Comms agency: Here's how Pakatan ministers can communicate better

Citrine One’s crisis communications lead counsel Ivlynn Yap Cheng Theng shared pointers on how Pakatan Harapan ministers can be better communicators. — Pictures by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Citrine One’s crisis communications lead counsel Ivlynn Yap Cheng Theng shared pointers on how Pakatan Harapan ministers can be better communicators. — Pictures by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 27 — The new ministers under the brand-new Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration can adopt certain measures to be good and clear communicators of their policies to Malaysians, communications agency Citrine One Sdn Bhd has suggested.

Citrine One recently conducted a survey independently and the results showed Malaysians felt that the ministers lacked a clear and consistent communication strategy despite also recognising that some ministers were good communicators.

Citrine One managing partner Sharveswary Balakrishnan highlighted the importance of ministers being able to share their policies well.

“Their intention is great, the strategy behind the scenes is good, but it’s only as good if you communicate it well,” the 18-year-old firm’s public relations and media relations lead counsel told reporters yesterday.

Digital age and managing expectations

While PH’s fresh batch of ministers have sometimes come under scrutiny for the way they communicate, they may be a victim of their own success in setting up expectations for a better government while they were still in the federal opposition.

Ivlynn Yap, also a managing partner at Citrine One, said the seemingly lack of a proper communications strategy for some ministers may appear more obvious, as anything can now go viral on social media, and also due to the pressure put upon the new administration from their own electoral promises and advocacy of a higher standard then the old Barisan Nasional administration.

“I think it’s more glaring today because of social media, anyone can just take a photo if they are not happy. The PH government, when they were in the opposition, they demand for higher standards from the previous one.

“Now they are in government, the public expects them to live up to that high standard, so are they living up to that high standard now in terms of communication? Some ministers yes, some ministers still need to improve further,” Yap, who is also the firm’s crisis communications lead counsel, told reporters.

“So people now expect a higher standard, they chose you because of the promise of higher standards, so in anything that you do, including communications, expectations will often be higher than the previous government,” she later added.

Highlighting the importance of managing expectations, Yap also said: “We always advise our clients, regardless of whether they are in government or corporate organisations, if you are not ready, don’t announce it.”

Yap agreed that Malaysians may still give leeway to ministers as they were still new in the job, but noted that those who are directly affected by policies can become less patient if there is prolonged uncertainty and lack of clarity after announcements are made.

Managing Partner, PR & Media Relations Lead Counsel of Citrine One Sharveswary Balakrishnan addressing the members of the media with her welcoming speech.
Managing Partner, PR & Media Relations Lead Counsel of Citrine One Sharveswary Balakrishnan addressing the members of the media with her welcoming speech.

Sharveswary also highlighted the nurturing of Malaysians’ appetite for announcements to be backed up by facts and figures.

“I think also because Pakatan Harapan when they were in the opposition, they used to take apart the past government’s plans with statistics, data, figures; which is what gives people confidence, that’s why we wanted to vote for them.

“So now when they announce, people have already adopted that habit that we want to take it apart with facts, figures and data, and we want to see how reliable, how sustainable your plan is. Do we get that kind of confidence currently? No.

“But there’s only so long they can play ‘I’m a new minister’ card, they also have to step up and show that what they are announcing has got very long-term benefits in mind,” she said.

Tips to be an excellent communicator

Yap listed out a few pointers that the ministers could do to communicate their ministries’ policies better, including getting to know the protocols, standard operating procedures and documentation processes in their respective ministries.

“If something is working well, don’t change, if something is not working well, improve on it,” she said of the standard operating procedures.

Yap highlighted the importance of knowing protocols, highlighting as example that the speech of a minister in an event cannot be read out by any official who is not from the same ministry if the minister was unable to attend.

Ministers should also speak to their heads of department, besides identifying and training spokesmen within their ministry who can represent them if they are unavailable to attend events, she said.

“Train these people who are going to be represent you, these people must have deep knowledge, understanding on the policy you are planning for,” she said.

“Set the timelines of announcements and only announce it when you already have all your facts and figures in place, or your delivery mechanism already in place,” she added, having also highlighted the importance of being prepared to prevent u-turns in announcements.

Yap said that ministers could however still announce of their plans to introduce new policies by sharing the planned timeline of when the policy would be made, while also accepting that there could sometimes be delays just like in project management.

“Then you have to have a crisis management plan or issue management plan for your ministry. In the event this issue happens, who is the right spokesperson, identify them, what is the process to go the top for final approval from the minister.

“If the minister can’t do it, it’s a national issue, then yes, the prime minister, by all means he has to come out to say it, or the deputy prime minister,” she said.

Having effective communication internally is also just as important as communicating well externally, Yap said, noting that the ministry’s staff should be kept informed of new policies and plans that are to be announced to the public.

Yap also suggested that the press secretaries of ministers undergo training for communication and to also follow protocol, as their performance would also reflect on their respective ministers.

She noted that the government does not need to hire foreign consultants as there are many local communications professionals would could provide training in communications if required

The goal

Yap said the survey on the ministers’ communication skills was aimed at uplifting and improving the level of communication skills and expertise in the country in all organisations including within the government or companies, and to move away from communications that are not well thought through or planned out.

“This is the culture that we need to ensure that Malaysia has, instead of bickering, rhetorics without facts,” she said.

Yap had earlier noted that the current federal opposition appeared to be weaker as compared to the previous opposition in highlighting issues and were allegedly racist in their approach.

Malay Mail has written on the survey’s findings including which ministers were named by respondents as being the best at communicating their ministries’ policies, as well as how tackling corruption is less of a top priority for Malaysians as compared to three other issues directly affecting their lives.