What can we learn from Narendra Modi’s PR style?

Senior editor, Vinod Mehta, describes Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s, spectacularly successful PR style as the” Modi Myth” in his latest book, “Editor Unplugged: Media, Magnates, Netas and Me”.

He goes on to say that the Modi Myth is “part fiction, part fact”, but “brilliantly sold”. 

PRmoment India has set out to decode the most successful PR campaign in recent times and find out what lessons PR professionals can learn from the “Modi Myth.”

Learning from the Modi PR strategy

An essential plank of the Modi PR stylebook is centralised messaging, integrated campaigning and snackable slogans.

N. Chandramouli, CEO, Blue Lotus Communications Pvt. Ltd, says that, “It is evident that Modi believes in unfiltered connections with his constituencies. Even his flashy approach of connecting with the Indian diaspora abroad was new, showing that he is not averse to taking risks in communicating. “

Chandramouli explains what PR professionals can learn from this: “It is important to understand the audiences intended for communications and their concerns and address them in their language. Secondly, it is also important to try new approaches to communications as the up side to some of these can be quite phenomenal. Unfortunately many traditional clients are risk-averse and only standard approaches are tried in PR, limiting the potential.”

Hashtag approach to PR

Chandramouli also warns that corporates should be careful while adopting a hashtag approach to communications. He says that while, “Sloganism is great as a mnemonic and for spreading the message, using too many slogans can alienate an audience if each of the slogans is not backed up with action. In classic corporate PR, it is best to use only a select few such opportunities.”

Paresh Chaudhry, CEO, Madison PR, thinks that, “Modi has clearly articulated, even before he came to power with his top team, a clear, effective, integrated marketing communication strategy.  He identified the weaknesses of the previous government, built on it and laid out a road map for problem solving.”

Cyrus Jogina, Managing Director, Eulogy, says that the BJP worked like a corporate. The party planned SMART (Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic Tactics) game plan and ensured that there was a, “Single spokesperson representing the political party. They also stuck to identified key messages and second level official spokespeople dared not move away from these messages.”

Pitfalls of the Modi approach

Journalist and ‘Live Mint’ columnist, Charles Assisi says that, “As a practicing journalist, I am not comfortable with ideas such as centralised messaging and bypassing journalists. To my mind, centralising everything in today's world is a sign of weakness. You perhaps don't trust your team to do what is expected of them. And that is not a good sign for me”.

Charles adds, “Journalists are inherently taught power is "despicable" in the long run and that instinct will come to the fore eventually. So it is important to nurture and cultivate them for your own good in the long run. The murmurs have already begun and I suspect it is only a matter of time before he will have to start facing uncomfortable questions in the mainstream media.”

Chandramouli agrees that, “To keep the communication with just one or few people severely limits the potential for PR. A more decentralised structure is not only more open and transparent, but allows more thoughts to emerge from within, showing the makings of a democratic party. It of course comes with dangers of message diffusion and sometimes antithetical messages emerging. The biggest question that has started creeping in is the question of delivery. If delivery falls short of the high expectations being set, though Modi would have won as a communicator, he would have lost many hearts. “

Many of the deliverables that Modi promised have not come through yet.

Paresh says that, “There will be many issues that won’t be solved in the first  hundred days or in the a couple of years, like bringing back black money, pushing reforms on FDI, and GST.  The problem with PR sometimes is over-promising and under-delivering. If the top three manifesto promises does not come through soon, there will be a backlash by key stakeholders and that will lead to erosion in trust and reputation.”

Chandramouli feels that, “Focus is going to be the biggest challenge for Modi. There are way too many issues which have been taken up, and it is now time to bring sharper focus on each. Though great viral ideas, like making Swachh Bharat were initiated, there is danger of the opportunity-momentum getting lost. When such opportunity is lost by insufficient action, the citizenry mistrusts further claims.”

The Hindutva challenge

Narendra Modi’s biggest challenge has been to gain mainstream acceptability after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Since becoming Prime Minister, statements by the hindutva fringe remain an issue that could erupt at any time.

Chandramouli says that, “Whether there is a Hindutva agenda or not, some of the more vocal but unofficial BJP spokespersons are making sure it is there in every discussion they have. There are indeed fears of an increased Hindutva agenda. The only way to mitigate it is through action – i.e. to not have an overt or covert Hindutva agenda. There should be a strong statement against anyone trying to promote a Hindutva agenda and it should not just be lip service.”

Paresh agrees that, “With the recent developments of conversion he has to beat the Hindutva forces and ensure that he delivers on the India development program, as his only priority. Like any brand, if he commands the love and respect of key stakeholders, everything else he does will be accepted. It’s an awesome reputation building story.”

Charles points out that, “To be fair to Modi, after coming into power, he hasn't raised the Hindutva rhetoric that he did to come into power. But it has seeped into the minds of his team and any attempts by them to raise this bogey can be dangerous. He will have a tough time controlling this part of his team. He will have to watch out as well so he doesn't fall into the trap of raising the Hindutva slogan if he thinks his popularity ratings are dipping. Because if he does, forget every other religion, Hinduism by its very tolerant nature will not make place for an intolerant man.”  

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