It is now being dubbed by the Press as the Monsanto Dossier case, where a usual public affairs practice – stakeholder mapping – is perceived as a crime and a sinister move that violates privacy.
The context: Bayer had hired international PR/PA firms FlieshmanHillard (FH) and Publicis Consultants for public affairs work for its pestiside company Monsanto. The year was 2016 when there was a high-profile debate on renewing authorization for glyphosate, the key ingredient in its controversial Roundup weedkiller.
Like all PR/public affairs outfits FH and Publicis set about trying to know the influencers in this debate. One of them is the media and they compiled information on 200 journalists from public sources and possibly private sources as well.
Learning about the list of journalists, French newspaper Le Monde and broadcaster France 24 filed a complaint with French prosecutors alleging that the list broke several laws:
‘Implementation of the processing of unlawful personal data’;
‘Collection of personal data by fraudulent, dishonest or unlawful means’;
‘Computerized storage of personal data revealing the political and philosophical opinions of a person without his consent’; and
‘Unlawful transfer of personal data which is or is intended for processing to a State not belonging to the European Union or to an international organization’.
Bayer has taken the unusual step of suspending FH and Publicis. It’s actions as well as the complaint by le Monde and France 24, however, rises important questions on where to draw the line where gathering information on professional journalists that can influence the course of debate on an issue.
Stakeholder Mapping is standard practice in public relations and and public affairs. You gather information about stakeholders. There is nothing sinister about this but its a matter of framing. Supporters of this practice ask how else can you understand and hope to educate or persuade stakeholders on an issue. Opponents, however, see this as some sinister attempt by underground forces to compile dossiers on others for nefarious ends.
Yet this is a process that we all do, even in our daily lives when we compile a mental list of impressions of people, what their LinkedIn accounts say or do not say, what they like on Facebook and what they post on Instagram.
The line, if one is to be drawn, is between information obtained from public sources including public posts social media, or information obtained from muck raking, including hacking into accounts and databases.
In the meantime, however, all European companies that have to adhere to the GDPR (general Data Protection Regulation) should keep a close eye on how the Monsanto Dossier case pans out.
Good writing is hard to come by, so what we do with recruits at my workplace is to teach them to write well.
Being a former journalist and being one who writes moderately well, the task fell on Unspun to conduct the class.
Being a firm believer that writing is a reflection of your mental processes, I’ve always started the course with Critical Thinking 101 and the first slide in this presentation asks the participants to tell me which of the two images is a more accurate depiction of Christ.
To Unspun the comparion is a no brainer. Jesus was a Jew and a middle easterner, a native of Galilee.
People like that, as in the BBC reconstruction from a skull found there during the period of Jesus, tended to look like the chap on the right. He may not looked exactly like the man portrayed but for sure he would have been swarthy and would NIT look like an Anglo-Saxon savior right out of the paintings of Byzantine artists.
Inevitably, however, there would be one or two – sometimes more – participants in the class who said that Jesus would have looked like the person on the left. The reason? That’s the image of Jesus they’ve seen growing up and the image that adorns the churches they go to.
Which was perfect for us to begin our discourse on critical thinking, the importance of not accepting anything at face value and why we need to ask questions more.
Inevitably too, someone would raise the argument that too much critical thinking is bad for us because it makes us cynical. We should just accept things based on faith.
The answer is that too much of anything is not good for anyone. At any rate critical thinking, if practiced skillfully leads one not to cynicism but to skepticism, which is not a bad thing.
In this world, if we question more without becoming cynical (which Oscar Wilde defines as “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”) we’d be enjoying oour lives more, not less; and socially and politically we would be ensuring that much of the ugliness and hate in this world we see today would be minimized.
The hallmark of a good campaign is that it spurs public discourse on a particular subject. In this sense, the #SayaPancasila campaign can be said to be successful, if the preponderance of the hashtag and profile pictures bering the message on social media are concerned.
Effective public discourse, however, exists when there are differences of opinion and when the participants abide by rules of rhetorical fair play. So here goes Unspun‘s contribution to the public discourse on the#SayaPancasila campaign.
Three questions spring to mind from all the #SayaIndonesia and #SayaPancasila profile photos being used on Facebook Instagram and other social media channels:
Are atheists allowed to proclaim #SayaPancasila? Pancasila requires the belief God, in whatever form she exists. Arising from this should there be a discussion on which is more appropriate for Indonesia today – a concept from 1945 repurposed to knit together Indonesia in 2017; or would Embracing Diversity be a more appropriate idea to campaign on?
When people these days declare #SayaPancasila can it be taken as their full subscription to the five principles formulated by Sukarno in 1945 as an instrument to rally people round Indonesian Nationalism? Or is it more a talisman to signal their rejection of the more extreme and intolerant elements of Indonesia today, i.e. Rizieq and the FPI as well as other assorted hardliners? There is a difference here: one is an embrace of something, another is a rejection of another thing.
Are all these declarations of #SayaPancasila on the internet missing the target? One of the things the internet is notorious for is to create bubbles where like-minded people reinforce their own ideas and convictions. How many of these #SayaPancila proclamations are actually seen by the real targets? These are the 50+ percent who voted for Anies, the thousands of easter-clad protesters who came out on 212 and other demonstrations, that part of Indonesia who get their information more from mosques and grassroots institutions than the social media. There is also the question of whether seeing such #SayaPancasila declarations would persuade them to change their minds or reinforce their believes so that they dig down even deeper in the embrace of hardline attitudes and beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that any effort to claw Indonesia back from the clutches of the hardliners is something good for this country and society. But will it be effective? Or wilt be a distraction when resources could have been channeled elsewhere for greater effect?
So where do people stand on these three questions?
This is something I wrote for the Maverick blog. I hope PR professionals will find it useful.
How to Battle the Forces of Unreason
How many of you PR consultants, facing a client in a crisis-like situation, are asked to highlight he good deeds they have done, their CSR commitments, the amount of taxes they’ve paid and the rightness of their cause?
These requests come as if some good news about the company can mitigate or balance out the negative stories that are being written about the client.
How many you have succumbed to such requests and have therefore done an injustice to the client?
In 1985 Pulitzer prize-winning author Barbara Tuchman wrote the book The March of Folly which was a fascinating study of why leaders from Troy to Vietnam acted against their own self-interest.
If she were updating the book today, Unspun thinks she would certainly consider not only adding Malaysian Premier Najib Razak but perhaps promote him to the front line of the phalanx of marchers.
Najib’s march, where his public image was concerned, actually began in 2009 when, critical bloggers began to expose his foibles and questioned his involvement in the Alantuya affair, where a Mongolian model was killed by the Premier’s bodyguards and then her body was disposed using C4 explosives.
There were rumours — all unproven in a court of law controlled by the Malaysian government – that she was somehow romantically involved with Najib and the bodyguards acted under orders from the highest leadership in the land.
Assailed by bloggers, who enjoyed a freedom of expression that the legacy press in Malaysia did not have, Najib made the decision of employ US lobbying and communications firm APCO to pull him out of the mess.
It was a strange choice because Najib’s problems had nothing to do with communications but everything to do with his character, his evasiveness and the decisions he was unwilling or unable to make. He was virtually un-PRable but the fat fees he offered APCO prompted the company to embark on a March of Folly of its own: It accepted the appointment.
Critics, including Unspun (see link here) felt that it was an expensive exercise in futility and after many months and millions of taxpayer’s dollars were spent, APCO achieved nothing and its contract was not renewed.
That didn’t deter Najib to forge on in his march though. In spite of an absence of results he apparently retained the head of APCO Malaysia, a certain Ralph Stadlen to continue advising him. Consistent with the deliverables of APCO, the results of Stadlen’s work was not apparent to anyone. Najib’s reputation continued to plummet, especially when the 1MDB scandal broke.
The government, in the story below, has denied that it is paying for Mr Stadlen’s elusive services and claims no knowledge of his existence. This is all an old trick. Instead of paying him from official coffers, they must have got a crony to pay him from their own corporate coffers in return for favours. At any rate Mr Stadlen must cost a bomb, considering his rather flamboyant and public lifestyle (see here).
Now Najib has taken another step forward in his good march. Besieged by crumbling popular support even within his own political party Umno and stinging from the potshots fired by former premier Tun Mahathir Mohamad has taken to appointing former adman Lim Kok Wing to address his reputational concerns.
The tragedy here is that everyone knows that Lim Kok Wing, talented as he is, cannot save nab from his deeds, himself and his wife. Yet the March of Folly is so compelling that Najib is trying once again to classify his problems as communications-based and outsource it to a communications expert.
But the intriguing question here is what Lim to embark on his own March of Folly? Why when he has no apparent need for the money, take on a job with impossible odds – the pundits are now counting the days before Najib exits the national stage. Why take on a mission impossible and in the process tarnish his own image when Najib ultimately falls? Did Najib offer him an irresistible deal? Did Najib blackmail him into taking on the job? Or is Lim such an adventurer that he would march on where even angles fear to tread?
Advertising man Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, who has run Barisan Nasional’s election campaigns, is Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s new public campaign coordinator in a charm offensive to win over Malaysians and shore up the prime minister’s flagging popularity.
Lim rode high during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration, but the former prime minister is now Najib’s harshest critic.
It was learnt that Lim, who has been appointed “special programme coordinator”, has drawn up plans for Najib to go nationwide to gather support and listen to the complaints from the people.
Lim, who founded the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, will report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office which already has a string of advisors.
The 69-year-old, who set up Malaysia’s first local advertising agency, has been involved in election campaigns for almost four decades.
In 1994, Lim, on recommendation by Dr Mahathir, was tasked by the late Nelson Mandela in South Africa’s first free elections, giving his African National Congress (ANC) the slogan, “A Better Life for All”.
He also conceptualised and ran Putrajaya’s “Tak Nak” anti-smoking campaign and promoted the “Rakan Muda” and “One Heart, One Nation” programmes.
This latest appointment came months after Lim was first appointed as “Goodwill Ambassador” in the Prime Minister’s Department in a Tolerance Day celebration that his university hosted in November last year.
Now, Lim has to run a fully political campaign for the embattled Najib against Dr Mahathir who has openly asked the prime minister to step down over the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
In 1975, Lim started Malaysia’s first local advertising firm and went on to start Limkokwing Institute of Creative Technology in 1991, before it became a private university in 2000.
He also sits on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) consultation and corruption prevention panel.
Lim now joins the list of four official advisors to Najib – Datuk Seri Dr Abdullah Md Zin, Datuk Johari Baharum, Tan Sri Rais Yatim and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
It was also recently reported that public relations firm Apco Malaysia’s Paul Stadlen, had also served in the prime minister’s National Communications Team.
The status of Stadlen’s alleged role in the government remains unclear with Putrajaya saying it did not pay any wages to the former Apco Malaysia boss.
“To date, the government did not pay any salary to Paul Stadlen,” Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim told PAS’s Hanipa Maidin in a written reply in Parliament on Wednesday.
Hanipa had asked about the amount paid to Stadlen who was purportedly a member of the communication team at the Prime Minister’s Office.
However, the reply was silent on whether Stadlen was part of the team. – May 22, 2015.
So here we have it, the widespread use of buzzers in Indonesia to push the products or brands of companies.
The questions marketers need to ask before they embark on their next foray with buzzers are these:
What competitive advantage is there for their brand when their competitors are all also doing the same – paying buzzers to endorse or “create buzz” around a product or event?
Is there any credibility in it at all given that everyone using social media knows that buzzers are guns for hire and are a promiscuous lot? If there isn’t, what’s the point of using the buzzers?
Are brands squandering their resources by using buzzers, since it is transplanting the old world practice of using Key Opinion Leaders to influence others? That idea is grounded in Edward Bernays’s theory of Influencing the Influencers that is at least 85 years old. A lot has happened since then, specifically the social media that renders most things transparent and demands authenticity and relevance from brands
Shouldn’t brands focus more on how they can use social media to create a great customer experience for their audiences instead?
In Indonesia, buzzers not heard but tweet for money – RTRS
By Andjarsari Paramaditha
JAKARTA, Aug 23 (Reuters) – In Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, a buzzer is not an alarm or a bell, but someone with a Twitter account and more than 2,000 followers who is paid to tweet.
Jakarta is the world’s tweet capital and advertisers eager to reach the under-30 crowd are paying popular Twitter users to spread their word through social media, starting at about $21 per tweet.
While celebrity endorsements via Twitter are common worldwide, Indonesia is unusual because advertisers are paying the Average Joes too.
These Twitter “buzzers” send short messages promoting brands or products to their followers, usually during rush hour, 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m., when Jakarta’s notorious traffic jams create a captive audience with time to scan their mobile phones.
Jakarta has more Twitter users than any other city In the world, according to Semiocast, a social media market researcher, and Indonesia is home to the world’s fourth-largest population, with half the people under 30. All ingredients for a social media marketer’s dream.
“Indonesians love to chat. We love to share. We are community driven as a culture. For us it’s very easy to adopt social media because it is a channel through which we can express our opinions,” said Nanda Ivens, chief operating officer at XM Gravity Indonesia, a digital marketing unit of London-listed advertising giant WPP Group WPP.L.
For advertisers, using Twitter buzzers is a way to personalise the pitch, connecting someone who may have a special interest in a product with like-minded potential customers. A local photography buff, for example, would be a good target for a camera company.
An effective social media campaign will generate real conversations and genuine endorsements, said Thomas Crampton, Hong Kong-based social media director at advertising firm Ogilvy. But one issue with paid buzzers is that they may be seen as endorsing something only for the money.
“It’s not going to be transparent to the people reading the Twitter feed whether they’re being paid, and that’s not very honest,” said Crampton.
“The followers will see that this guy is for sale. It’s really like talking to a friend. If your friend is being paid to tell you something then a) you wouldn’t consider that person your friend and b) you’re not going to believe them.”
PT Nestle Indonesia, a unit of global food company Nestle SA NESN.VX, counts teenage pop singer Raisa (@raisa6690) and heartthrob actor Nicholas Saputra (@nicsap) among its brand ambassadors. They recently tweeted their experiences at a large Sumatra coffee plantation in a campaign supported by hired buzzers who were retweeting the celebrities’ comments and other sponsored messages from the company.
The challenge is measuring success.
“We do have quantitative measurement, which is the number of followers, the number of likes and the number of clicks,” said Patrick Stillhart, head of the coffee business at PT Nestle Indonesia. “But how do we relate that to brands and sales? There’s left a question mark.”
Stillhart said the company uses social media for more than a dozen brands and about 15 percent of its advertising spending goes to digital media. Apart from Nestle, competitor Unilever Indonesia UNVR.JK also followed similar path for their products.
Sometimes things go wrong.
Prabowo (@bowdat), 33, who quit his day job two years ago to scout for buzzers, recalled one cautionary tale about tweets meant to promote an Android product 005930.KS that were sent through a rival BlackBerry BB.TO or iPhone AAPL.O device. Followers could see the gaffe because tweets often include an automatic tag indicating how the message was posted.
Stand-up comedian Ernest Prakasa (@ernestprakasa) fell afoul of the “twitterverse” last year while promoting the Mini Cooper, a popular car made by BMW Group BMWG.DE
“There was a viral video. The idea was, I had to pretend to be locked in a container for several hours and then I escaped with the car. I was asked to act as if I was captured,” said the 30-year-old, who charges advertisers 7 million rupiah ($670) for 10 tweets.
Some of his friends didn’t realise it was an act, and began retweeting he had been kidnapped. They were furious when told it was an advertising gimmick.
“I was cursed at, accused of only trying to create a sensation. I had around 15,000 followers so I didn’t think it could become big. But I also learned that whenever this sort of fiasco happens, stay silent. It won’t last more than two days. Something new will come along and people will forget anyway.” ($1 = 10,490 Indonesian rupiah)
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Wagstaff, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Raju Gopalakhrisnan) ((email@example.com)(+62 21 3199 7170)(Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))
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.