Election style PR campaign needed for Modi’s great cash clean up

An unexpected address to the nation and all hell broke loose. On a night which should have been dominated by the US presidential elections; Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announced the demonetisation of the 500 and 1000 rupee note.

The effects of this currency reboot will be felt for months to come. If this is to be Modi’s greatest legacy, the communication around it has to be equally successful.

Senior corporate communications professional, Melissa Arulappan feels the government has kicked off on the right note. She says, “They did a fabulous job with the announcement. The speech by Narendra Modi had all the right elements: inclusion, empathy, it was emotional and provided a lot of understanding to the common man by using references of black money and financial terrorism to explain the decision.”

They also managed to keep the news of the decision tightly controlled, there were no PR leaks for a move that has obviously been planned for a while. Arulappan adds that Modi behaviour as a leader has been almost corporate rather than political. The fact that the policy move was kept secret shows an ability of Modi to co-opt the team into his vision. The communication has also been very professional. There was a message from the President of India, from the RBI. It was much more educational than political leadership driven. It’s communication of the type rarely seen before by a government.”

Immediate PR impact

Arulappan, however, points out that well articulated PR is needed during the next few days, “There is a lot of confusion at the bottom of the pyramid, among those who do not have a back account or a post office account, continuing guidance is needed for them.”

The communication will need to evolve and quickly in the next few weeks. Subhas Pais, founder and business head, i9 Communications, says, “ This is a major, major move, almost a reboot of the currency system. The government therefore needs to be much more proactive in the next few weeks. Not just issuing circulars, but a full fledged campaign is needed to move it in a positive direction. You need credible people to explain the benefits people can look forward to. Result based communication is required. “

Pais explains that there is trust equity that the government enjoys due to this move, specially among the salaried class. He says the government should use this equity to keep up the messaging on how the decision to demonetise has led to black money being flushed out into the open and calm any  possible panic reactions or riots.

He adds a rider, “The scale of communication needed is huge. Whether they can pull of the kind of PR required,  haven't a clue However, it would be important to have less of chest thumping by the government and less political rhetoric.”

What should the PR campaign look like?

Anup Sharma , senior communications consultant says that the government needs to break up the audience into different groups. Outlining the various stakeholders, Sharma says, “ You need thought leaders to address the common man, you need the benefits to be properly conveyed to the grassroots, capacity building for the financial system who will constitute a separate audience and PR via the trade bodies for unorganised sector who will be the most resistant to the move.” 

PR Plan for Demonetisation
- Breakup Audiences into middle class, grassroots, NRIs and financial stakeholders
- Use all media channels : WhatsApp, Radio, Mass Media
- Communication needs to continuously focus on results
- Mobile wallets should be careful their newsjacking does not hijack the agenda of the government

The government, according to Sharma, also needs to work out scenarios about how the policy will play out and plan their messaging accordingly.

Next, Sharma says the government will “ Need to use every channel of communication to keep the messaging on. This includes WhatsApp, radio, mass media and capacity building through workshops.

Sharma feels, “ The human element of interaction will be very crucial here to explain this major decision.

Sharma also points out that this, “Given the nature of the decision, this will be an advertising led communication campaign with PR support and not the other way around.”

Smart Newsjacking : Paytm, Freecharge

Mobile wallets are already using the occasion to gain some smart PR. The front page of ‘The Hindustan Times’ had these ads:

However Sharma warns that mobile wallets should be measured in their PR so that i doesn’t look like their interests have prompted the move.

One of the biggest campaigns in Indian history and perhaps worldwide will be needed to help Modi reap the benefits of his bold move. And all this is playing out in the age of social media and news as reality TV.Interesting times for communication professionals ahead.

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.