Saturday, June 4, 2011

How the State (Mis-)Manages its Publicity!!

I do not watch much TV but whenever I do, I can't miss the advertisements played by Governments to project the good work that has been carried out and some spectacular programs that have worked wonders for the people of the country. Thus it seems that the Government messages are reaching even the most irregular of TV viewers. So it calls for a great big pat on the back of the Media Managers who manage Government Publicity. No it can't be that simple and utopian, why else would I consider writing this Blog!

The simplest principle of Communication is that delivery of message is not the measure of communication's effectiveness, it is the reception of message by the recipient that is the key barometer to judge communication's success. Does it seem that I doubt if this barometer is kept in mind while framing the multi-million dollar worth of campaigns by Governments (Central as well as State Governments)? Yes I doubt and here are some factors that buttress my suspicion.

1) Lack of Coordination: Its common to see Government Ads on the same topic (usually on a former national leader etc) occupying most pages of newspapers(big ones and small as well)on the D-Day. This happens as different Ministries, Departments, Autonomous Bodies in the government enter in the race to publish their own ad on the topic (normally some former leader). The outcome is rather disastrous with the impact lost on the newspaper reader. Clearly such an ambush marketing (a jargon that means "too much money is available to spend on senseless marketing") on so many pages by different sponsors creates an impact sorely different from the intended one. The reader loses the message and instead of remembering the Ad (or the high contributions of a former leader) interprets such extravagance as typical sarkari chamchagiri, fiscal profligacy. Thus, the communication with all its noble intention is lost.

A single advertisement with effective creatives and right placement could have served the purpose more effectively. The reason for such a naivety is the total lack of coordination among the different institutions in the government. It seems that they do not wish to understand the simple principles of unified and focused communication and are driven by the urge to be counted amongst those who cared to advertise (clearly the intended viewer or reader is not the common man..but some uncommon men & women).

Clearly, it would be more effective to pool in the financial resources of different ministries and do a single campaign that highlighted output of the government with real life and close to reality examples.

2) Flawed sense of timing and content: it is hilarious to see government claims of great successes in its programmes running continuously on News Channels ( most important vehicles for any government for their nuisance value) amidst story after story on the news channel that showcase Governmental corruption, political scandals etc.

Thus viewer is simply thought of as a willing idiot who will pick up the paid communication's message over and above the non-paid (hopefully it is non-paid) news content. It is easy to imagine that the average citizen is bound to trash the message (ads) of great governmental feats in favor of the masala full of government condemnation that the News channels love to air..with utter lack of responsibility..just because the cynical citizen has a great appetite for such trash.

To drive home the point just imagine TV News Channels airing interviews of civil society members ridiculing the government of the day for some action it took and the Break Time (I wonder..what does it Break?) is filled by Government campaigns praising its own achievements.

Does it really make sense to pump in money to occupy prime space in medias to educate about great governmental feats?

Yes perhaps it does as long as the communications are specific to programmes of the government and give information to citizens that helps them to get delivery of promised government services with greater ease. If the citizen feels the communication helps them to get access to government schemes and talks about real action close to their lives, the communication would attract due attention and respect. A generic campaign focused on creating a legend about Government's great achievement simply fails when action in real life seems blurred.

3) Socialism kills communication: the media choice in many a public campaigns displays the kind of accommodation that democratic governments in a pluralistic society have to incorporate. So a public campaign has to be doled out to the non-performing TV channels & Radio Stations and printed out in Newspapers and magazines that never leave the printing press (if at all they are printed). Such a socialistic approach only makes the Campaigns more costly. Does it have a impact on Communication? Perhaps it does not since the really functional Medias too get to run the campaign..but a communication that depends on a hundred channels may be less effective and more costly than one which uses a carefully chosen select channels that bring out the intended impact.

Well before the Government impeaches me for my free writing it is important to give a Disclaimer here.

Disclaimer: The views are my personal ones and in no way I have commented on the Media and Communications management of any Government functional in India at present or in the past. It is simply a theoretical account of how Government's across the world because of their bureaucratic compulsions and democratic souls may go wrong in their most pious efforts to inform the common citizens in order to make a meaningful difference to the lives.