A new style of political communications: engaging with the people of Indonesia

5 years, 8 months ago

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Populist politician Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo has used PR and social media to great effect to build support by highlighting his common touch. By Indira Abidin.



The world praised Indonesia when the fourth most populous country peacefully held its first direct election in 1999. There’s been a celebration of democracy in Indonesia after 32 years of Soeharto’s authoritarian governance. Under President Habibie, Soeharto’s successor, Indonesians enjoyed freedom of press and freedom of voice.  Indonesians became politically more well informed; more educated and had more choices.

 
At the same time, direct election has its cost. Public office position is very sexy and powerful. To win, candidates normally have to run expensive, heavy campaigns. Paying for volunteers to attend public hearing and rallies is common in Indonesia. Many candidates have to raise a lot of money to pay debts after they win to cover the campaign budget they have spent, or “pay back” their sponsors through political deals and dirty negotiation. The more educated voters were quick to be suspicious that most public officers compromised their integrity for their seats. Trust became very low.
 
Since then democracy has been perceived as a celebration for the rich, not for the people. “Image building” – and Public Relations – has been considered as a “make-up” and “cover-up” of the true intention and characters of the candidates. People don’t feel that they’re at the heart of Political Public Relations campaigns. Their messages are all cliché, uninspiring and not appealing. As brands, political candidates are perceived as “deceitful”, “greedy” and “arrogant”.
 
In this situation, the more educated and well-informed Indonesian voters became weary and apathetic about elections.  Many became non-voters. They were fed up, didn’t think their vote mattered, and felt hopeless.
 
Renewed hope and excitement
 
But when Jokowi ran as a candidate for Jakarta Governorship, people suddenly had hopes again. He had proven himself as a great mayor of Solo. He won by 34% of votes when he first won the campaign in Solo. Five years later he won again by 91%. He’s famous for his sincerity, humility, honesty, ability to engage people and for his success in turning Solo into a place Solenese can be proud of. 
 
He donated all his salary for the poor, successfully made healthcare and education free for the needy and public administration clean for all. He made security officers’ wear friendly batik instead of intimidating uniform, turned slum areas into green public areas for families, made high-cost bureaucracy into simple, easy and friendly One-Stop-Service public service. Solo became a friendlier place for citizens and more attractive for tourists.
 
When he intended to relocate a marketplace, he invited the sellers to have dinner and discussion with him 54 times! He successfully relocated the marketplace and worked with Solo authorities to make the new location more strategic and profitable for the sellers. Everyone was happy. It’s was a win-win solution.
 
Birth of a media darling
 
When he was instructed to demolish a historical building for a mall by his boss, the governor, he declined and stood for his plan to preserve history and protect traditional markets. The governor called him stupid, and he said he might be stupid for standing for his people. But he would continue fighting against plans that he believed to be bad for Solonese. He stated that yes, Solo needs investors, and small sellers are also investors that need more support from the government. And Indonesians, everywhere, supported him. He became a media darling. 
 
Jokowi also hit the headline when he supported a local car-manufacturing project by a vocational school in Solo. His reputation as a leader for the people, from the people became the talk of the town in Jakarta and throughout Indonesia. From then on, it was very easy for him to start engaging volunteers to support his campaign as Jakarta Governor. 
 
The stories of him as a leader with heart shone through the campaign. Critics said that he lacked the intelligence, the charm and formality of his opponent, Fauzi Bowo. But it’s exactly what’s unique and appealing about him for most Jakarta citizens. Because he’s not as intelligent as Fauzi, he’s not arrogant, he listened and engaged more. Because he’s not as formal as Fauzi, he’s closer to the people, willing to sit down with a street cleaner at the street side, and have lunch at street-side restaurants (warung) like most Jakarta citizens. He’s believed to be able to listen to street vendors and other people as individuals, not as a small part of his public, but as unique individuals with unique needs and aspirations. “People” feel that Jokowi has them at his heart, that they’re indeed at the heart of his campaign.
 
His success in supporting pro-people projects and combating corruption in Solo blatantly made him more attractive than his opponent who was criticized for not performing well.
 
Social media pioneer
 
He’s also very social media savvy. The Awesometrics reputation monitoring tool reported that he’s the first candidate who effectively communicated through social media. Even though he could only be in Jakarta during weekends, and didn’t have strong grassroots supporters in Jakarta before the campaign, he managed to be the most positively mentioned candidate. All campaign materials were uploaded to YouTube and other social media channels. His campaign team successfully managed various campaign issues through social media and built strong electability. An Awesometrics report clearly showed that with the lowest budget, he successfully climbed to be the most endorsed, credible and loved.
 
The values he communicated touched the netizens and attracted the young generation, the educated, and other growing Jakarta’s middle class segments. His humility and simplicity brought him closer and created emotional attachment with the lower class segments. The fact that he chose Ahok (Basuki Tjahaja Purnama), a minority against other Malay and Moslem candidates, also brought the wind of change for the middle class who were thirsty for leaders who appreciate religious and ethnicity tolerance. As a brand he’s fresh, unique and able to fulfill what people need from a governor candidate.
 
With people willing to support him without being paid, his close relationship with journalists, his ability to relate and touch people from various segments, and his social media savviness, he didn’t have to spend huge amounts of money. And from there trust grew even more, as he wouldn’t have the burden to do dirty political negotiation or pay back the campaign budget. People then believed that he would continue to be as clean and accountable as he was as the Mayor of Solo.
 
On Election Day, many citizens who used to be nonvoters turned out because they wanted Jokowi to win. They felt that their votes mattered, and they voted from the bottom of their hearts, something that they had never done before in their lives.
 
And when he won, Indonesia celebrated the victory of democracy. Democracy had again come for the people. It’s a celebration for the people, not only for the selected elite. Jokowi’s victory was their victory.
 
Sticking to principles
 
As a governor, he has stayed true to his principles so far: that a leader is a servant for the people. Like when he was a mayor, he went through slum areas, went down to see the canals, and talked directly with the low class citizens. When his smiling face is everywhere everyday, Ahok’s stern face is also everywhere, cleaning up the corruption and other issues in the governor’s office. Jakarta citizens love this combination. They complement each other in creating “A New Jakarta”, delivering their campaign promise. People are standing for them against all the critics. While past governors have been heavily criticized and mocked by the people, Jokowi and Ahok enjoyed the people as their shield against the critics from the legislative bodies.
 
Critics say that Jokowi’s actions to meet and talk with the people are merely publicity stunts. Now, Jokowi and Ahok need to prove that it’s not true, that they’re the true leaders that listen and work for the people. Their performance will be the proof they need to stay credible. So far the citizens are still very patient to wait for success stories to happen. Yes, there are some issues that made people start to question his seriousness, but so far the majority still believe that they need the time to make the dreams happen.
 
They have successfully convinced Indonesians – not only Jakarta citizens – that People are again at the heart of Political Public Relations. In fact, Jokowi has successfully redefined Public Relations into People Relations. His refusal to use big amounts of campaign funding, relying more on direct engagement through face to face discussion and social media strategy is a new approach for political marketing in Indonesia.
 
Together with Ahok, he has set the benchmark for all political candidates, to have the following attributes to succeed in political arena:
 
1. Relevance: 
Candidates have to listen to people to be able to relate with people’s needs, meet people’s expectations and perform as they were expected. Candidates need to persuade constituencies to buy their vision they way Jokowi successfully convinced Jakarta citizens to buy his dream to build “A New Jakarta”.
 
2. Credibility:
Political candidates have to prove that they do as they promise. The promise should be believable and trusted, like Jokowi’s promise to bring “A New Jakarta” was backed up by the testimonies and word of mouth from the Solonese.
 
3. Appeal: 
Political candidates have to radiate with the values that touch and relate to the people.
 
4. Consistency:
Political candidates need to be consistent in communicating the same messages across all platforms, the way Jokowi consistently communicate about his dreams for the people, since he was a mayor of Solo that continued when he ran for Jakarta governorship.
 
5. Proper positioning:
Political candidates should be positioned to click with their constituencies in a unique way, offering something that their competitors don’t. Jokowi clearly stood out in his competition with his clear vision for “A New Jakarta”, backed up by his past performance and simple, sincere personality, something that his competitors couldn’t match.
 
6. Inspiration:
Political candidates need to inspire their constituents, like Jokowi inspired his constituents to participate and be a subject in making the dream of “A New Jakarta” come true.
 
Now Indonesians believe in People Relations as an effective tool to bring participation in development, to achieve common objectives. He’s a character Soekarno (Indonesia’s first president) mentioned as a leader that welcomes the future and embraces the values of the nation through its people. His People Relations has successfully played an important role of bringing a character that Indonesians have been longing for, and set the benchmark for future leaders.
 
If Jokowi can prove it in Jakarta, other candidates should be able to follow the examples he set, have the people at the heart of their campaigns, and win back people’s support again. Let’s support him and let’s keep people in People Relations alive. Let’s support candidates who believe in serving for the people, use extensive social media engagement with solid, honest reputation. Promoting honesty has always been a lot easier and less expensive than hiding lies. 
 
 
Thought Leader Profile
Indira Abidin, Managing Director, PT Fortune PR. Indira joined Fortune Group in 2001 as the PT Fortune Indonesia's first corporate secretary to prepare the company's Initial Public Offering in 2002. She successfully built the positive image and favorable reputation of PT Fortune Indonesia Tbk as Indonesia's only advertising agency on Indonesia Stock Exchange.
 
In 2005 Indira was also assigned to lead PT Fortune Indonesia Tbk's subsidiary, PT Fortune PR, as the Managing Director. Indira led the Fortune PR team in designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating PR campaigns for major clients. She has also transformed Fortune PR into a leading and award winning company. Under her leadership, Fortune PR has won Indonesia's Best of The Best PR Agency, Indonesia's Best PR Program Award, Sabre Award's Southeast Asia PR Firm of the Year and Campaign Asia's Southeast Asia Agency of The Year.
 
Indira is a very active public speaker. She actively speaks about Public Relations, Advertising, Media Relations, Social Media, Social Marketing trends for various industries including Travel, Tourism and Automotive. She has become an influential PR person in Indonesia and Asia. She is actively engaging her audience through social media, and can be reached through her tweeter account @indiraabidin. 
 

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The Author

Indira Abidin

Managing Director, PT Fortune PR. Indira is a very active public speaker. She actively speaks about Public Relations, Advertising, Media Relations, Social Media, Social Marketing trends for various industries including Travel, Tourism and Automotive

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