Sanjay Baru’s book – The Accidental Prime Minister – is talk of the cities in India and their select circles. Confirmatory damage it has caused to the mass image of Dr. Manmohan Singh is irreversible and is bound to travel with the professor till his last. Besides its gossip value, the book raises a very crucial issue. It is a high time that the highest in the government need to ponder as to how far it is advisable to entrust the job of mass image-making of PM to a journalist of repute, and in order to keep his morale high, give him the rank of Secretary to the Government of India, and a bungalow in Chanakya Puri or Moti Bag.
My experience as Image, Look, and Feel handler of several governments, events, and organizations – coming as it does from Delhi government and CWG 2010 in the past and my current experience in UIDAI, DIMTS, and IHD – says it is a gross error in understanding of the decision maker.
It is naive for any PM to presume that hiring a professional journalist and giving him the required freedom and perks will be enough for creating his positive mass image. The PM of the day needs to understand that he is hiring a professional who will double up as both media adviser and communication executioner and that calls for a team of professionals to be led by a communication chief. Therefore, even to designate him as a media adviser is misleading.
It is presumed that the journalist so hired will have news sense, will write well and that he will engage his professional colleagues to sing song for the PM. Yes, a print journalist wielding a pen can write at best up to 1000 words, but how many others can he make to write? Can a TV journalist – whose tool is his camera – even write a piece lasting for more than 60 seconds? Do they usually have ‘take along personalities’ and enough ‘social capital’ essential to mobilise other journalists and media houses for curating a desired mass image of a PM. Stand-alone characters that most of them are and adversorial training that they imbibe in their profession, the selected journalist may bring few friends on board but several also as enemies. Further, they may extort few of his professional colleagues to write favourably once a while, singing praise song does not come naturally to a journalist and obligations of personal friendship does not work beyond a point. So their past enemies and critics get more active peeking holes, than their friends knitting Baba Black Sheep stories.
But, more than above, what needs to be highlighted is that mass image making is basically a communication management game that necessitates understanding of a multiple yet interrelated disciplines such as traditional journalism, social media, branding, advertising, designing, film making, publication, research and evaluation.
As a part of my professional call I may have chanced upon hundreds of journalists in the last one decade or so. But I am yet to come across a single one of any seniority who has basic competence to understand all these disciplines and their nuances. Those who understand journalism do not fathom advertising, and those who understand advertising do not understand the dynamics of social media. So goes the story for other disciplines.
What is the solution then? The solution, in brief, lies in picking up a communication and marketing savvy senior bureaucrat as in-charge – such like Ashok Bajpayee, Sudeep Banerjee, PK Tripathi, N.Baijendra Kumar, Sharda Prasad – and allow him or her to put together a team of professionals: journalists, social media engager, copy writer, graphic designer and a good photographer representing above disciplines under them. Put reasonable money on his desk and ask the in charge to empanel the best of supporting agencies – ad, PR, designing, publication and film making – purely on merit with the help of these professionals. Navigate these agencies with your professional rowers and let the captain steer. Let the captain sit in PMO at Raisina Hills, and ask the team to sit in Media Centre near Press Club of India at Raisina Road.
Trained that they are in being self evasive or faceless in public life, the captain will never let you down by his loud mouthiness. And the team of executors will be sufficiently away from the centre of actual power in PMO to create make-believe pulp-stories about the PM and the PMO.
April 16, 2014