Back in August last year when APCO clinched the job to do the public relations for Malaysian Premier Najib Tun Razak and his Cabinet, Unspun questioned the wisdom of APCO taking on the job.
The reason for that is the un-PRability of Najib and gang. Any communications consultant worth their salt knows that a consultant is limited to advising, training and providing technical expertise – such as messaging, speech and press release writing – to their clients. The rest is up to the client whether they would take the advice and be able to execute it.
Back then, Unspun argued that Najib and Co would not be good clients. No matter how much they paid APCO and no mater how good APCO is, the PR campaign is doomed to failure because, even with PR, you cannot put a sign saying “Perfume Factory” over a sewerage plant and expect people to think that it smells sweet.
Why is this so? Well, politics, expediency and low morals get in the way of even the best PR efforts. This is best explained in a speech by Tengku Razaleigh, former Finance Minister and now Gua Musang MP at the launch of the Second Edition of “No Cowardly Past: James Puthucheary, Writings, Poems, Commentaries” at the PJ Civic Centre on March 22, 2010.
Here’s what he has to say:
The leap we need to make — Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah
MARCH 23 — James Puthucheary lived what is by any measure an extraordinary and eventful life. He was, among other things, a scholar, anti-colonial activist, poet, political economist and lawyer.
The thread running through these roles was his struggle for progressive politics in a multiracial society. His actions were informed by an acute sense of history and by a commitment to a more equitable and just Malaysia.
James was concerned about economic development in a way that was Malaysian in the best sense. His thinking was motivated by a concerned for socioeconomic equity and for the banishment of communalism and ethnic chauvinism from our politics.
The launch of the Second Edition of this collection of James Puthucheary’s writings, “No Cowardly Past”, invites us to think and speak about our country with intellectual honesty and courage.
Let me put down some propositions, as plainly as I can, about where I think we stand.
1. Our political system has broken down in a way that cannot be salvaged by piecemeal reform.
2. Our public institutions are compromised by politics (most disturbingly by racial politics) and by money. This is to say they have become biased, inefficient and corrupt.
3. Our economy has stagnated. Our growth is based on the export of natural resources. Productivity remains low. We now lag our regional competitors in the quality of our people, when we were once leaders in the developing world.
4. Points 1) -3), regardless of official denials and mainstream media spin, is common knowledge. As a result, confidence is at an all time low. We are suffering debilitating levels of brain and capital drain.
Today I wanted to share some suggestions on how we might move the economy forward, but our economic stagnation is clearly not something we can tackle or even discuss in isolation from the problem of a broken political system and a compromised set of public institutions.
This country is enormously blessed with talent and natural resources. We are shielded from natural calamities and enjoy warm weather all year round. We are blessed to be located at the crossroads of India and China and the Indonesian archipelago.
We are blessed to have cultural kinship with China, India, the Middle East and Indonesia. We attained independence with an enviable institutional framework.
If Ku Li is right, and Unspun’s convinced it is, then what’s wrong with Najib and Co’s PR efforts is that the whole political system has broken down and until they fix it, no amount of PR or spin will make them look good.
Which begs the question of why a company like APCO, whose business it is to provide strategies to clients so that they do not get into a position where their reputation will be trashed, decided to take the job offered by Najib (apart from the considerable fees, of course).
Did APCO not see failure as inevitable. And there is more: Did APCO not factor in the Jewish angle that will crop up sooner or later, causing reputational damage to both APCO and Najib? Could they not have set up shell companies and deniable operatives to do the advising and get the money instead of going for the whole (kosher) hog of glory and money?
Obviously someone did the maths and forgot to factor in the reputational elements so now we have Anwar ibrahim raising hell about how APCO’s staffed on the top with Jews (true), have strong connections with israel (true) and retooled the 1Israel campaign for the 1 Malaysia campaign (probably untrue).
See these links, for example:
All this leads Unspun to conclude that his delusions are, perhaps, more prescient than the wise men at APCO.So why is Najib et al continuing to shovel the big bucks to them?