On January 3rd this year, the Straits Times ran a story on GIC’s (formerly known as the Government of Singapore’s Investment Corporation) efforts to “boost youth volunteerism via a $2m scheme offering students $3,000-$5,000 for 25 hours of community work”.
The Online Citizen (TOC) was quick to pick up on netizens’ responses to the scheme and published an article entitled “GIC’s pay-for-volunteering scheme gets criticised”. The article chose to bring attention to the massive online vitriol against the scheme, rather than the fact that volunteering was just one component of the Sparks & Smiles Scheme.
To any PR and Communications professional, this is a very interesting exercise in analysing the culture of reporting in Singapore and reputation management.
First, this episode reminds us of how small Singapore is in terms of its physical and news geography. There are only so many things that can be reported daily because of a certain level of self-censorship in the newsroom. Also, the readership of Straits Times and SPH’s papers has taken a hit as a result of digital news which has less self-censorship, but is nevertheless quite careful of what is being uploaded. More importantly, this culture of self-censorship is also fuelled by the lack of a certain degree of apathy by readers at large.
It is possible that the journalist attempted to highlight the volunteerism aspect of the scheme, thinking that it would draw attention to the article. Instead of giving her story a new perspective, it unfortunately drew much flak from the online community.
However, based on the reporting in the Straits Times’ forum section and the tabloid paper in the following days, one might speculate that the PR machinery of GIC would have pressed them for extra coverage to help them recover from the online tirade. This is any PR department’s “service recovery” dream: to get so much extra coverage for nothing.
Unfortunately though, they did not get the same ‘tender loving care’ from TOC. The comments below the TOC’s piece ran like a litany of grouses about GIC and this brings us to the second point about reputation management and GIC.
Reputation matters. It is the impression (rightly or wrongly) that people have about your organisation and it has implication on the way you do business and your relationship with the community. This entire episode is, in a way, a reflection of GIC’s reputation and how it resonates with some sections of society – some Singaporeans tend to associate GIC with politics and the state of affairs in Singapore.
As can be seen from the subsequent comments posted, many writers seem to take this opportunity to air their grievances about the current state of affairs in Singapore, what people are generally unhappy about and linking them back to GIC.
For GIC, perhaps this is a good time for them to consider embarking on a visibility campaign to make an effort to connect with the public so that they can better weather mistakes in the news room and other such debacles.
Luenne Choa is co-founder of Hornbills: Concepts and Communications. This commentary is based on her personal views.