Top Central government officials attend session on boosting image, perception
HT learns that the meeting, attended by several secretaries of the government, saw the minister emphasising the need to focus on positive news.
Around 300 top officials of the central government participated in a workshop titled Effective Communications, conducted by Abhishek Singh, the CEO of MyGov, a government platform for citizen engagement, aimed at helping them “create a positive image of the government”, manage “perception through effectively highlighting positive stories and achievements”, and making the government “be seen to be sensitive, bold, quick, responsive, hard-working etc”, according to a presentation made at the event.
The 90-minute-long virtual workshop, where Information & Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar also spoke to the participants, comes against the backdrop of a surging second wave of Covid-19 infections and a faltering vaccination drive, with the Union government coming in for criticism for its handling of both. HT learns that the meeting, attended by several secretaries of the government, saw the minister emphasising the need to focus on positive news.
The minister’s office did not respond to HT. This is the first time such a workshop was held.
HT has reviewed a copy of the presentation and spoke to some of the officers who attended the workshop. Singh declined to comment. While much of the presentation deals with examples related to Covid-19, one slide also gave the example of how MyGov and the government sent out the right message about the three reformist farm laws.
According to one officer who attended the workshop and spoke on condition of anonymity, the attendees, which included the joint secretary (media) of each department, were told that the traditional means of communication via Press Information Bureau (PIB) press releases “no longer worked’’. They were told to instead post photographs and videos that gained more impressions. As a case in point, Singh’s presentation dealt with the story that was widely reported on Monday about the Delhi high court asking the government why oxygen concentrators that had been received as aid from foreign countries were lying at airports. To illustrate their point, they showed how in response to a TV channel’s tweet showing the concentrators, the government and department of Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs responded with the factual position.
“In today’s times, anything critical needs to be noted in minutes. If we wait for some news to break on TV or Print, we will lose the narrative then and there,” said the presentation. “Your role is important as you have access to the minister/ ministry and timely inputs can help ensure that the narrative is positive,’’ it added.
A second officer who attended the meeting and also spoke on condition of anonymity said they were asked to find influencers who would tweet about getting the vaccine and look for interesting persons to connect with on sites such as LinkedIn. The presentation noted that the theme vaccine registration was the top social media hashtag some time back, with 70% engagement and mentions being neutral, 20% being negative and only 5% being positive. This, they were told, was an opportunity for the government’s officers to reach out to. “Some of the key themes they encouraged people to highlight were data about recoveries and amplifying any kind of positive stories that each department could get,’’ he said.
The presentation also highlighted the best and worst ways of engaging on social media platforms , pointing out that speed of response, use of infographics, and clear messaging were the key.
Former head of Press Information Bureau, Neelam Kapur, said, "I don't think communications can make up for action. Having worked in the health sector, I can see how an opportunity was lost in communicating the right message be it about masks or crowds. Messaging needed to be worked out much earlier."
Image consultant Dilip Cherian, who works with governments on various campaigns, said, "Harnessing influencers is like using posh peddlers to push shoddy product. It ends up giving influencers a bad name. Worse, a burst of false positivity, becomes like a sudden boil on your nose when you've just worn fancy new clothes."