MOM hiring external PR experts to convey policies

Hiring of outside help might be its first for 'strategic communication services'

In an unusual move, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is turning to public relations (PR) experts to help it communicate manpower policies in a strategic way.

It has asked for proposals for a plan to analyse public and online sentiments on manpower issues, and respond to them in an "integrated" way, using media stories, blogs and social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

The services required include coaxing journalists to write one or two MOM stories a month, and getting MOM officials featured in live and recorded TV and radio programmes every three months, according to its letter to prospective firms, which The Straits Times has seen.

While MOM has previously hired external experts to organise events, print brochures and run public education campaigns, it is believed that this is the first time it has turned to them to provide such "strategic communication services".

This also goes beyond its hiring of a Singapore firm in June for $154,000 to monitor daily how local and foreign media are reporting news related to the ministry.

The year-long plan is expected to kick in next year.

When contacted, the ministry confirmed that it requested proposals from experts last week but declined to give details, including expected costs.

Its spokesman would only say: "MOM continually reviews our communication and publicity efforts for our announcements and policies.

"The request for proposals is part of our ongoing effort to enhance our communications, and explore new communication channels for better effectiveness."

Its letter to prospective firms also said the chosen company will have to write commentaries every two months, although it is unclear where these commentaries would be published.

The issues that the expert is likely to handle for the ministry include high-profile policies such as those involving the Central Provident Fund, the rehiring of older workers, and public sentiments against foreigners who are perceived to have deprived Singaporeans of good-paying jobs.

MOM's latest move gets the backing of some experts and industry watchers.

"It is a sensible thing to do," said MP Zainudin Nordin, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.

"Public expectations have gone up and it is important for the Government to have its policies clearly communicated to the public," he said. "And ministries can tap experts with the skills to help them."

Human resource analyst Martin Gabriel from HRMatters21 said manpower issues are getting complex and it is natural for the ministry to turn to experts for help.

"But in the long run, it is better for the ministry to have its own in-house expertise rather than rely on external experts," he said.

"And the ministry also has to watch the cost of hiring these external experts because the public may question why the ministry is spending money in this manner."

tohyc@sph.com.sg