Public Affairs: The “Software” of Emerging Middle Powers

A recent article on MH 370 by Richard Cronin from the Stimson Center noted how emerging markets have the ‘trappings’ of a developed country but remain deficient in other critical elements of a modern industrial state”. The article refers to this deficiency as a lack of the ‘software’ needed to help these emerging markets to “smoothly escape the “middle income trap”. The article lists a slew of governance related “software” that these emerging middle powers lack.

In addition to good governance and good economic policies, it is also important that these countries have good communication strategies and policies to help them move from (what some might perceive as) propaganda to public diplomacy. This does not mean simply having a ‘media arm’ or a “corporate communications” department that purchases advertisement space in magazines, organise product and policy launches, and pitch lifestyle stories to the press. It might be worthwhile considering the ‘radical’ possibility of having and allowing the public affairs/ public relations head to be part of the senior management decision making process and in the boardroom—at the heart of the decision making modes.

These days of putting out a well written press release (dotting your ‘i’s and crossing your ‘t’s at the right places) are over. The Public Affairs/Public Relations department of any organisation needs to go beyond this superficiality. It has to incorporate the following three elements in its communications strategies:

  1. knowing the political, social and economic environment of that you are working in;
  2. a strong awareness of the weight of your words; and
  3. being aware of the importance of good visual and non-visual communication.

Emerging markets and emerging economies need to realise that good work will go unnoticed if it is not talked about—modestly (commonly seen as an Asian way of doing things). More importantly, getting the right people to hear about the good work is crucial.