18 Feb 2006

PA's charm offensive

It ropes in public relations firm to fix its image among yuppies

Tor Ching Li

THE People's Association (PA) is pumping some $500,000 this year into a public communications effort to reconnect with its target audience — the people of Singapore.

Public relations company Burson-Marsteller has been given the task to generate greater awareness and appreciation for the 46-year-old PA and its nine-year-old counterpart, the Community Development Councils (CDCs).

This could take the form of television commercials, bus and MRT advertisements or road shows at shopping centres.

Currently, Burson-Marsteller is conducting telephone surveys to find out how people perceive the PA and its role.

By year end, the PA hopes Singaporeans will have a better understanding of its role in the community.

It also hopes to attract more youth to join the grassroots, boost staff morale and develop a common vision and a set of key performance indicators for the five CDCs.

The PA has some 300,000 members that use its facilities and participate in courses, but its chief executive director Tan Boon Huat does not think this is enough. Ideally, he said, all Singaporeans should join the PA.

Formed as a statutory board in 1960, the role of the PA has been to promote active citizenship, multiracial harmony and community bonding.

But the option of country club memberships and the pursuit of narrower recreational interests have turned some Singaporeans away from Community Club (CC) activities, said Mr Tan.

Then there is the PA's "image problem". Recounted Mr Tan: "Once in a while, when you ask a yuppie type, young graduates if they have been to a CC, they say 'Ha? CC ah?' and from their tone of reply, they see CCs as a place where you only have ah sohs, ah lians, ah bengs and that kind of thing, which is not entirely true."

He added: "While it is essential to look after those who are less well-off, for the PA to do its job properly, it also needs a balanced portfolio of programmes and clientele as well."

As for the perception that the PA is synonymous with the ruling People's Action Party, Mr Tan — the Returning Officer for the past two General Elections and Presidential Elections and former Home Affairs Ministry deputy secretary — quipped: "That's a pity but it's not the PA's fault that we have the same party in power for so many years … Singaporeans have voted in the PAP for so many years, what's wrong with that anyway?"

So does the launch of the Community Engagement Programme — a nationwide, multi-ministry drive that has roped in groups such as businesses, schools and unions to foster social integration — indicate a failing in the PA's mission?

"No, no, certainly not," said Mr Tan. "The fact that we weathered Sars and Jemaah Islamiyah in recent times shows that the PA has not failed. I think if the PA had not been around, the results would have been very different.

"When an emergency arose, we were able to gather people together to have a frank discourse with the Government. The danger is if we let this diminish."

The PA's good internal and external network would serve to complement community engagement efforts, he added.

"The challenge is to make full use of the network so that we are able to deliver what is required even better."

It ropes in public relations firm to fix its image among yuppies.

The difference between PA and the PAP? Only the letter P.

1 comment:

rench00 said...

it is unfortunate that PA and PAP are perceived to be that close. i have had the good fortune of helping out in some grassroots activities where the leadership is truly inspiring and the volunteers are truly passionate about building the community. they are definitely not PAP lackeys.

i feel that there is definitely a place in Singapore society for the GROs. perhaps, as someone in the ST has pointed out, the GROs should be more like the Civil Service, with the MP, regardless of which party the MP is from, being the advisor of the GROs.

of course, if anyone has better ideas of promoting community spirit without the GROs, then i hope he/she would go ahead and put those ideas into action.