When Smart People Play: The FamiLEE Saga From a PR Perspective

Commentary, Singapore
familee

Today I am going to write an opinion piece focusing on some key takeaways from the recent FamiLEE saga, a huge matter of public interest.

Because this saga is a highly polarizing topic in Singapore,  I’ll make some preliminary disclaimers first.

Preliminary Disclaimers

  • #1. I have the highest respect towards PM Lee (Read my previous posts about him here, here, here). This post however is not speculation on “who said what” or “what should be”. It is instead a “what is” analysis of “how and why certain things are said (or not said) in certain ways”.

  • #2. This post is written BECAUSE the saga involves some of the top minds in Asia. And boy, from the Public Relations (PR) perspective, I must really say that LHL and LHY are extremely smart and strategic people who make very consistent PR moves. In fact, I’m extremely amazed by how consistent these moves are.

  • #3: There are legal defences to defamation. According to Singapore Legal Advice, for the defence of fair comment, the statement maker must prove that the statement was:

    -An expression of an opinion;

    -Based on true facts

    -The opinion of a relatively unbiased person; and

    -Related to a matter of public interest.

Therefore, do note that the PR strategies will be largely contingent and influenced by the four points. In order to strengthen their defence against defamation, LHY and LWL have to consistently and from time to time make an argument that they are doing what they do in the spirit of one or more of the above four points.

  • #4. Note that this saga is already not about “The Truth”, or “What is right or wrong”. Whenever a private matter is aired onto a public space and everyone is talking about it, it ceases to be about the truth anymore. Instead, it then becomes about public OPINION.

Truth is now irrelevant. It is always useful to bear in mind that there are two courts in life: One, the court of law and Two, the court of public opinion. Even if you win in the court of law, you can lose very badly in the court of public opinion and lose power overall, even more so for politicians.

Now, ever since LHY and LWL launched attacks on PM Lee, there is no way LHL can emerge from the mess in a “win” situation. LHL best case scenerio is to basically minimise the damages as more ambiguous or complex things are shown to the public. These things might be subjected to unfavorable interpretations and speculations.

This is the dangerous aspect to the whole saga and PM Lee cannot choose to sue easily, because IF he does, it will end up in a protracted lawsuit which will then force all parties into a worse lose-lose situation.

 Consistent PR Strategies Taken by The Lee Siblings and Family

  • PM Lee Hsien Loong// The objective of his PR strategy is to balance the need to protect his reputation as PM of Singapore with the need to not appear as “too harsh” in front of the Singaporean public.

In my view, there is a clear tradeoff between the court of law and the court of public opinion. So PM Lee has to plan his PR messages in a way that protects him from negative consequences in both courts. Note that the court of public opinion is also not limited to just Singapore– there is a need to also behave in such a way to “reassure” the world that Singapore is not a dictatorship, for instance.

  • Lee Hsien Yang// The objective of his PR strategy is to show/ hint at a hidden agenda/ conflict of interest/ misuse of power associated with PM Lee’s actions. LHY has to pursue this objective against perceived unfair use of “state organs against him and his family”.

My opinion is that Lee Hsien Yang probably DID felt threatened in some ways so much so that that he is forced into this position. It is not a very nice position to take for sure. LHY’s goal is to get the house demolished.

  • Dr Lee Weiling// The objective of her PR strategy is to get the house demolished, because this is what she believes the late Lee Kuan Yew wants in accordance to his will. This is why she backs LHY and will share his fb posts on her public page, or on her personal facebook wall.

I’m personally convinced that she chooses to be involved in this mess for this reason. This is why her responses tend to be sometimes emotional. It is interesting to note that Dr. Lee Weiling has nothing monetary to gain from helping LHY. Also, I personally don’t think she is a lady who is easily influenced by money.

  • Ho Ching// The objective of her PR strategy is to stay out of the limelight.

Personally, I think the most telling part of any PR strategy is who is excluded from the mess. People who choose not to be publicly involved in sagas are actually very wise folks.

  • Lee Suet Fern// The objective of her PR strategy is to convey messages that support her husband’s stance IF she does choose to be seen in the media.

She has been very consistent in this, especially in the “softer” and “emotional” sides.

  • The sons of Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Hsien Loong// The objective of their PR strategy is to not get involved in this political mess as much as possible, or dispel conspiracy theories about themselves. I believe Li Shengwu (the son of LHY) has already exercised great restraint coming from someone who is a distinguished debater and has a political science background in his education.

So here are some of my key learnings and observations, from the PR perspective:

#1. Key Observations From The First Press Release Made Public By Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Weiling

It is clear that this post with both article links is written with the intention for the FB post to go viral. Why do I say so?

  • Timing// The post is released at 2.30am SG time so as to maximize social media reach before the mainstream media can react.
  • Tone and potentially inflammatory content// Personal attacks were made against PM Lee, who has previously shown that he will sue for defamation. The tone was highly emotional. PM Lee has a strong supporter base and his well-being is linked to Singapore’s so it is likely that people will share because this topic is so sensational.
  • Background of writers// The people who made the accusations are PM Lee’s siblings.
  • Two versions for reading convenience// A shitass long version and a ;TLDR version. So, obviously meant for public digestion.
  • Title of post// “What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s values?” can be seen as click-baity! Lee Kuan Yew’s name is evoked, and “whatever happened” prompts people to click on the post because of FEAR and CURIOSITY.
  • New Facebook pages specially set up for this “fight”// Dr Lee Weiling’s FB page and Lee Hsien Yang’s FB page. Now, think about it, why would you set up a FB page just for this saga? Reason: To polarize and accumulate social proof to advance your cause, of course.
  • Vulnerability// Saying that they are scared and creating strong sympathy amongst some segments of the Singaporean masses.

 

#2 Key Learnings From PM Lee’s Responses

(1) No matter how angry you feel, do not show it to the public. Always write in a dignified manner. 

This is a very calm and dignified response! The key words used were “very disappointed” and “deeply saddened”.

No random flare ups at all. If PM Lee were angry when he wrote the statement, I personally give him +10000 points for writing such a succinct piece IN SPITE OF his possible feelings of betrayal and anger.

This is because showing your emotions to the public will raise even more questions about how logical you are as a leader, or whether you allow your emotions to get the most out of you.

(2) How to write in a manner that conveys that you are logical and not crazy. 

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, 15 June 2017

  • Notice that PM Lee wrote this summary via his lawyer(s). This seems to subtly hint that if LWL and LHY do not back down, a court case might be possible and imminent.
  • This summary is written in a chronological order. Whenever you want to counter responses that appear emotional (such as those that Dr. LWL tends to make), it makes sense to structure your response in a chronological order because it primes your audience for verifiable facts.

Verifiable facts are defined as things which happened on a particular date or time. Think about it, who would appear to be more credible: A chronological response based on black on white, with verifiable facts? Or a response peppered with emotional words (even if true) on highly subjective matters which cannot be verified?

  • Summary is written in a very impersonal, boring, logical and unemotional manner. This seems to be done with the intention of clearing the air, and wanting the saga to die down and not sensationalise it further.

#3. Key Learning from LHY’s subsequent responses

I’m very impressed by LHY’s responses methods subsequently because of various reasons:

(A) LHY basically plays his cards one by one. NOT showhand. 

Notice how he respond to a list of questions/claims made by LHL? Yes, you got it–ONE AT A TIME. He doesn’t address the whole list.

So he will make a Facebook status addressing ONE POINT, attach a black on white verifiable and clear evidence to rebut that point with no doubt.

How to argue against the above, except to take the stance that the will is not valid? By taking this stance, another can of worms is opened.

And the genius of this strategy is that you don’t know exactly how many “Trump” cards LHY holds! So, if you are on LHL’s side, you do have some unknown-unknowns which can really be scary.

(B) Using PM Lee’s words against PM Lee.

In personal branding and inspiring trust amongst the masses, inconsistency kills.

Now the question to ask is not “who is right?” In the first place this was not the objective. The objective is basically to hint at LHL having a hidden agenda.

(C) Fast response time

This is to give an impression that whatever message that is put out is genuine and authentic.

That is, nobody vetted through the messages hence you can reply very fast.

#4. The Next Episode of FamiLEE Saga: Look At What Is Not Said

Overall, it is very clear that this saga is only starting, not ending.

It will be really useful to monitor response methods and strategies as more and more people of high positions are dragged in, one by one. It is also perhaps important to think about who might be involved in the mess but keeping quiet.

Sometimes looking at what is UNSAID tells even more than what is SAID.

The Singaporean masses tend to think that this saga is messy. However, it really isn’t. So far, the PR strategies are amazingly consistent. And if the PR strategies stay consistent for all parties, we can predict ONE logical end.

The logical end will be reached assuming nobody loses control of their emotions and sticks to their planned PR strategies. And the logical end is this:

  • PM Lee will eventually issue a statement saying that they have decided to re-discuss the situation privately, and invite “constructive comments”.
  • After PM Lee does this, the siblings might continue to protest or raise alarms via their social media channels, if needed– “to update the Singaporean masses”. The social media platforms are their insurance against any potential bad things that can happen to them.

And then, silence. Then everyone moves on with their lives.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Nicholas
    June 19, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    An excellent and very impressive analysis from the PR side.

  • Reply
    Lorraine Paul
    June 20, 2017 at 10:30 am

    A very structured and well written analysis.

  • Leave a Reply