RPS: Three essentials for finance ministry communications

05 March 2024 Consultancy-me.com
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For every finance minister around the world, an effective communications strategy is essential not just to inform the nation about policies and developments, but also to instill confidence. To help ministers hit precisely the right tone and substance, government advisory Consulum has developed its proprietary ‘RPS’ model.

‘RPS’ stands for Resources and Research, Pragmatic and Political, and Simple Storytelling. Those are the criteria that Consulum sees as most important for finance ministers in order to convey their messages to the broader public.

Getting that right goes beyond just getting the words right. “Those words must be the end product of a rich and considered process. It is therefore essential that finance ministers master the science and art of being great communicators,” according to James Davies and Kane Silom, respectively managing partner and director at Consulum.

RPS: Three essentials for finance ministry communications

Resources and Research

“Step one in any effective government policymaking is to ensure that policy, strategy, and communications are integrated and aligned from the start,” said Silom. “Nowhere is such integration more important than in finance, where relevant constituencies include not just domestic businesses and voters but also international markets, financial institutions, and ratings agencies.”

Communications must be considered very closely by a top quality team before going public. It is incredibly risky if a culture of “yes-people” is allowed to develop around a leader.

“Lack of informed dissent or robust debate leads to poor decision making. The best leaders we’ve worked for and with are open to constructive criticism,” said Silom.

Research is another piece to the puzzle: Any government with an effective finance strategy will regularly undertake research and polling to assist in implementing its agenda. Being armed with the proper research will help finance ministers to deliver the best possible communication.

“This is a different exercise from the polling aimed at finding out how a leader is doing or how they rate against opponents – standard fare in newspapers around the world. This very specific work can identify policy gaps, anticipate how individual measures may be perceived, and sharpen how such measures are positioned and communicated.”

Pragmatic and Political

Part of a successful strategy will need to include transparent communication on clear and pragmatic policy solutions. This will ideally make use of the ‘the art of spin’ – while cleverly avoiding the appearance of spin. “Open and transparent communication is essential in building trust between the government and citizens,” said Davies.

Davies gives the example of Singapore in 2008. Then Minister Shanmugaratnam chose to not downplay the ‘full-blown economic decline’ the world was facing, but rather was frank about what the country was facing. He then offered clear and pragmatic details on how his government would work to counter the crisis.

“The tone should be confident, not arrogant. The value of this pragmatism is that it allows one to counter the objections of political opponents while maintaining credibility with markets and business leaders – in essence, to engage in spin without appearing to do so,” said Davies.

Simple Storytelling

Keep communication simple, clear, and concise. Priority should be on the concern of ordinary citizens and communication should address them directly. Acknowledge that there will be challenges while ensuring success.

“Shaping economic narratives that inspire confidence and resilience requires clarity, conciseness, and a constructive attitude. Ministers should strive to influence public perception and support the goals of their government by projecting success, without downplaying challenging economic conditions,” said Silom.

Simple storytelling helps to keep the concerns of ordinary citizens in focus. Things like catchy program names and simple strategies will be the most effective in keeping people on board with a government’s budget strategy.

“One essential is always to bring policy implications back to the concerns of ordinary people,” said Davies. “Make your ultimate message simple to understand and avoid speaking only to finance geeks. After wading into highly technical waters, Shanmugaratnam outlined how his government would meet the global financial crisis by improving lives for property owners, small and large businesses, and workers.”

To illustrate the dangers of unclear communications, Silom gives the example of Nigerian Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed, who in 2002 gave an interview with Bloomberg with the aim of smoothing stakeholder anxiety over a boost in budget and lingering debt.

The minister discussed rising debt levels and costs and made a bit of a gaffe by mentioning that she would look into the possibility of restructuring their debt with multilateral financial institutions. “That line spooked investors, who saw it as a subtle cry for help and immediately began selling off their Nigerian Eurobond holdings,” said Silom.

Consulum is an international consultancy – with several offices in the Middle East – comprising a team of advisors with high-level government experience. Last year, the firm launched a new offering that focuses on helping government officials professionalize their communication strategies.