Time for old dogs in new Malaysian government to learn new tricks?

Many Malaysians have heaped scorn on Bloomberg Gadfly columnist Andy Mukherjee for suggesting that the country’s new Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng should exercise more tact when speaking about the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) issue.

The anger is understandable. After 9 years of Najib and his cronies, Malaysians feel they have achieved something substantial by ousting the scoundrels. Some feel that after the lies and cover ups of the Najib regime, Lim’s statement comes as a welcome breath of fresh air.

Still others argue that the main concerns of Malaysia these days is reform and statements like that would not affect Malaysia’s long-term financial standing. Others argue that Lim’s outbursts are justified against the rapaciousness and nefariousness of the the last government.

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Photo of Lim Guan Eng from the Malay Mail 

All very understandable emotions for Malaysians to hold. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to dislodge a corrupt government that does not hesitate to use every means at its disposal to stay in power.

These views, however, also try to gloss over the fact that Lim and many of the new ministers are short of some vital skillsets to become effective governors.

 

One skillset they need come under the collective term of media training. Media training, done well, teaches the politicians to do several things, among them messaging and message discipline, what they should and should not talk about and how to control the course of any interview so that they, rather than journalists or others, determine the message they want to deliver.

Messaging is important, especially for groups such as the Cabinet because it allows everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet. Messaging is also about the crafting of messages so that they resonate with the audience. Every effective message must pass the “so what?” test from a skeptical audience. for instance, and must never be defensive or overstate the case.

Message discipline is the understanding that you do not depart from the messages agreed. If the government wants to, for instance, talk about its attempts to stabilise the national debt then every minister should be delivering this message and not be diverted into taking about who or what caused the debt, the nefariousness of the former government or other topics. In US political circles, until the chaos brought on by Trump, the biggest communications sin a politician could make was to break message discipline.

How to keep message disciple? A tried and true technique is what they call Bridging, or as the Americans would have it, the Bump and Switch. The basis of this technique is that all spokespersons will get ultimately two types of questions: The Productive Question that allows you to deliver your messages easily (e.g. “tell us about your financial policy” – assuming you’ve formulate one and ready to share it with the public). In such instances they spokesperson should just answer in a straightforward manner.

Then there is the Unproductive Question, a question that you’d rather not answer (e.g. “We hear that many people in your party are unhappy with your actions…”). When confronted with the Unproductive Question you could give a short answer or Bump (e.g. “Disagreements are part of a healthy political process…”) then “bridge” or “switch” to your key messages via a bridging statement such as “what’s important now is…” or “what your readers should be more concerned about is…”.

The theory is simple but it takes a lot of practice to perfect this into an art so that you always sound credible, authentic and authoritative.

Journalists hate this technique because it robs them of their sense of control during an interview and it allows you to send the messages you want, not dance to their tune. They also have some mistaken notion that an unskilled politicians would be more honest than one skilled in media handling techniques because spontaneity is a measure of honesty.

Media training is also about sensitivity training, the “tact” referred to in Mukerjee’s article. It’s sensitising the spokesperson or politician to what should be said, what’s acceptable and what not, and how things could be delivered better.

Media training, however, is a double edged sword. Used by politicians of integrity it allows them to set the national agenda, to persuade and educate others and to build consensus. Used by unscrupulous politicians it can be a skill to obfuscate, to evade and to bury the truth.

While passion, honesty and being forthright are certainly virtues that every politician in the new Malaysian government has or should embrace it also makes sense for them to complement these qualities with media handling skills.

It is difficult, especially for Lim, who has spent most of his professional life as a persecuted opposition figure.  There were few people he and his party members could trust, and outspokenness was a virtue they could not do without. Bravery trumped skill.

But times change and so do circumstances. It is not enough that the new Finance Minister be brave, outspoken and passionate to speak agains wrongdoings. He should do it in a manner that reassures others, investors, the public, supporters and even opponents that the new government would be one that is fair and respects due process, that is thoughtful and refrains from emotional outbursts and that it has a solid plan to make things right, or at least better, for the new Malaysia.

The opportunity for Lim and the new government to usher in a prosperous, vibrant and confident Malaysia is here. All it takes is to acknowledge that they may need to learn some new skills to seize the day. Will they take it?

 

 

 

 

 

Tales of a Queer Muslim Indonesian

So proud of former colleague Zulfikar for starting this book project.

Here’s what I wrote about Zul’s upcoming book at the Maverick blog:

It’s great when one of us go on beyond the workplace to do new, wonderful and imaginative things.

So we are thrilled to learn of Forever Mavbro Zulfikar’s latest adventure – to write a book called So I Stopped Being Gay: A Story of Giving Up by a Queer Muslim Indonesian.

He is kickstarting his effort with Publishizher, which Zul explains as: “a NYC-based crowd-powered publishing company” that is helping him to write the book. They need your help to fund the production though.

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For more on Zul’s story

Hypocrisy in supermarket Iceland’s ban on palm oil

This is an opinion piece I wrote for The Palm Scribe:

Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker’s announcement that the frozen food chain will be banning the use of palm oil in its own brand products by the end of this year would strike some as a laudable and heroic effort to get the industry to be sustainable.

This is especially so when we see the youthful Walker being filmed, in a video released by Iceland Foods, braving forests, swamps  and what appears to be palm oil caused wastelands in Indonesia to uncover the truth about palm oil.

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In the video Walker is big on the word prove.

His visit to Indonesia, he said, has convinced him that “currently no major supermarket or food manufacturer can fully prove that the palm oil they use is truly sustainable and the damaged being cause to the global environment as precious rainforest continues to be lost.

he goes on, saying that Iceland’s ban on palm oil in its own brand products is a way to “prove to the food industry that there is no need to participate in the destruction of the rainforest.”

As such “removing palm oil is the only way we can prove to our customers that our products are not a cause of environmental destruction.”

Walker is young and idealistic. The 37-year old geography graduate from Durham University has been in this job for three years. Before that he was the International Business Director of Iceland. He is also the son of the founder and CEO of Iceland, Sir Malcom Walker.

Richard’s idealism is laudable. But has he been misguided in announcing the ban?

Here are three reasons why his decision may have been misguided:

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Why doctors are pissing themselves silly over an illustration of the controversial Dr Terawan

Been told by a doctor friend that the medical profession in Indonesia is pissing themselves silly over the infographic on the front page of Tempo above.

The source of this derision? Stroke specialist Dr Terawan has been in the news lately for his controversial “brain cleansing” procedure, resulting in him being kicked out of the profession

In illustrating the story surrounding Dr Terawan, Tempo’s artists have drawn him holding a catheter, supposedly for inserting into the blood vessels in the brain.

The only problem is that the catheter portrayed is the one used to insert into the penis for patients unable to pass water properly.

So it is rightful that the doctors are apparently taking the piss out of the paper in their WA groups.

Crisis Management Observers: Watch how Pertamina manages the Balikpapan oil spill

So far so bad. The company for four days ruled out the possibility that it was responsible for the oil spill.

It only admitted late yesterday that a raptured undersea pipe belonging to the company caused the oil spill that caused the deaths of several fishermen when part of the spill caught fire.

To jump to conclusions without first finding the facts and verifying them before making an major announcement is an early sign that this company has not been trained properly in crisis management principles.

Let’s wait to see how it makes this crisis situation in the next coming days.

Why one should never repeat an emotionally-charged negativism, even in denial

In media training we tell our clients that they should never repeat an emotionally-charged negativism, even when denying it.

This, appearing on the cover of the latest edition of Tempo, is a very obvious reason why.

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Former Armed Forces Chief General (Retired) Gatot Nurmayanto has been jockeying to get into big-time politics in the upcoming 2019 presidential elections. He’s been known to be courting lots of parties and factions to become the Vice president Candidate.

Here, he denies being a “Political Whore”.

What effect do you think that this denial will have on his image? When the front page quotes you as saying “I am not a political whore (literal translation of pelacur is prostitute) the only thing that such a denial does is to associate the idea you’ve just denied with you.

From now on, no one who’s seen the cover of the nation’s foremost  politics and public affairs magazine can look at Gatot and not think “political Whore.”

Normally public figures make a mistake like this when they are trapped by journalists trying to provoke them or out to snare a good headline. The journalist might ask, for instance, “Some people say that your courtship of various politicians including Jokowi and the religious right makes you a political whore. What do you say to that?”

if that happens then Gatot should ideally frame his answer that is the antithesis of that idea with an answer such as, “I stand on my principles and my desire to serve the people. I’ll work with anyone who’s embraces similar values.” It’s not the best answer but it would avoid the “I am not a political whore headline.”

Ironically, however, the journalist at Tempo wasn’t even trolling for a sensationalist quote when Gatot exposed his vile thought. In Page 41 of the 2-8 April edition of Tempo  the question put to him was: “Are you attracted to the idea of becoming President Jokowi’s  aide?”.

So go figure how someone like this could have become the Chief of the Armed Forces in the first place. What total hand, eye or mind could have selected him to possibly lead brave sons and daughters of the republic into battle?

But there you have it. Indonesian politics is replete with little Gatots running everywhere, especially during this election season.

People often ask why we avoid taking on politicians and political parties as clients. The answer is simple: We didn’t but even if we advised  and trained Gatot on what to say and how to say it would he have listened, or would the ego and bluster get in the way?

 

Trending Topics Exposed

I remember a colleague coming up to me with pride in his voice, saying that we managed to get our event last night on the Trending Topic of Twitter.

I applauded his enthusiasm but then asked him what did it mean for our company and the event?

He couldn’t really explain, apart from saying that theoretically a lot of people would be aware of our event, and therefore our company, because the hashtag made it to the Trending Topic.

I then asked him how does one get on Trending Topic on Twitter. He wasn’t sure but mumbled something about x number of retweets, y of them by users with huge followings.

This incident underscores the difficulty a rational mind would have when it comes to the question of how to measure for success on social media.

I come from an old school tradition that says that whenever a client pays us to help them communicate, whether using media relations or through paid, earned, shared or owned media, the communications must yield a result: it should either increase awareness of a brand or corporation, shift people’s attitude toward it or change people’s behaviour. All else is meaningless.

But because social media is so relatively new, many people do not understand that it is a tool, a channel like any others. Taking advantage of this misunderstanding, charlatans posing as messiahs of a new age have introduced all sorts of fancy terms and measurements so that they can make marketeers feel comfortable in hiring them.

So now in social media we have success measured in terms of reach, impressions and engagement. How these metrics will help a company or brand remain mysterious. Output is mistaken for outtakes and outcomes.

So its refreshing to see articles like this below that strip the mystique of Trending Topics as a measure of success. What do you think?

Trending’ on Social Media Is Worthless

By Brian Feldman  @bafeldman

In the wake of last week’s Parkland high-school shooting, right-wing conspiracy theorists are pushing the ludicrous story that the teenage survivors speaking out against gun violence are “crisis actors” — dupes hired to pretend to be victims of tragedy.

Earlier this morning, the top trending video on YouTube was one implying that David Hogg, one of the students pushing for legislative action on gun control, is an actor. What does it mean, exactly, for something to be “trending”?

YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all make frequent use of the term, but none of them have a public or transparent definition — let alone a common one. When we sort through our feeds, “latest” has an obvious chronological sorting mechanism; even “popular” has a fairly clear and agreed-upon definition.

“Trending,” however, does not. It’s similar, but not the same as “popular”; generally speaking, it means “popular, in some relative, technically defined way.” That is, the “trending” sections of major platforms are, as of now, algorithmically determined, their contents selected by formulas developed internally at those companies and kept private.

Automated software determines what is trending, and it does so by examining the content according to a set collection of factors. YouTube, for instance, identifies trending videos by examining aspects like the view count, the rate of audience growth, and the age of the content.

A five-hour-old video is more likely to be trending than a five-year-old video; a video that goes from 100 views to 1 million is more likely to trend (yeah, it’s a verb now) than a video that goes from 250 million views to 251 million. Other factors might be considered as well.

A YouTube star with millions of subscribers and hundreds of uploads might be judged on a different acceleration rate than breaking-news footage uploaded by a guy with 19 subscribers.

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