Branding guru calls Najib’s PR efforts an ‘absolute scam’

By Yow Hong Chieh
The Malaysian Insider
Sep 21, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 — The creator of the nation branding concept has called the prime minister’s use of British publicity firm FBC Media to burnish Malaysia’s image abroad an “absolute scam” and a waste of public funds.

Simon Anholt, who pioneered the use of nation branding as a way to measure, build and manage a country’s reputation, said that while public relations was needed in the private sector, it was “highly suspect” that a country could up its standing using the same means.

“There’s a great deal of evidence around us to show what a waste of taxpayers’ money this is,” he told BFM Radio in a phone interview this morning.

“First of all, the countries that tend to spend most money on these PR campaigns to fix their image tend to be the rogue nations.

“If you look at the countries that have spent the most money on ambitious PR campaigns, they’re the places that are most despised and it hasn’t done anything to fix their image at all.”

Anholt pointed out that media studies has known for decades that the media cannot change people’s perception of a country from worse to better or vice versa but could only raise the profile of its existing image.

For this reason, he said “the last thing” a country with a bad image should do is engage in public relations as increased media coverage would only remind the rest of the world what a “problematic” country or government it was.

“So I’m afraid I think the whole thing is an absolute scam and a shocking and indefensible waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Anholt stressed that governments needed to understand that when they engaged in foreign policy, economic development or international relations, they risked damaging the reputation of their country, which was worth “much, much, much more” than all other tangible assets combined.

It was the “sacred responsibility” of governments today to ensure their country’s good name was preserved and handed down in the same condition, if not better, he said.

Anholt added that countries could only make themselves more relevant to the rest of the world by becoming more useful, and suggested Malaysia tackle shared global issues like climate change, women’s rights, terrorism and financial instability to improve its reputation.

“And then I absolutely guarantee that if you do that and you do it well and you do it consistently over a number of years… you will find that you will become a much more widely recognised and more widely appreciated country,” he said.

“That’s how reputation is earned. I’m afraid there aren’t any shortcuts to it.”

Last month, Putrajaya was forced to end its contract with FBC Media after an embarrassing exposé revealed that Malaysian leaders routinely appeared in paid-for interviews on global television programmes.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has since engaged the services of a new group of political strategists — including members of the team behind Tony Blair’s “New Labour” — to reinvent the first-term premier as a moderate reformist in preparation for possible snap polls next year.

Najib’s new team of advisers is just the latest in his administration’s penchant for foreign public relations firms.

APCO’s time in Malaysia was marked by controversy after the opposition alleged the public relations firm was linked to Israel.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 12:56 am

    ///“First of all, the countries that tend to spend most money on these PR campaigns to fix their image tend to be the rogue nations.///

    I fully agree. Problematic vessels make the most noise.

  2. #2 by monsterball on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 1:34 am

    It is indeed..a Rouge Nation.
    They take tax payers money…spend by the millions…traveling to enjoy and do nothing.
    They don’t care…for they have been stealing by the billions…the day UMNO b was formed…35 years and on going.
    They need new ideas how to fool Malaysians…and so…political advertising and promotional work of the highest order are sorted out.
    Money is no problem..because the money are not theirs.
    It’s tax payers money and they are so used to spending….it is an incurable disease…bragging and showing off…as if they inherited the country from their grandfather.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 5:33 am

    Its waste of money: spend allegedly more than RM70 million on APCO, dump it after alleged Israel links, allegedly more than RM57.7 million on FBC Media and then dump it when BBC/CNBC took action against FBC in wake of Sarawak Report’s whistle blowing expose on the Malaysian link. With each dumping the whole PR exercise backfires as it refocuses attention to the “rogue” profile that the PR is supposed to improve at first instance. But it is also sign of time that people are cavalier with other peoples money (as long as its not their own). Here the money is public/rakyat’s money that as been squandered to the profit of these media companies with none to the country or the rakyat. In fact it is unethical, skating on the fine edge of corruption to use public funds to promote partisan political interest but for the excuse that improving the image for country/govt is good for investment, tourism etc….

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 5:50 am

    Yet much of what Anholt says is true – that good reputation whether of govts or individual whether in business or politics, has to be earned on merits not so easily gained by mere perception/image massaging. The trouble in today’s consumer society dominated by social media is the prevailing value system that views money can buy anything including good image or votes; that truth is not as important as perception. This has been extended to politics where voters are treated as consumers buying political products to be convinced by likewise slick imagery, exaggerated claims, or sometimes outright deception by public relations/promotion strategies. 50 years ago Vance Packard in his book “Hidden Persuaders” already warned of the dangers of people being conned by advertising industry’s efforts to maneuver consumers into buying goods they neither needed nor wanted. That did nothing to stop the onward march/expansion of this industry which only shows that businesses have found it useful & profitable to improve image of their products to help selling.

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 6:18 am

    There is a limit to one trying to treat advertising and branding a political image as if it were same in efficacy as that of commercial product regardless of intrinsic quality/merits. In case of commercial products whilst businesses will promote their products why they are better than competitors’, they seldom overtly run down competitors’ products overtly as to what they are bad. So advertising/promotion has greater part to play in sales promotion at least or short run apart from products’ merits. Politics however operates in a milieu of greater adversarial contestation. This means that the ruling party can’t just promote exaggerated claims without opposition or civil society contradicting them immediately. Outsiders assessing a country’s brand will also not just listen to and be impressed by what promoters sell without reference to what detractors and opposition complain or do! For example the govt’s handling of Bersih or Sodomy I & II – and opposition or civil society’s complaints about it which are instantaneously disseminated by Internet- generates more bad advertising than the multi million good advertising by FBC or APCO could ever counteract.

  6. #6 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 6:49 am

    Just one more word using some contemporary gaffes on how this expensive business of image massaging will not work without underlying merits : how can FBC Media or APCO help if promises made are reneged, whether they concern making available the stadium for rally or testifying in Sodomy II; prosecutors argued self strangulation to justify TBH’s suicide or try prosecute Mat Sabu for criminal defamation just because he interpreted historical events from another angle; outlawing Bersih for alleged offences under repressive legislations that the govt itself expresses intent to repeal; making sex scandals ranging from homosexual to heterosexual as main point of political contestation to bring down the Opposition; and so on and so on that does not help in bolstering credibility?

  7. #7 by k1980 on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 7:51 am

    British publicity firm FBC Media should make and broadcast a documentary of the robbery in Jibbiland last Thursday

    Three MACC officers arrested over RM1m robbery
    UPDATED @ 06:24:26 PM 21-09-2011 By Melissa Chi September 21, 2011
    KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 — Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar confirmed today the arrest of three senior anti-graft officers in connection with an extortion-cum-robbery case involving RM1 million.

    The alleged victims were said to have been three money changers from Singapore.

    The top cop confirmed the arrest of the three Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) officers, including an ACP.

    They have been released on bail and are suspended from work, Ismail told reporters after the launch of Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM)’s Twitter account here at the KL Police College.

    It was earlier reported that the money changers were at KLIA last Thursday night intending to board a flight to Singapore when the robbery took place.

    The three are understood to have been carrying foreign currencies amounting to about RM2 million which they had declared to Customs.

    Five men who identified themselves as MACC officers then confronted the three men and demanded they hand over US$100,000 (RM300,000) each.

  8. #8 by yhsiew on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 8:17 am

    If you are good at your work or administration, people will come and learn from you even if you don’t tell them that you are good. It is only when you are not good that you do all sort of things to fool people that you are good.

  9. #9 by dagen on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 8:28 am

    /// “So I’m afraid I think the whole thing is an absolute scam and a shocking and indefensible waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said. ///

    Boy, if we hv the best democracy in the world a statement such as this could bring the PM down (if not the entire government).

  10. #10 by Godfather on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 9:11 am

    To be successful at stealing, you need to have thick skin. You must be thick-skinned to deny everything that other people throw at you. You must be thick-skinned to tell people to make police reports or take legal action, and then you wink wink at the PDRM or the judiciary. You must be thick-skinned to use public funds to pay for PR gurus to claim that the theft of rakyat’s money is actually beneficial in the long run to the country.

  11. #11 by Godfather on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 9:34 am

    Satu lagi projek Curi Curi Malaysia.

  12. #12 by boh-liao on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 9:41 am

    Rakyat don’t understand Y NR used FBC Media 2 burnish Malaysia’s image abroad
    NR oredi got d short fat lady of M’sia what – she is d perfect ICON n BRAND of M’sia what
    NR very silly 1, Y pay so much 2 FBC M when he has a lethal branding weapon next 2 him

  13. #13 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 10:00 am

    Do we need someone from the outside to tell us what we already know? We have been living in a world of fantasy, of make believe and of illusions.

    Why does the BN keep doing it? Is it because it is effective especially among the feeble minded segments of society that believe the government can do no wrong and will swallow everything that it says hook, line and sinker?

    The BN and especially the PM obviously believe that a small percentage swing, maybe 3% – 5% in popular votes will make a lot of difference that will allow it to retain control of the government and get it the 2/3 majority it needs. So the hundreds of millions it spend at taxpayers’ expense is definitely worth it despite the adverse comments from some quarters who are certainly not the target groups.

    This raises the question and issue of why the Opposition MPs are not questioning in earnest in Parliament all these dubious and extravagant expenses used for promoting the government party interests?

    The budget session is coming up. Look at the budget items carefully and question, question, question.

  14. #14 by monsterball on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 10:56 am

    “Jedi-Who” commentator said….
    “It’s all a Circus. Mamakkutti is the ringleader, Kerismudin is the knife thrower, Najis is an overweight contonionist. Mat Muyideen is the rhino. Khairy is the monkey act and the others are the clowns”
    And the acts are boring and outdated.

  15. #15 by waterfrontcoolie on Thursday, 22 September 2011 - 3:41 pm

    Point No. 1: If those officers knew all along that such action is totally abhorred by their BOSSES, they would certainly think thrice; but no, this action is rather routine; since every other party, given the CHANCE will do the same thing! How did we arrive in such scenario?? Such mindset could not be induced overnight. It must have taken a while for the mind to react in such manner. After over 30 years of not only sloganeering but also actions at every corner of the nation, such mindset is induced to this level. Those officers just followed what their bosses have been doing. So their mind does not feel guilty! This is definitely the days of the KuoMintang of China in the 30s!

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