Thailand hires PR company to bolster public image

Bangkok traffic outside the MBK CenterThe Thai junta announced on May 1 that it will appoint a U.S. PR firm for what it calls a “nation branding” campaign. The account was cited by Thai PM Surayud Chulanot to be worth US$600,000 over a three-month period. His Foreign Ministry appeared to contradict him when a spokesperson said that Thailand would spend only US$165,000.

The latest move was suggested by a Reuters report to be partly in response to USA for Innovation‘s recent ad in WSJ attacking the Thai government for violating the patents of American drugs sold in Thailand. USA for Innovation is a lobbyist group supportive of the American pharmaceutical industry. It is headed by Ken Adelman, who is also a senior counselor at Edelman PR. Setting up “not-for-profit” lobby groups to adovcate certain causes on behalf of powerful clients can be a sophisticated and effective tactic, but it can go awfully wrong if these seeming grassroots groups turn out to be disingenuous. Déjà vu? Recall the Edelman Wal-Marting Across Americascandal.

For what it’s worth, the Thai government’s move appear to be a recognition that it is loosing the credibility war and that two key battlefronts are reputation and issues management. America is a longstanding ally of Thailand, and the Thai military junta’s sagging reputation needs to be reversed in order for the American government to continue to justify its tacit support. It didn’t help when the Thai government in April banned YouTube for allowing video clips that supposedly infringed its lese majeste law, and shut down another, a popular local online chatroom–on similar grounds.

Will this move make a difference? To some extent, it is a question of execution, although 3 months is unlikely to be enough. The Thai junta surely understands this but for public positioning has stated 3 months as a start. But one suspects that there is a more fundamental problem here than a case of a misunderstood government. And that is something PR cannot fix.


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