The absence of real PR in Malaysia


A post by Rocky’s Bru about Malaysia’s investment arm, Khazanah Nasional, or any of its agents, appointing Fox Communications — a PR firm created by ex-senior journalists from The Star and The New Straits Times who are close to the powers that be — reminds Unspun of a time when the chairwoman of of the PR Society of Malaysia came to Jakarta to deliver a talk.

Her topic was something hagiographic and Borat-like, “Tun’s Mahathir’s Incredible PR Powers” or something like that. She had been invited by the local PR mafia to give a talk about a book that the Society had produced about the Tun’s incredible PR powers?

Mahathir? Good PR? You gotta be joking! The man may have charisma and the talent for spitting out a good soundbite but he is anything but sensitive to his publics. he still got a lot of press coverage when he was in power because the Press in Malaysia were browbeaten to submission. So you had all those hagiographers in Malaysia who are apparently doyens of PR in Malaysia anglign for a datukship by singing Mahathir’s praises. Puhlese.

Unable to resist, Unspun asked the woman (Unspun thinks she was a Datin but can’t remember because titles mean squat moi) how she felt she was qualified to talk about PR when there was no free press in Malaysia, unlike Indonesia.

Her answer was as stupid as they come. She said Malaysia actually had a free press and pointed to a sex-related scandal the Malay mail then was uncovering. Unspun tried not to spill the chunder on the floor and nearly gagged to death.

Why this story is relevant is that Khazanah Nasional has now appointed a so-called PR firm called Fox Communications to cary out its PR program. These journalistsmay be very experienced editors and reporters, at which case they may have good news gathering, writing and even management skills but that is not necessarily the same set of skills that a good PR practitioner should have.

Speaking as someone who has been a news hack and then a PR hack for nearly more than a decade in each field, journalists usualy do not have the client servicing and counselling skills that a good PR practitioner should have.

Client servicing is very important as it involves handling the clients in such a way that you disabuse them of their more cockmanie notions and plans and point them to what they should be doing and saying. Counseling involves outlining the problems and challenges a client face, outlining the options thay ahve and helping the client to make a decision to act and speak so that they are authentic.

These are skills that Unspun had to learn in his sometimes painful transition from being a journalist for 14 years in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Tailwana and Indonesia. Unspun was lucky because he joind n international PR firm that gave him much of the training he needed to make the transition.

So why Fox Communications for Khazannah? Perhaps it has nothing to do with the practice of PR as the world knows it. Malaysia’s socio-political structure is such that patronage rules the day. So if you are a “PR firm” that works for an institution like Khazanah all you have to do is name drop and presto! The story is in front page and the page lead in others, as chronicled by Jeff Ooi here. It is patronage and its adjunt, cronyism, plain and simple. There is no need for real PR.

Unless you’re overseas that is.That is when the system of patronage prevalen in Malaysia will not protect you or make the media work for you.

Take Unspun‘s favourite Malaysian Institution in Jakarta for instance. Unspun got a call last night from a fellow PR practitioner wanting to know if Unspun‘s company was going for the Malaysian Tourism Board pitch in Indonesia.

When Unspun told him that Unspun was still of sane mind and had no intention of embarking on a hara kiri mission he asked,” Since you are not going for it and I am can I ask you how much do you think I should charge them? From what they descrive in ther Request for Proposal document, he said, they were looking for a national PR program which could easily cost them at leadt US$10,000 – US$15,000 per month. Did Unspun think the MTB would spend that much on PR?

Unspun laughed till he cried.

5 thoughts on “The absence of real PR in Malaysia

  1. You are absolutely right in your observation that being a good editor or a good reporter does not automatically mean the person is naturally endowed with good PR skills. An excellent PR professional has many more skills apart from writing well. He services his clients well, knowing what they need to position their business accurately and is able to put together a marketing communications strategy to get his clients there. Such language seems to be foreign to bodies like the MTB. I am sure Khazanah understands but politics overrules reality.

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