Cuti2 or Curi2 Malaysia? A PR failure, nothing more

facebook.jpegThe latest little outrage hitting Malaysian shores involves something i deal with professionally on a daily basis — Facebook pages. The Malaysian Tourism Ministry recently admitted that it had committed RM1.8 million on the development and maintenance of 6 Facebook pages. 

KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — A whopping RM1,758,432 was spent on developing six Facebook pages to promote Malaysian tourism, the Tourism Ministry said today.

Deputy Tourism Minister James Dawos Mamit said this today in reply to a question from Anthony Loke (Rasah-DAP).

Each Facebook page cost RM293,072 — Cuti-Cuti 1 Malaysia, Citrawarna 1Malaysia, Karnival Jualan Mega 1 Malaysia, Festival Pelancongan Seni Kontemporari 1 Malaysia, Kempen 1 Malaysia Bersih and Fabulous Food 1 Malaysia.

Predictably, this prompted an uproar from the Opposition and much of the online community. In an attempt to prove how stupid the expenditure was, a satirical page named “Curi-Curi Wang Malaysia” was setup (for free) and practically overnight, attracted 120,000 followers, at least 3 times the number the main Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia page.

RM1.8 million for 6 Facebook pages. To the layperson, it seems like an exorbitant sum, especially since setting up a page is free. So where did all the money go to? Another prime example of corruption, kickbacks and Government wastage? Perhaps not, at least if you speak to people who are actually familiar with the media and branding industry. 

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what others in the industry have to say.

Roberto Cumaraswamy, country head (Malaysia) of digital agency Vocanic: “It always worries me when clients resort to social media marketing because they see it as a cheap alternative, because that is the wrong reason to use it. The reality is that building the page is just the first baby step in the journey of successful user engagement.”

It isn’t free, and it certainly isn’t cheap. Pepsi spent US$20 million on a social media campaign. Yup, that includes ONE Facebook page. Closer to home, AirAsia spends nearly ALL of its marketing budget online. Yup, that includes a handful of Facebook pages too. Millions of ringgit, easily.

Kelvin Lim, digital strategist at Burson-Marsteller noted that with no clear visibility into the exact scope of work and length of engagement, no one is in any position at this point to say whether the figures are reasonable or otherwise. 

However, the amount stated is certainly possible, depending on project complexity, consultant management requirements and marketing spread.

“Let’s be clear, creating a Facebook page is not the same thing as managing a Facebook campaign,” he said. 

“When you consider that designers, coders, marketers and engagement crews (all of which contribute to a good Facebook campaign success formula) need to be hired, the appropriate budget has to be allocated,” he added.

(David) Lian agreed, adding people assume that social media is “free” because the tools appear to be “free”, but this discounts the time creatives need to put in to design assets, the technical work needed to ensure proper tracking is done (though Facebook Insights is free), monitoring and community management, advertising, and other costs such as contest prizes which can sometimes go up to RM 1 million.

So where does RM1.8 million go? Contrary to popular belief (i.e. a 6 year old kid can setup a Facebook page that will attract tens of thousands of visitors and can turn social engagements into millions of ringgit of tourism revenue and forex), to setup a successful campaign that INCLUDES (though certainly does not end with) an active and well-moderated Facebook page costs big marketing dollars, as Kelvin Lim and David Lian allude to. There is just so many things to do as part of the media pie — enterprise strategists, media planners, coders, traffic analysts, moderators, designers, IT hardware setup (yes, FB is free, but the scalability of the page for games and other apps require independent hardware setups), project managers, etc. The list is a very long one. And none of it comes free, and in most cases, is quite expensive, relatively speaking. Senior media planners easily make as much as high-end fund managers.

Edit: Additional info, read this for the “Real Cost of Social Media“. US$210k a year, just setup and maintenance costs of a basic community. Excluding media buy (ads) and fancy Flash games and contests. Still think the Internet is free?

Think of it this way. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Myspace, whatever — they are all just lines of HTML code. Marketing is still the name of the game. Would it surprise you to know that the real costs of marketing and branding is not the TV ads, the newspaper ads, or things you hear on the radio — most of the costs come from the human costs involved, the costs for talented HR to not just come up with good marketing ideas and consultancy, but to also execute those ideas and carry out media plans. In a wa
y, the Tourism Ministry should be applauded for saving costs by not solely relying on expensive TV, radio, newspapers or magazines campaigns. In those channels, RM1.8 million is just a drop in a teacup, hardly able to pay for a handful of TV ads.

So what’s the problem here? Twofold. An ignorant and easily misled public (the Internet is free, amirite?). And a Ministry that doesn’t have the smarts to come clean, instead choosing to waffle over silly terms such as “unquantifiable creativity“. The Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen is probably not an expert in such things, and when given the chance to present her case to the Cabinet, failed miserably. Get a soldier to talk about art, and you’re going to get a deer caught in headlights — bewildered, lost and confused. Yes, that’s her fault, no excuses, for not being adequately prepared by her supporting team and the media agency she hired.

At a deeper level, this is another example of how poor public relations and branding have come back to haunt the Government. 

Australia’s Tourism Board came up with a similar digital marketing project several years ago, you may have heard of it. The Best Job in the World. One person will be hired to live on islands around Australia, and that person will blog about his experiences. His salary for the job? AUD$150,000 (roughly RM500k). Take into account all the related costs (media agency, digital planning, IT costs — they used websites rather than free FB pages, etc.) and that’s a multi-million dollar project. Besides the fact that the idea was a damn good one (you can bet your arse that such good ideas are EXTREMELY expensive commodities), there was hardly a beep of protest from the Australian people despite the obvious costs (and this was down during a period of global recession, 2007-2008!). Why? Compare the brand sentiment of the Australian Government (ranked 8th on the global corruption index) and that of ours, and you’ll begin to understand. 

When your branding sucks, even when you do good things, people will flog you to death. If your branding is awesome, you can spend trillions of dollars invading the Middle East, and they’ll still vote you back into office.

Edit: the “PR” in the title refers to “public relations” not “Pakatan Rakyat”.


15 thoughts on “Cuti2 or Curi2 Malaysia? A PR failure, nothing more

  1. I couldn’t agree with you. What does the Ministry need to spend 1.8million to start a social media campaign? What makes it reasonable for 6 pages we need to spend hiring 6-7 headcount/people to manage it!
    We have a website foe the ministry, which means it has web admin, probably couple IT guy/girl doing web app, database admin and hardware mantainance. As a ministry with focus on attracting foreign visitors, they have no PR person? No Marketting person or vendor that already paid??
    Don’t waste the money on a firm that wants 1.8 million when you can get just hired 2 great developer with 10k each a month each person as freelance for a 12 month project and use another 200-300k for getting software house for creating a canggih java web game. Buy another server for hosting anything u wan utilizing ur existing infrastucture for another 10k? 500k+ will do the same job by utilize some share resources …/


  2. Pepsi? Use their own money. Bankrupt is their own problem. AirAsia? Use their own money. Bankrupt then another company will buy them. They publish their accounts to their Shareholders annually. **BUT** Tourism Ministry? Use public money – and don’t need to publish anything at all. They bankrupt the country and the people suffer. THAT IS THE PROBLEM!
    – Ks Chin


  3. Generalisation ain’t gonna go you anywhere mate.
    300k for a FB-centric media campaign is not a lot. That’s generalisation. But saying 300k for THE CURRENT page, with the strategies and people involved, and the effectiveness of it all, now why don’t you write a blog post saying it’s money well spent?
    You won’t, because it’s not. The public isn’t stupid. The public isn’t comparing our campaign with the traditionally disastrous Aussie Tourism campaign (where the bloody hell are you? Australia the film? I was there okay). The public can easily compare free and excellent facebook games with our tourism ones.
    And I’m sure since you’re familiar with the industry people, you too know and have heard of “understandable” figures coming from Tourism Malaysia when it comes to projects and jobs. Malaysia Truly Asia fiasco anybody?


  4. I actually don’t mind the 1.8mil..but actually what pisses me off is for 1.8 mil there is no proper project plan with milestones n deliverables. (if there is one I guess NYY should have disclosed it already). the observable deliverables so far is simple flash game n few facebook pages that provides news on events..The price is one iPad..the advertising on facebook n google???? Anyone saw one? Show us what r the rest of the deliverables to shut me up..else we will just assume what we see so far constitutes the 1.8 mil


  5. KS Chin — the point of using Pepsi and AirAsia as examples was not to show that other organizations are spending a lot on social media, but to show that social media campaigns are not cheap. That point still stands.
    But if you insist on an apple to apple comparison, take a look at Australia’s social media budget — AUD$150 million over 3 years. Enough to make our Tourism Ministry’s RM1.8 million over 6 months seem frugal in comparison.
    Two points remain standing — (A) social media engagement campaigns are not cheap and (B) organizations (even Governments) are increasingly turning to them as alternatives/complementary channels of marketing.
    In anticipation of further doubters claiming “its too expensive” — this is where media ROI matrixes come into play. What is the value of engagement in the social media space? Ask yourself this — if the ROI sucked, why are organizations pouring hundreds of millions into it? (i could tell you how to calculate the ROI as i’m trained and experienced enough to do so, but that’s beside the point).
    But i do concede that we have no idea whether a proper ROI analysis was made as part of this 1.8 million project. If it wasn’t, then shame on the agency that proposed the plan (contact me, i’ll be happy to charge my normal rate of RM1k per day to provide consultancy). If it wasn’t, and the Tourism Ministry still agreed to proceed with the project, then shame on the Minister. Doesn’t necessarily mean that the Minister is corrupt, or with any malicious intent. It just means that the Minister is unskilled.


  6. lol no need to point out wat PR means…spending 1.8mils on these social networking sites culd be a good investment if the return worth the publicity it mean to created ….i think most of us know about the best job in the world campaign..but did we ever heard about any of this pages until it was brought in parliament?doubt that… compare these pages with let say Pepsi or Twister facebook miles different..


  7. Please don’t compare to Australia when you don’t even know how much the Ministry has spent on social media so far? We don’t have the transparency to find out what’s been spent. We just lucky to found 1.8m now.
    On top, Australia is not apple to apple. Australia population is how many times of Malaysia? How much is Australia government yearly budget? Size it down to Malaysia population ratio then compare both Ministries’ spending on this.


  8. Stephenoh33, Australia’s population is smaller than Malaysia’s, only 20 million in 2010. Their GDP is US$924 billion. Our GDP is US$192 billion, about 4.8 times smaller. Yet, they spend RM12.5 million a month compared to our RM300k a month, or 41.6 times more.
    Australia is a smaller country population wise, and though their GDP is much larger than ours, it is obvious their tourism marketing budget has a much higher proportionate spending into digital initiatives (this is good, industry analysts show that digital marketing is the way forward). If anything, Malaysia should be spending more just like Australia, not less. Get your facts right please.


  9. I have exactly RM20.00 in my wallet to survive me till this Friday 24 jun. Hopefully my salary will be out on that day. Every month ends I face this situations. And I’m 33 years old still living with my parents.


  10. Aizuddin,
    You already mentioned that the minister was unable to account for the RM1.8 million spent on the Facebook pages.
    Even if she is not corrupt, she is incompetent.
    She should resign in either case. Should she not? Or do we suffer half-past-six ministers so long as “the amount is not excessive”?
    Btw, the other idiot minister, Rais Yatim, should be packed off to the retirement home as well.


  11. Massive P, don’t disagree with you. If our political culture was more mature, a minister who has made such a hash of the issue would have fallen on their sword by now. Japanese PMs have resigned for less.
    But besides that point, the reason why i went into this amount of detail for this blog post was to help educate people who blindly believe that “the Internet is free” and 6-year olds can create commercially successful Facebook pages. Members of the Opposition aren’t stupid, they probably know this already (politicians are, by definition, good PR spinners). The fact that they made the public believe it and look like fools really gets my goat.


  12. Aizuddin,
    Have YOU visited the pages in question?
    They DO look like they were created by 6-year olds. Besides the main Cuti-cuti 1Malaysia page, barely any of the other 5 have over 5,000 Likes.
    Even the main Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia page has LESS THAN 50,000 “Likes”.
    That is PATHETIC.
    For contrast – the Akademi Fantasia 9 Facebook page has 210,000 Likes. Namewee is touching on 600,000!
    Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Maybe Ng Yen Yen should have just created 1 free page and paid Namewee RM10,000 to ask his followers to “Like” the page eh.


  13. Well said! But then from what I can see the Facebook page that created by Cuti Cuti Malaysia do meet the price as said, it just the matters worth it? and necessary?


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