Tuesday, September 19, 2006
IMF Meeting - A Failed Branding Exercise
IMF Meeting - A Failed Branding Exercise
Many people have asked me whether it is "worth it" for Singapore government to spend over $100 million to play host to IMF - World Bank meeting while our citizens have to suffer another round of public transport fare hike?
I think we must look at the objective of hosting the IMF meeting before we could decide whether it is worth while for us to spend such money. In my view, hosting the IMF meeting is a branding exercise for Singapore. PAP government is trying to sell Singapore as the top choice MICE i.e. a place for Meetings, conferences and exhibitions to the whole world. If the IMF meeting is successfully organized here, it will argur well for us as a Nation. Singapore does have the necessary infrastructure and efficient system to position ourselves as a place suitable for international organizations and businesses to hold their conferences here. There are great benefits and opportunities for us in the long run if we have managed this IMF meeting well. This is a strategy in line with PAP's intention of building of the Casino resorts.
Unfortunately, PAP government has tripped itself numerous times in organizing the IMF meeting. The most fearful thing for a branding exercise is bad press and public relations disaster. This is something that PAP lacks good understanding. Maybe it is due to its long entrenched position in Singapore where the local media is in its absolute control. Local media will hardly give it bad press or create a public relations disaster for the PAP government. In such a "comfortable" environment, it would be very difficult for PAP to cultivate its Public Relations skills and thus it becomes very PR unsavvy.
First of all, PAP government should not have agreed to host the IMF meeting at all in the very first place. Branding needs consistency not only in its messages but in its structure as well. IMF meeting is well known for the accompanied street protests by social activists which may turn violent at times. This is totally incompatible to PAP's political culture or tolerance. I was furiously shocked when Mr. Goh Chok Tong said a couple of years ago that we may allow foreigners to hold street protests in Singapore during this IMF meeting. This practically means that Singaporeans would have become second class citizens in their own land because the PAP government has hardly issue any permits for its citizens to hold street protests in its rule, even though our constitution and law have provided such rights to us. I have taken the trouble to write a personal email to IMF, urging them not to hold thier meeting here for this particular reason. On hindsight, I should have been more persistent. True enough, SM Goh Chok Tong did a U turn and said just a few days ago that one of the primary reason why Singapore banned those NGOs and CSOs from conducting street protests during this IMF meeting is that they could not afford the political cost of discriminating against Singaporeans.
Secondly, the constant harping on the threat of terrorism to justify its refusal to allow some of the accredited activists to attend the IMF meeting does more harm than good to the branding exercise. If the main objective of this branding exercise is to attract more international businesses to hold their conferences in Singapore, the last thing you would do is to scare them away by saying we are constantly under terrorist threats! Those intimidating barb wires and steel walls built around the venue, Suntec, is not helping at all. It sent a mixed signals to the world that they will only be safe conducting their meetings in a cage like this!
The most critical blow come from the President of World Bank himself. His remark about Singapore Government renegades on the MOU signed three years ago has created tremendous damage to the standing and the reputation of this country! Although the PAP government tries very hard to justify its actions but the enormous damage has been done. Who wants to do business in a place where even the government could breach an important MOU with a big organization like the World Bank?
I guess no amount of huge posters with smiling faces will make us look good at the end of the day. The branding exercise is a total failure and I would say that those millions spent have been wasted. What we get in return is not a good brand name but bad press and bad reputation! What we are witnessing now is a self proclaim First World Government in a First World public relations disaster! Sigh.
Goh Meng Seng