled ‘Creativity in PR: A Global Study’, the report (available in PDF form , or below) is based on a worldwide survey of more than 600 people in 35 countries. Respondents included agency and in-house and a diverse a range of industries and sectors covering consumer, corporate, healthcare, technology, digital and public affairs practices.
The report found that just 6 per cent of respondents labelled PR-industry creativity as “inspirational”, while one in 10 described creativity as “unsatisfactory” and 6 per cent said it was “poor” or “non-existent”.
The PR professionals surveyed acknowledged the importance of creativity (95 per cent) and consider themselves to be creative individuals (89 per cent). So why is the industry not delivering more creativity? Popular answers included a lack of time (65 per cent), overworked staff (37 per cent) and a lack of clear creative objectives that hampers personal and organisational creativity (33 per cent).
Asia-Pacific respondents viewed the industry’s creativity in a worse light than those in North America. Among Asia-Pacific respondents, only 37 per cent see PR creativity as “good’ or “inspirational”, while 20 per cent find it “unsatisfactory” or worse. The corresponding numbers in North America were 51 per cent and 11 per cent.
- 42 percent of businesses don’t reward or incentivise creativity.
- 35 percent don’t use any specific interview methods to assess creativity in potential employees.
- 40 percent of clients said their agencies could do better when it came to their creative capabilities.
- Just 16 percent were consistently happy with these capabilities
- 23 percent said they were not happy with their ﬁrm’s creative capabilities.
Thank God and the FPI for democracy. Because of them the Jakarta Globe could show its true colors on where it sits where freedom of speech and taking a strong stand on sensitive issues are concerned.
Today it took an unusual step in penning a commentary on its controversial Lady Gaga editorial that resulted in a groundswell of protests.
Unspun thinks The Globe’s feisty defense today is healthy in the promotion of free speech, and would be even healthier if it also explained the logic behind the following sentences in the editorial: “It is not about how she dresses, which is needlessly provocative, but about what she sings and the lyrics of her songs. It is about the lack of morality in what she represents.”
Enjoy the editorial.
Watching the Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur from a distance and following it on social media, Unspun was struck by the efficiency of the Malaysian police in the use of video and YouTube.
It was first very quick off the block in airing the video of the “attacked” and upturned Police car, providing “visual proof” of the thuggery of the Bersik 3.0 protesters.
Their efficiency reminds Unspun of one of the books he’s currently reading called Dirty Rotten Strategies: How We Trick Ourselves and Others into Solving the Wrong Problems Precisely by Ian Mitroff and Abrahms Silvers. Mitroff, for the uninitiated, is one of the best thinkers on crisis management.
One of the main points made in the book is that unless we frame the problems properly we will get the wrong answers or solutions, which we then go on to solve with great precision if we are capable.
If we follow this logic the Malaysian Police seems to have framed their problem has one in which the public is often fooled by others and not getting the facts right. The solution of that problem then is to give the public “the facts”, especially in visual form, then they would be convinced how good the police and government is and how bad the others are.
Thinking along such lines, getting a videoclip fired off into YouTube and the net is an great solution.
Unfortunatley that is not the problem being faced by the police. Their problem is one of credibility – unless they work hard at showing themselves to be a non-partisan professional body, most people would not want to believe them.
The “car attack” video showed a police car seemingly being attacked. A later footage showed it overturned and bashed up. Yet, because of the lack of credibility, most of the audience who saw that thought that it was a contrived video, with the police’s or the government’s agents provocateur attacking or starting the attack at the car to discredit the Bersih protesters.
On the other hand Bersih sympathizers, individuals and other groups are also using video and YouTube. They are less professionally done and was slower than the Police’s. They, however, showed footage of Police officers brutally beating up on protesters.
These, Unspun is willing to be, are believed much more than the Police’s video clips.
So instead of fooling themselves into thinking that they are doing the right things and that the Malaysian public would believe their videos the Police would be better off solving their real problem: a lack of credibility.
Why does anyone or any organization call a news conference in the first place, instead of merely sending out a news release?
The reason for calling a news conference, for most people who are media savvy, will be that it gives the spokesperson the chance to deliver his messages effectively and to be able to explain and clarify any questions that the media can have.
The caveat here is that the spokesperson should be well-trained to deliver his messages and able to answer the most difficult of questions in a manner that is credible, authoritative and likable. If the spokesperson does not have such skills then its best not to expose him to journalists.
Being credible is a challenge to many politicians, government servants and corporations. Their institutions have built a culture where they communicate through institution-speak: the self-centered, which-kool-aid-are-they-drinking kind of speech in which they seem to be perfect or at least can do now wrong and that the public is eminently interested in their accomplishments.
The public generally does not care, of course, unless the spokesperson says something that connects with, or is relevant to, them. And if they feel that someone is trying to take them out for a spin they react with anger and criticisms.
The journalists, who act as the intermediary who must filter and process the information given by spokespersons and render them into a news story worthy of the public’s attention are even more skeptical. Who wouldn’t be, if faced by an endless stream of incompetent spokespersons and PR Flacks trying to pitch them newsless and self-interested stories day in and day out?
Faced with such skepticism the spokesperson has to perform to expectations and sure something new or something important or face their wrath, in the form of critical news reports and comments.
So it is strange that the President’s PR minders have decided to recommend to him to call a news conference when they are not prepared to say anything important or new, and when the President has obviously not been trained at all in the art and science of being a spokesperson.
And to top it all the minders tried to stage-manage the whole event with predetermined questions, as if anyone, especially the skeptical journalists, would be taken in and think that SBY is a forthcoming president.
Instead of enhancing his image the minders have once again degraded it. Which begs the question: which kool aid fountain have they been drinking from?
It was a rare chance, albeit rehearsed, for journalists to ask questions directly of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but the nationally televised Q&A on Monday night still came off as stilted and emasculated.
Preparations for the event, which was initially scheduled to take place last Friday, began a week earlier when journalists assigned to the State Palace were asked to submit questions they wanted the president to answer.
All of the questions were screened by Julian Aldrin Pasha, the president’s spokesman, who asked two journalists to tone down their questions and rejected a query on the controversial Bank Century bailout.
“Please use soft words and don’t mention names,” he said to one of the reporters.
“Don’t ask that question,” he told another. “The president will address it directly on another occasion, but not tonight.”
That the president’s answers had been prepared long before journalists could pose them on Monday night was evident when Yudhoyono consulted a bundle of notes after someone asked him a question about national debt.
But even with all the screening and preparation, observers noted, Yudhoyono’s answers were tepid and lacked any insight.
Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), pointed out that when Yudhoyono spoke about the talk he had with Muhammad Nazaruddin shortly before the former Democratic Party treasurer fled the country, he revealed nothing the public did not already know.
Yudhoyono said he asked Nazaruddin to resign due to the corruption allegations against him, but that Nazaruddin, who is now on trial for bid-rigging, refused.
“It’s a shame that he didn’t go into detail about it, because this is a really important issue that is still unfolding,” Ikrar said. “I thought that when Yudhoyono wanted to do the Q&A he was going to address some urgent points that we didn’t know about, but it was all just stale news.”
Critics were also not satisfied with the president’s answer about mounting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces.
In his seven years as president, Yudhoyono said, Indonesia has “never experienced any incident of human rights violations that could be considered serious.”
That contradicts findings by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) about gross rights abuses in a deadly crackdown on a peaceful protest in Papua last year, as well as indications of violations in a host of clashes over land disputes across the country.
Yudhoyono said that in the latter cases, including in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, and Mesuji, Lampung, he was fully committed to resolving all claims of rights violations.
“I stress that there will be no leniency and the cases will be resolved,” he said. “The government is responding swiftly to prevent future clashes.”
His oft-repeated call for a resolution also cropped up in his response to the standoff over the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor that the local administration has continued to seal off in violation of a Supreme Court ruling.
“I hope the regional leaders, the mayor and governor, can fully resolve this case,” Yudhoyono said. “What’s important is that the case is resolved so that it doesn’t drag on for years.”
The beleaguered church congregation has been forced to hold services, including for Christmas and Easter, on the street or in parishioners’ homes since 2008 as a result of the state’s illegal seizure of their property.
Yudhoyono said he was committed to ending the dispute “so that Christians, along with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and others, can practice their faith in an orderly, calm and peaceful manner.”
Sympathy for the FPI
On the issue of banning the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the notorious hard-line organization known for its intimidation of and attacks on minority groups, the president’s answer was just as noncommittal.
“Organizations in Indonesia are allowed to operate on the basis of freedom of speech and freedom of action,” he said.
“Any organization that violates the laws must face due legal process, with no exceptions.”
The FPI has frequently raided stores selling alcoholic drinks and destroyed property as part of its self-professed moral crusade. Its members have rarely faced prosecution for these acts.
Yudhoyono defended the FPI’s right to organize, saying he was concerned about a recent development in which members of the indigenous Dayak tribe in Central Kalimantan took over a local airport to block the arrival of FPI members.
“Why should others be allowed to carry out their activities while our brothers in the FPI are forbidden?,” he said.
He said he discussed the incident with Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi, hoping to determine whether the 1985 Law on Mass Organizations should be amended to prevent that kind of protest. He also called on regional officials to improve security conditions to avoid more “acts of provocation” such as the one against the FPI.
Iberamsjah, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia, said he was disappointed with a lack of meaningful or informative answers from the president.
Given the quality of Yudhoyono’s responses, Iberamsjah questioned why the president would even need to prepare for the Q&A beforehand.
He said the presence of the full cabinet at the Q&A made the event too formal, saying it could have been more down-to-earth as a gathering simply between Yudhoyono and the journalists.
“Just look at Barack Obama,” Iberamsjah said.
“At press conferences, he’s rarely accompanied by a complete set of ministers because he has high self-confidence.”
Anyone would be proud to have a kid like Zach Wahls. And he was speaking in defense of the right of his parents to marry legally. His parents who raised him are lesbians.
Here we go again with Najib and his cohorts thinking that some spin doctor will provide them with the magic bullet that will boost their popularity, ensure that they will be continously voted into office and live happily ever after.
The problem is that spin doesn’t work. Leaders and others who want to win the popularity sweepstakes must work hard to win that popularity. PR people can help you strategize, coach you, provide you with communications skills and even write up your soundbites for you, but at the end of the day it is authenticity that wins the day. No Pr person can provide you with that. Authenticity comes with character, integrity, a commitment to ideals and a strong belief in ideals.
In other words, Najib and Co needs to change their personalities instead of their PR people. Yesterday, the flavor of the month PR consultant was APCO. They did not good because they were trying to Pr the unPR-able, as Unspun had predicted. Now it is FBC. What next? And how much taxpayer’s money would have gone into the pockets of foreign spin doctors by then?
Kuala Lumpur. A British-based production company with ties to well-known global television networks has found itself in the spotlight following allegations that it was paid to produce programs to burnish the international image of Malaysian leaders.
Business network CNBC has already dropped its weekend show World Business since reports about FBC Media, which also does public relations, surfaced. The BBC said it was investigating the matter, while CNN denied airing such ‘paid-for’ shows.
‘In light of serious questions raised last week, CNBC immediately initiated an examination of FBC and its business practices and has withdrawn the programme World Business indefinitely,’ Charlotte Westgate, CNBC’s vice-president of marketing and communications, told The Straits Times. She did not elaborate.
The Straits Times’ requests for a comment from the Prime Minister’s Office were not answered as of yesterday.
The allegations first appeared on Sarawak Report, the website of Clare Rewcastle Brown, a Sarawak-born environmental journalist who lives in her home country, England.
‘Allowing slots to be purchased in this way, deceiving millions of viewers who thought they were watching impartial programming, is a serious breach of broadcasting laws,’ she wrote.
Brown, 51, who is the sister-in-law of former British premier Gordon Brown, is a fierce critic of Sarawak’s long-serving Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. Her website has reported extensively on allegations about his wealth and assets abroad, and made a strong impact in the recent Sarawak state election.