Simon Anholt comments on the Public Relations efforts of Malaysia

Simon Anholt, the originator of the term nation brand and for many years an authority on managing national identity was interviewed by BFM radio in Kuala Lumpur recently. You can hear the interview here.

The interview was also covered by the online media and you can read about it here.

My thoughts on this issue are as follows

No disrespect Datuk Seri, but Malaysia and her future is much bigger and more important than Datuk Seri Najib Razak, UMNO and BN. Indeed, I am sure Datuk Seri Najib would be the first to agree with me.

Politically, the facts are that citizens of Malaysia voted for the government and gave that government a mandate to rule and represent the people. If about 35% of the population didn’t vote for a party within the government coalition and voted instead for another party (assuming they did vote – if they didn’t they should keep quiet) they have to accept that their party lost, and get on with working to build a global nation for their children and grand children.

Recently, the Malaysian government, elected by the people to manage the country on behalf of the people, decided to use traditional media, as part of what I hope is an integrated, multi pronged country brand communications strategy to help improve the image of the country.

It is unlikely this is an isolated tactic but part of multiple, integrated initiatives that are planned and coordinated by a plan that measures and leverages results.

If the government decides to work with a company that appears to have impecable credentials (and FCB media have them in spades) but appears to mislead the government then that government must dispense with such companies and its services, which is exactly what the Malaysian government has done with FCB media.

It is an unfortunate event but I sincerely believe that the government is not to blame for the debacle.

What perhaps should be questioned is not that the goverment tried to improve the image of the country – how can that be a bad thing and show me a country that doesn’t want to improve its image – but what were the justifications for using FCB media, what were the channels used and are they as effective today as they were say 25 years ago, what was the scope of work, what did FCB promise, was it necessary to pay such large sums of money to FCB, what did FCB use that money for and what metrics were used to calculate ROI?

On the face of it the amount spent appears to be excessive but without a breakdown of the expenditure we can’t be sure. And although it is not justification for spending so much money, show me a country that doesn’t waste taxpayer’s money? Only today, the UK has announced it wasted £11.5 BILLION on a National Health Service project that has been abandoned despite the huge sums spent.

Personally, I’m surprised that Simon Anholt has chosen to make such damning comments about one tactic that is, I assume part of a larger more integrated and holistic Malaysia country brand strategy.

I’m also surprised at his suggestion that countries can only make themselves more relevant by ‘making themselves more useful’. And the way to do this is by tackling a list of predictable issues – climate change, women’s rights, terrorism and financial insecurity – currently being addressed by many countries already.

I also think it is a little naive to think that Malaysia isn’t playing its part in some or all of those issues already. In fact, one could argue Malaysia has successfully combatted terrorism for longer than many countries except perhaps Northern Ireland.

I’m also surprised that he cites becoming a ‘widely recognised and widely appreciated country’ as goals. These are rather wishy washy goals and probably irrelevant as it wouldn’t be difficult to identify millions of people worldwide who recognise Malaysia and the country is probably ‘widely appreciated’ by hundreds of millions of people already.

You can read my earlier post on how Malaysia should build a nation brand here

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One thought on “Simon Anholt comments on the Public Relations efforts of Malaysia

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