By Jaideep Shergill, CEO,Hanmer MSL India : An intriguing social movement unfolded across India over the last eight months. A frail, 74-year-old Gandhian, Anna Hazare, launched an agitation for a strong anti-corruption law and an independent authority that would investigate charges against ministers and the bureaucracy.
As the government resisted, Indians across geographies and communities rallied in support of Hazare and forced Parliament to relent. There were rallies and hunger strikes everywhere as the middle-class, fed up with having to pay bribes for even basics like a birth certificate, vented its ire.
As a public relations professional, I couldn’t help but marvel at the lessons Hazare’s movement held for us in the communications industry.
The most important lesson is that a good product generates its own PR. Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill satisfies a crying need – the reduction of corruption, if not its extinction. Clear messaging and use of the right communication tools for this age (it was a social media-fuelled stir, which is why it had such a large youth participation) made it a mass movement.
Here are a few takeaways from the stir that we would do well to imbibe.
What an idea, sirji!
A strong, independent agency that could investigate ministers, the bureaucracy, the judiciary and even the prime minister was an idea whose time had come. Don’t forget, reeling from five major scams involving union ministers and chief ministers over the past year, India was one angry country.
If you don’t have an icon, you don’t have an icon
Where would brands be without their icons? Would Apple have been the same without Steve Jobs? Public movements need icons too (think Gandhi and India’s freedom movement).
Hazare became the icon of the anti-corruption war and the Gandhi cap became its logo. The slogan ‘I am Anna Hazare’ internalised the struggle. It made you want to act (‘Just do it’, anyone?).
Can you feel it?
So, Hazare had an idea and the symbols. But how did he draw people in? ‘Consumer experience’ was critical. He chose the sprawling Ramlila ground in New Delhi for his protest fast, allowing thousands to take in the atmosphere and experience their own power. The people began to believe they could change things.
Smart messaging service
Hazare’s timing was impeccable. Launched between the cricket World Cup and the Indian Premier League, the campaign filled a media vacuum.
Hazare’s team kept speaking to the media, making sure the message was centrestage.
Hazare himself spoke just once – to his lieutenant Kiran Bedi from Tihar Jail, which he refused to leave after his arrest on August 16 even when allowed to. This created a larger impact than any media interview could have had.
He made sure only three or four of his people spoke to the media. This was smart thinking. The fewer the voices, the less scope there was for distortion of the message.
The campaign made intelligent use of PR tools and techniques, from symbolism (fasts and meditation) to social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, apps), news media and mobile telephony.
Look the part
Hazare meditating at Rajghat (where Gandhi was cremated) or lying down at Ramlila ground and clapping along to bhajans became iconic images. With a giant image of Gandhi as the backdrop, the message was not lost on anybody – here was an old man taking on the establishment, much as another old man had done in the 1930s and 1940s.
IT experts from Public Cause Research Foundation acted as a secretariat for the movement and ran its main website Indiaagainstcorruption along with 14 city-centric websites. They also monitored TV channels and posted videos on the internet.
Another team ensured that the latest information was posted on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter
Till August 27, there were 3,64,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and over 2,00,000 followers on Twitter. Hazare’s video recorded in Tihar had 1,60,000 views on YouTube.
India was hooked.
There was another critical proof point: the agitation became the most watched news event in the last decade, second only to the November 26, 2008, terror attacks in Mumbai. It had more eyeballs than 9/11!
So, the next time you plan a PR campaign, think of what Hazare would have done.
Hazare, PR genius? Undoubtedly!