Friday, June 9, 2017

The key lesson from the Bill Ng-FAS Fiasco

The recently concluded Football of Association of Singapore (FAS) Election, the first in the FAS’ history, has much to teach the communications professional. What will surely stick in the memory of Singaporeans is how Bill Ng’s startling disclosure of a $500,000 “donation” to the FAS ended in his arrest together with that of former FAS president Zainudin Nordin, FAS general secretary Winston Lee, and Bill’s own wife Bonnie Wong.

bill ng fas election arrests

The key lesson is that any statement issued, especially in an election type scenario, needs to be red-teamed. This is because the message is not what you say, but what the recipient understands. In Bill Ng’s case, we assess his intention was to portray himself as a magnanimous benefactor of local football and hence a white knight who should be elected as President of the FAS. Instead, the message as understood by the authorities was that Bill Ng was abusing his position as the Chairman of Hougang United FC and Tiong Bahru FC to line his own pocket.

What Bill did is, unfortunately, not uncommon. C-Suite executives – especially those who are frequently in front of the camera - tend to become complacent believing that they can handle the media. History however frequently proves that you cannot underestimate how a message will be interpreted and how it can easily be taken out of context. In fact, the more frequent you are in front of the camera, the more important it is for you to prepare, as it is the “rookie” mistake that are the career enders.

From what we can tell, Bill’s disclosure was pre-meditated and hence could have easily been avoided, or rephrased if he had simply bounced it off his confidants. If it was not pre-planned, Bill’s off-the-cuff remark is precisely why many politicians avoid election rallies. In matters of high-stakes, it is better to remain silent, than to afford your opponent and his supporters fodder to attack you with.

So, the next time you face the media, do not only prepare your talking points. Do test them out to see if your audience will indeed understand the message you are trying to communicate.

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