FELLOW SunStar Davao columnist Daphne Padilla posted on her social media page the Department of Tourism (DOT) statement that announced the discontinuation of its partnership with McCann Worldwide Philippines because of "glaring similarities between McCann's 'Sights' ad and South Africa's ad released in 2014.”
Padilla, who has a background in mass communications, and Carlo Figueroa, a public relations practitioner and lecturer, both noted that the entire statement was written in uppercase text.
In another context, an all-capitalized document would not have merited comment. But when one is a government agency communicating to the public via various media, it pays to note that what one says will be affected by how one says it, or by how it is experienced by the audience.
Social media in particular is a case-sensitive platform, where the use of all caps means using a “loud” voice suggesting a hectoring stance, or that one is “shouting.”
I hope that a rejoinder along the lines of “DOT cannot be bothered to worry about whether it's statements are in the proper case” would not crop up—and not from DOT, which has human and other resources devoted to communications, because really, the agency should have bothered.
Such a response would not only come across as dismissive and arrogant, it would also confirm the lack of attention to details and processes that are part of the problems that underpin this latest DOT blunder.
Prior to the DOT statement, netizens already had a field day arguing whether the ad displayed elements of plagiarism. I leave that to the experts. But I do want to comment from the perspective of public administration and governance.
The DOT statement, which Padilla quipped, came across as a "breakup letter," squarely put all responsibility on McCann, and even said the government agency was expecting a public apology.
DOT also announced the reopening of procurement for a new ad, and invited participation. But glaringly, there was no admission of culpability on DOT’s part.
Questions need to be raised about DOT’s procurement and management of the project with McCann, so that problems could be addressed, and their recurrence prevented.
The procurement and contract documents of a P650 million project — supposedly the price tag of the McCann ad — ought to have clear stipulations about client involvement in the entire process of conceptualization, planning, execution and release of the product. Provisions on review and sign-off as a project progresses from one stage to the next are standard in the management of public projects.
DOT said it came to the decision to discontinue after a "diligent review" of the ad. But this was discordant with the agency’s declaration two days prior: “west and by McCann; we stand by the creative execution.”
Thus, it comes across that the review was done only after receiving negative feedback; and this puts the agency in a more negative light.
Because how could a material that serves as the mass invitation of the Philippines to the world be reviewed only after its release? It seems that like its all-caps statement, DOT could not be bothered to look into the details and processes of a major ad.
This is not bloodlust in the tradition of "heads must roll!" But the public needs to know what actually transpired in DOT’s project with McCann. More than knee-jerk damage control through public relations, the agency must recognize, and own up to its system weaknesses, so that specific solutions and measures could be drawn up.
Also, taxpayers want to know what would happen to the McCann contract. If the intention is to terminate, are the grounds for such action supported by contract provisions? Would public money be “lost” as a result, and how much?
A statement attributed to McCann indicated that it had not received formal communication about the status of its contract, and it learned of DOT’s decision only through news reports, and the agency’s press conference. Going back to Padilla’s description of the statement as a breakup letter, this would be equivalent to embarrassingly only finding out from other sources that one has been dumped.
If there is any inclination to spin citizens’ legitimate concerns about DOT’s procurement and project management capacities as merely playing into the “dilawan” or the Maute destabilization agenda, then more’s the pity.
Because doing such would run counter to President Duterte’s inaugural speech in which he said “I abhor secrecy and instead advocate transparency in all government contracts, projects and business transactions from submission of proposals to negotiation to perfection and finally, to consummation. Do them and we will work together. Do not do them, we will part sooner than later.”
Surely, the DOT leadership would not appreciate getting a message from the President similar to their statement, which could be cheekily summarized as saying: “It’s over. It’s not me. It’s you. Next!”
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Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on June 17, 2017.
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