Friday, 12 April 2013

Malawi State House statement on Madonna

The BBC is reporting that Malawi President Joyce Banda is ‘furious’ because of the press statement her communications team issued recently, accusing Madonna of demanding VVIP treatment when the pop star was in the southern African country. I must say I believe the BBC story. That is not to suggest that I believe the President is indeed ‘furious’, though.
It’s not the focus of this post but I want to acknowledge right at the outset that I wouldn’t be surprised if it is figured out the reported anger is simply some PR operation. However, let’s assume President Banda is indeed angry as reported by the BBC.

One thing I am interested in regarding the press statement from the President’s office is the  conduct of the press team. I have to admit, when I read the statement as published on Nyasa Times I was not impressed with the kind of language and tone used. To say the least, the statement resembled some communication from a private citizen to another. No sense of executive decorum. No wonder writing on his face-book page, Malawi based BBC correspondent Raphael Tenthani described the statement ‘yummy’. Was I wrong to read a lot of sarcasm in that one word description? I just feel the press team that worked on the statement did a great disservice to the president, which takes us to the second aspect of the issue around the statement.

Going by the BBC story, the President did not know about the press statement. That raises a big question on PR practice. It is a basic norm that press statements issued by PR practitioners are supposed to represent a position taken by the institution or individual the practitioners work for. In other words, an institution or an individual takes a position on an issue and a PR practitioner communicates that to a target public or advises the institution/individual how they should communicate that position for an intended effect. It is also the PR practitioner’s responsibility to advise their client on the sort of position to take on an issue.
What this tells us is that whatever goes to the media ought to represent the views of the client institution or individual, whether based on advice from PR staff or not.
However, PR practitioners and their clients are not always talking in order to come up with positions on issues. Yet, sometimes, during those times when the two are not in touch, the practitioners are supposed to communicate with different publics through the mass media. It is such moments that reveal the level of expertise of the practitioner. It is such situations that the practitioner’s understanding and knowledge about their client becomes handy. In other words, basing on how they understand their client, a PR practitioner can offer a media statement on behalf of the client without even seeking their view first. But that ought to be done with extreme caution in order to avoid goofing which is what the Malawi Presidential Press team has done.
The press team has demonstrated they didn’t consult their client i.e. the president on the kind of response they were supposed to send out to Madonna. That in itself is a big goof. They were supposed to seek her opinion on the matter.
And if it is true that President Joyce Banda is not happy with the statement by her press team I am sure this means she would not have endorsed it if the statement were sent to her in-tray for vetting. This clearly suggests that the press team do not fully understand the thinking of their client, the state president. If they did, they would not issue a statement that contradicts the way she looks at the Madonna issue.
That leads us to the question: how far should PR practitioners be allowed to express their client’s ‘view’ in the absence of that client’s say on any given issue? If the Malawi president’s press team had bothered to wait to consult their client on the Madonna issue before issuing a statement, would that have any adverse effect on the country’s first citizen’s PR image to the world?( Right now, the issue is no longer a Malawi PR issue, it’s about the president’s image to the world).
An extra question could be, how can the President salvage her ‘image’ in the issue? Publicly disown the statement by her press team?

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