Margery Kraus’ APCO Worldwide is without a doubt the boldest PR firm on this planet. Why? Well, for the right price the world’s most renowned crisis intervention heroes will evidently represent anyone. What’s APCO’s travail this time? Malaysia is all in the soup over their variant of political Seppuku, APCO has to re-brand the country no less.
Malaysia these days seems like anything but a moderate and stable nation. From church burnings to caning young girls, Malaysia’s divisions seem light years away from resolution. As a result of these perceptual woes, investing in the country these days resembles American dealings with Cuba after Castro took control – the money is just not flowing. So, rather than focusing resources on healing some of these wounds, Prime Minister Najib Razak chose to bring in a hired gun – enter APCO Worldwide.
Maybe it is just me, but forking over upwards of a reported $20 million bucks a year to “spin” a country into the 20th Century seems irrational. APCO’s skill at painting pretty political pictures is widely known, not to mention the firm’s influence in Washington (where the money flows from) – but ramping up an existing campaign called 1Malaysia now seems like pure fantasy. For anyone looking on, especially knowing Malaysia’s inner ills, 1Malaysia is comical. Even the website of 1Malaysia wreaks of spin and propaganda. Prime Minister Razak in one blog post is quoted as saying:
“However, the mainstream media has one strength which cannot be found in the alternative media and that is the mainstream media can be considered as fact based.”
The idea that people should focus on mainstream media is repeatedly hammered home – evidently someone fears citizen journalists and the opposing view. This leads me to wonder who controls big media in Malaysia? Just like APCO’s own website, where even founder Margery Kraus seems to have authorized a sort of “rebrand” or remake of herself – Margery’s picture from perhaps 20 years ago has replaced the stately and astute 63 year old’s up to date one. Symbolic perhaps – just saying it is so does not make it so – you know?
Whether or not we believe Malaysia is turning over a new leaf, it is clear that APCO is pulling out the stops. Just the Prime Minister’s Facebook aspect reveals a lot more engagement than even I imagined would be there. But for APCO this time, more seems to be at stake than is usual. Why? Well, for one thing the nature of the division within Malaysia – and for another, the clear whitewashing needed for such a hollow campaign. Looking at APCO’s situation now via their own statements – it is clear they may have gotten in over their heads this time. Elements of the Malaysian Parliament are at odds with APCO it seems.
10,000 pictures of multi-ethnic Malaysian children holding hands and singing will not supplant what every citizen knows is wrong with the country. Whether APCO and Prime Minister Najib Razak convince outside investors to spend is irrelevant in reality – at least for the ordinary Malaysian citizen. Corruption, poverty, failing economies, and especially key officials involved in trials for alleged multiple sodomy? No PR on Earth can paint a happy face on that!
This situation has the earmarks of a situation that could backfire on APCO – more than one reputation is at stake here it seems. Malaysia is constantly mired down by news of ghastly human travail – like the human trafficking issue among many others. Being bold enough to take on any task can have its drawbacks – sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. PR has a bad enough name these days without what could be Final Fantasy Malaysia.