Saturday, August 15, 2009

Malaysian government brings in PR firm, will need all the help it can get

The Malaysian government has appointed APCO, a global PR firm, to advise it on how to engage with the public and the media.

When I covered the stock market in London, the appointment of a new PR firm by a troubled company was usually the equivalent of the band on the Titanic striking up a new cheerful tune: they may be hoping to lighten the mood but ultimately the ship's still going down.

Amusingly, the men and women in suits who are being shipped out to Kuala Lumpur reckon they can help strengthen "the government’s online and other strategic communication capabilities" by deploying "seasoned professionals...who are on the cutting edge of new media".

Do these spin doctors know anything about Malaysian politics? The government and the ruling party have been completely outflanked by the rise of the internet in Malaysia, as shown by this week's humiliating climbdown over the planned new firewall.

It's not that the government doesn't understand the internet but, like so many incumbent Asian governments with authoritarian instincts, they are both scornful and fearful of engagement.

Although companies like APCO like to pitch themselves as "public affairs consultants" their main business is spinning, judging by the comments of APCO chief executive Margery Kraus, as reported by trade magazine PublicAffairsAsia [comments in square brackets are mine]:

“Malaysia continues to demonstrate that it is a major player in Asia [a major player like India, China and Indonesia or a major player like Thailand and the Philippines?], one of the great manufacturing nations for electronics [an industry that's beset by low margins and has been hit hard by the economic crisis] and a sophisticated participant in global markets across many sectors [presumably you're referring to cross-border deals like the failed buyout of ailing British lorry maker LDV],” said Kraus.

“APCO’s ability to leverage strategic communication capabilities across borders mirrors the kind of leverage Malaysia has achieved in its approach to business and trade [ah by leverage, I presume you mean corruption, cronyism and rent-seeking], making this a natural location for our expansion [i.e. we go where the money is]."

Hat-tip to Unspun.

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