IT has been said that “information, the raw material of news, usually turns out to be the peculiar property of those in power and their attendant experts and publicists.” The conclusion then is that “political reporting, like other reporting, is defined largely by its sources” (Boylan). Hence, the “adequacy and purity of media information becomes suspect” (Lippmann).
With this backdrop, how then do we influence people? How do we persuade them to act accordingly? Two things are looked into when we talk of influence— persuasion, and the more direct and latent action, coercion. First, we look at how information is shared by the provider and second, at the decision-making process of the leader. By looking into these factors, we are able to manage the President’s message and build a bigger space and thereby make communications effective.
There were good launches done in the past few weeks but the ability to create a bigger space for PRRD has been limited by planning, frequency and reach and distribution of information. These launches were on the #BuidBuildBuild, Dutertenomics, Asean and the Callamard foray. Instead of doing pre, launch and post offensives, the framing became standalone without visually making the case for the future and shared vision. The media offensive lacked the priming impact of, what’s in it for Filipinos? How would their lives be made better? Then there is the problem of distribution. It appears the information stops at the national level and is not cascaded to the local units. Just by the huge network of information officers nationwide and local governments-wide, you’d think the stories of Filipinos are circulated and positioned. But these are not.
Why start with PNP briefings?
Whoever thought of having PNP briefings begin the week should be shot. Why open the week with PNP briefings on Mondays at 8 a.m.? Why start the news cycle with an organization that has been in the middle of all killings and mangling of data that put analytics in such a bad light? Why not start with agriculture (just look at the FB posts of Secretary Manny Pinol); social services (social welfare, education, health), trade, economics and then, probably, the PNP. Start with good news and work through it. Should not the gaggle be with the comms team of the administration? Is there an Office of Communications in Malacanang? This should be the center of the administration’s persuasion efforts.
We are inclined to go along with someone’s suggestion if we think a person is a “credible expert (authority), if we regard him or her as a trusted friend (likeability), if we feel we owe them one (reciprocity), or if doing so will be consistent with our beliefs or prior commitments (consistency). We are also inclined to make choices that we think are popular (consensus), and that will net us a scarce commodity (scarcity). We follow these general rules because they usually work to lead us to make the right choice” (Cialdini and Martin).
In terms of decision-making, we find executives fall into one of five decision-making categories: Charismatics can be initially exuberant about a new idea or proposal but will yield a final decision based on a balanced set of information. Thinkers can exhibit contradictory points of view within a single meeting and need to cautiously work through all the options before coming to a decision. Skeptics remain highly suspicious of data that don’t fit with their worldview and make decisions based on their gut feeling. Followers make decisions based on how other trusted executives, or they themselves, have made similar decisions in the past. And controllers focus on the pure facts and analytics of a decision because of their own fears and uncertainties.
Managing PRRD message
In the overheated regime of first-to-break news cycle, it is very important to situate managing the President’s message into these two frames. Where the message mix of PRRD is situated is critical in enhancing the communications efforts of the presidential spokesman and the press secretary. The persuasion operation cannot be in silo mode. It has to be integrated and proactive. Planning is important so that the communication operation reaches a wider audience, information is shared effectively and people have the information on hand so that, when spun, the public would know that a spin is happening.
A spokesperson speaks if the President wants to announce a policy statement. A spox does not often speak because when he speaks, it’s as if the President is talking. Whatever he says becomes presidential pronouncement. The press secretary is critical in shaping strategies for handling the daily release of presidential information and for establishing the official presidential record. The traditional twice daily briefings of the press secretary place the President’s thinking and actions in the public record. The sooner the communications team is able to streamline operations, the better for this administration to get the information out.
The basic functions that communication actions address are: advocating, explaining, defending and coordinating. “Advocating for the President involves promoting the policies and goals of the chief executive in a variety of venues. Explanation entails responding to queries as well as providing supporting information and fleshing out presidential initiatives. Defending the president calls for a different set of strategies and people who can respond to criticism of him and his policies as well as clean up after presidential mistakes. Coordination includes bringing together the OP proper, Cabinet and units with governmental organizations and outside groups to publicize the presidential actions.”
In the end, “the President cannot always be popular.” And that is when you need persuasion operations working full steam.