As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Unfortunately, this may not be the case for some officials handling the Covid-19 crisis.
A columnist, Philip Golingai, writing in The Star cited an example of this, for instance when Deputy Women and Family Development Minister, Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, wrote in a tweet that only 1% should worry about dying from Covid-19 when the possibility of dying ‘at any moment’ is really at 100%.
Golingai also shared another political faux pas when the Women and Family Development Ministry, (that happens to be under Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun) told women to wear makeup, avoid wearing loose clothes, not to use sarcasm and to speak like the cartoon character named Doraemon at home to avoid conflicts with their husbands while under MCO.
So how exactly should politicians act and what should they say when it comes to their press releases? Golingai asked the CEO of a local public relations company, Yan Lim, who said, “We need to remember that the media works both ways, just like with any human relationship, and so does a brand damage. It is something a company’s (or in this scenario, the government ministers’) public profile must always avoid, but if it happens, with a well-planned comeback strategy, the profile can be rehabilitated.”
Another managing director of a different PR company, Jacqueline Arnold, explained that, especially in the time of a crisis, it would be best to leave it to the experts. Ms Arnold said, “It’s best practice that the PM addresses issues of national interest, particularly the language used to address the man-in-the-street with the Makcik Kiah example; the Defence Minister speaks purely about matters related to security and the army; the Miti (Inter-national Trade and Industry Ministry) minster speaks about international trade and the economy.”
Columnist Golingai wrote that Arnold also shared a few tips that officials can use when addressing a nation under obvious duress. She explained that speeches should “be sensitive about the feelings of our diverse population”, “be constructive”, “speak only if you have something important or useful to say”, “consult and get opinions before issuing tips/guidelines” and “abstain from publicity stunts.”
Meanwhile, Lim also said that “Essentially, they must ensure that the key messages are crystal clear and there is little room for misinterpretation by the rakyat/stakeholders. Otherwise, blunders will not only affect the minister but will also look incompetent.”
Columnist Golingai also illustrated another incident in the same article for The Star where the health minister told the public that drinking warm water could help “kill the Covid-19 virus” yet this was not the advice given by the World Health Organisation.
Lim said, “He did not seem prepared with what he was supposed to deliver hence he went off-tangent when the host of the show asked a clear question.” She added, “This is why I cannot stress how important it is to stick to talking points prepared by your comms team.”
And this wasn’t the only time one of these officials made themselves look uninformed. Lim also spoke about the day when Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin appeared in a full sanitation suit on Sunday (Apr 5) to spray disinfectant in Kuala Lumpur. She explained, “The sight of YB Zuraida wearing a full sanitation suit and a ‘Minister’ label on her forehead made the public cringe a little. She should have let the frontliners take the show all the way.”
While the damage has already been done, it would be beneficial to learn from these mistakes. And the best way to do this, according to Lim, is to allow a PR company to take the wheel and “get professional help before you open your mouth.” /TISG
Send in your scoop to email@example.com