Prime Ministers Need In-House Brand Managers
A media-savvy bureaucrat successfully traversing the journey from being a bureaucrat to a specialist handling media holds a distinct edge over a journalist or a communication specialist
has to be briefed by those in the know and that too if, and only when they deem fit. His advice is no good if not sought by the PM on a real time basis. His dissemination to the world at large is usually a prepared statement used by the media only when they require it not when it is deemed necessary. So, from the media’s point of view a Baru is good but only for the fluff; the real cream lies elsewhere. At the end of the day, media is this giant machine with an insatiable appetite for news, spin may be the gravy on its plate, but certainly not its meat. So what’s the alternative? My own view is that roles of Principal Secretary (PS) to PM and his media adviser shouldn’t be decoupled. PS is the only one who can brief the media on a real time basis (for the routine there is always the PIO). Baru’s influence with and access to the Prime Minister may be an exception, yet under normal circumstanc- es, the PS to PM is the only one who has real access to both the PM and information. He scans information from every source: intelligence, armed forces, cabinet secretariat, ministries, Parliament, courts - you name it. He is also the only one who happens to decide what goes into the public domain; and without his brief or sanction, a media adviser can only do so much.
While, it is common knowledge that most bureaucrats do not understand media, equally, it is not always easy for a journalist to understand the finer nuances of governance. The journey from being a bureaucrat to a specialist handling media might be difficult, but not impossible. A media-savvy bureaucrat successfully traversing this journey holds
Biggest handicap for an External Advisor is that he has to be briefed by those in the know
a distinct edge over a journalist or a communication specialist.
To illustrate, we need only look back to the days of Brijesh Mishra as PS to PM & NSA. He was undisputed master of PMO.
With Mishra available to the media, there was hardly a gap in briefing on the strategic, security or political matters. In comparison, a Baru, with his peripheral access to information and intricacies, can at best provide a lead which only whets the appetite of journalist and leads to more speculation and more questions.
A strong argument against this premises could be that PS to PM is already over-burdened and can’t be saddled with mundane matters like Public Relations. This is a typically bureaucratic argument. PS to PM could be duly assisted by a strong team of hired journalists, speech writers and others to lessen the burden. Let us not over- look that PS to PM is expected to be a “super- bureaucrat” with versatility, multiple skills and endless energy. Ideally, PM should be the biggest Brand Ambassador of Government.