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Fuel Subsidy And Government PR Gaffes

By on November 23, 2011

Fuel subsidy promotion has been handled poorly. It has led to more PR gaffes than any other burning issues in the country. Also, the federal government has conducted itself for all the wrong reasons with interviews and appearances which were supposed to create buy-in and generate positive interest. But it has turned out to produce anger and disgust.

It only goes to demonstrate how unplanned it has all been. First, after just a few months the government started on the wrong foot by coming up with policies that do not merit the huge goodwill it enjoyed at the pools. For a PR savvy government, they would have suspended this for say a year or more or better still a phase-approach. And they can do this by tighten their loose purse, taxing the rich more, and promoting efficiency at all levels of government while collecting the returns from such effort and plug them into existing resource.

Contrarily, we have seen government pseudo-PR groups sprouting up here and there without that framework that enables a PR team on-call; with a coherent voice and knowledge of history of fuel subsidy and the controversies. It is for this that the issue of fuel subsidy remains a vexed one and further compounded by importation, corruption and poor refinery capacity.

In dealing with a big personality like Nigeria, the federal government could have begun by building buy-in from the grassroots (local governments) and key elite constituency who have eaten the fuel subsidy apple and fallen in love with it.

It is doubtful if the presidency has any PR plan concerning this issue. So we have a knee-jerk, something like PR efforts that have clearly portrayed the government in bad light. Quite frankly, government could have organically gathered its own PR armies who can assist in promoting the proposal with a standby team as its main mouthpiece.

Now, it has to manage the tensions involve in promoting for-fuel subsidy campaign and also running damage control to its reputation.

Critically, let’s consider this factor regarding the fuel subsidy challenge; one is that the timing is dead wrong considering it’s just a few months after the elections. In running a Fuel Subsidy PR campaign, we have to remind ourselves that our audience will need some leeway. This demands that we let our audience in advance about the coming issues and their merits and de-merits. Instead we keep giving our audience the shock treatment while expecting them to make room for our insensitive policies. Also, targeted campaigns are essential to getting the right buy-in at the right time and from key constituency.

Then we have to do follow up on our campaigns. Since power zones and sensitive constituency will be asking additional questions regarding the campaign. We have to be ready to provide the answers so that they don’t look elsewhere. That is dangerous.

In all, the presidency will have to continue to juggle between getting the buy-in and also manage damage control quality. No one likes this.  As PR professionals, we know solving problems cannot be done suddenly but we can do well to have a unified message, a message that will resonate with our audience; a smart standby team and keep our comments professional.