The Sarawak Report contains a fascinating story of the staying power and nocturnal pursuits of Najib’s propaganda chief Paul Stadlen.
Stadlen apparently used to head APCO, a lobbying/PR firm appointed by Malaysian Prime Minister to help with his PR needs, which are legion. Unspun’s written about them here and here.
Many people then wondered why a firm that has been associated with its close contacts with the Jewish lobby was appointed by a sanctimoniously Islamic Malaysian Government. An explanation was that they wanted to lobby the US. This seemed a plausible answer.
But when APCO got nowhere and were dismissed by the Malaysian government it was then difficult to understand why Stadlen, who had headed the firm’s Malaysian operations, was retained to advice Najib on his PR.
Was Stadlen somehow more clever and had greater insights into Malaysians than any Malaysian Najib could find? Was he more strategic and savvy? Was he willing to be more brutal and unquestioning to his boss’s orders?
In all counts it is difficult to find a reason why Stadlen could have been a superior choice. This task is made all the more difficult if you consider that someone in his position would allow himself to be photographed having wild times and cavorting with Malaysian Bunny girls.
Surely even a humdrum PR advisor would know the reputational risks he exposes his boss and himself if he indulges in such good times?
So Malaysians, why is this Mat Salleh chosen over all the clever and equally scheming local boys and gals that Najib could have hired for a fraction of Stadlen fees?
(Unspun didn’t have enough coffee this morning and somehow thought Stalin was Steadly. Have made corrections to the copy. Apologies for not being too steady this morning)
Unspun learned about the article below in Malaysian Insider from Opah. Its a nice piece of business for APCO and while the Opposition in Malaysia were right to query about the amount paid, they are asking the wrong questions.
Any successful public relations effort ultimately changes one or more of three things: awareness, attitude and behavior.
If the target audience here is the US political system then, if they are successful, they would have changed the level of awareness that the US political elite has of Malaysia, the attitude they have toward one or another aspect of the country and their behavior (say, from voting against to voting for).
If the Opposition understands this then the correct question to ask is what are the KPIs, the Key Performance Indicators, agreed between the Malaysian Government and APCO and how did they do against these parameters? Being American they must have polled this thing to death. What do the polls say?
And if the Opposition is smart about it they should hire their own pollster in Washington to provide an independent assessment of whether the US$24.2 million is well spent. That is the only way to pin the Government down on their justification to hire APCO, anything less than a marshaling of facts and figures to back their allegations would mean that the Opposition has lost the game. They would have fallen into the trap of rhetoric vs rhetoric, and in such a verbal pissing contest, someone who’s been trained in the arts of the bump and run (also known as bridging) and other techniques will surely, if not win the day, will at least emerge unscathed.
Government paid APCO RM76m
By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
KUALA LUMPUR, April 13 — The government paid US$24.2 million (RM76.8 million) to APCO Worldwide, the international public relations consultancy linked by Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders to Israel, for its services from last July until June this year.
The amount was revealed by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, in a written reply to a question in Parliament from PKR MP, Chua Tian Chang.
Chua disclosed this today to reporters, and pointed out that the amount far exceeded the RM28 million mentioned by Nazri previously.
The minister’s written reply provided a breakdown of the fee paid by the government to APCO, starting from July 15, 2009 until June 4, 2010.
“I want the minister to explain the expenses concerning APCO Worldwide. The payment was just for APCO’s services, not even for the 1 Malaysia concept,” Chua told reporters today in Parliament.
“How did Nazri end up with RM28 million, when the total amount was US$24,207,158 which is in US dollars. Change it to Malaysian ringgit and you get RM76,820,653,” said Chua.
When met by the Malaysian Insider, Nazri explained that he was uncertain during the time whether the figure was in the correct currency.
“It was what was told to me. I was not sure whether it was dollars or ringgit. Tengku Sharifuddin (Tengku Ahmad) informed me at the time,” said Nazri.
Nazri also said that when Chua had raised the question in Parliament, he had mentioned that he lacked the information then but would answer in depth at a later point.
Back in August last year when APCO clinched the job to do the public relations for Malaysian Premier Najib Tun Razak and his Cabinet, Unspunquestioned 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).
Interesting news about APCO winning the PA/PR contract with the Malaysian Government (see extract below).
The question, raised here between Unspun and Kay Peng (who still hasn’t released my comment in his blog), is whether anything can be done to improve the image of Najib and the Malaysian government, regardless of how good, experienced or high powered the consultants are.
President Jimmy Carter’s spokesperson Jodie Foster once remarked that “sometimes you have a PR problem, other times you just have a problem.” Observers of the Malaysian political scene would no doubt argue that Najib and Co have a problem (of political, personal credibility, living in denial and calibre of people dimensions) that in turn triggers as PR problem.
Reading the article below, one of APCO’s main tasks will be to neutralize Najib’s critics in the blogs. They would not be so stupid as to try to silence the bloggers, or to push pabulum and good news to an angry and skeptical audience so Unspun’s guess is that they will go on the assault by engaging the bloggers. It will probably be an aggressive engagement as they deploy bloggers sympathetic to Najib and the government to out argue the critics. Will sock puppets be used? Will there be astroturfing? Who knows, but the Malaysian interactive space is worth watching over the next few months.
Can APCO help guide Najib and Co to solve their problem so that they can solve their image problem? It remains to be seen but Unspun wouldn’t hold his breath. This is no reflection on APCO (except perhaps their choice to take the business if they are not convinced they can make a real difference) but more on Najib et al. Malaysians might want to press their government to let them know what the deliverables and KPIs are for APCO if their tax money is being spent.
APCO secures key Malaysian contract
Global PA operator APCO is to expand its business in Malaysia after securing a key contract from the country’s government.
The move comes as APCO restructures its South East Asia operation – with London PA expert Paul Stadlen heading to Malaysia to become managing director of the new office amid changes to its operations in the region.
The firm is to broaden its activities in Malaysia with the creation of an office in Kuala Lumpur – which will service the government of Malaysia and prime minister Najib Razak.
Larry Snoddon, APCO’s Asia CEO, said winning a major piece of government work underlined the changing dynamic in the public affairs arena.
“Governments today are facing similar challenges to global business that require dealing simultaneously with public policy, public opinion and finance,” he told PublicAffairsAsia.
“This environment requires diversified skills and a deep knowledge of world affairs. This has been the historic basis for APCO’s creation and its mission.”
The contract was awarded after what industry insiders say was quick fire pitch – with APCO beating off competitors including Burson-Marsteller to secure the PR and comms role with the Malaysian government.
Stadlen said Malaysia was now poised to become a global leader in key economic areas.
“This is a time of opportunities for Malaysia,” said Stadlen. “APCO is delighted to share media expertise and strategic communication services with the Malaysian government and other clients in Malaysia. We are excited about Malaysia’s future and our ability to participate in it.”