Can you name three health ministers of independent India?
Can’t? I’m not surprised.
I’m sure, however, that you were able to name Anbumani Ramadoss.
You were able to name him not because, under his tenure, life expectancy has taken a jump. It hasn’t. You were able to name him not because, under his tenure, primary health care facilities have improved manifold. They haven’t. During his tenure, in fact, nothing significant has happened.
Yet you know him.
You can’t remember the health minister under whom small-pox was eradicated, you can’t remember the health minister under whom polio vaccination drives began and you can’t remember under whom AIDS awareness campaigns began to make a dent on the prevalence of HIV.
Yet you can remember Anbumani Ramadoss.
Because he is forever in the media. Because people and causes he goes after are people and causes which media and consumers lap up. He tells Shah Rukh Khan TV to stop smoking in films and to stop endorsing alcohol brands. He tells the film industry to be responsible and delete smoking and drinking scenes from movies that will be made. He tells satellite TV channels do delete such scenes from films that they air. He asks the censor board to be responsible, too. He accuses Vijay Mallya of naming his IPL team Royal Challengers as a surrogate route to promoting his alcohol brand, Royal Challenge. He goes after big tobacco (in India, read ITC and ITC) asking for them to include gory images of the effects of smoking on health prominently on the front of cigarette packets.
When he castigates SRK, it makes the headlines and attracts the OB vans of all the news channels. The media then rushes to SRK for his response to the minister’s statements. Then back to the minister for his response to SRK’s response. And so on and so forth.
The same cycle is repeated with the film industry, with Vijay Mallya, with the censor board and Sharmila Tagore, with ITC. With everybody.
And everybody knows Anbumani Ramadoss.
I love the guy. Because he’s playing the media like his own personal Punch and Judy show and the media is falling for it hook, line and sinker. If one commissioned a research agency to do a pre and post test of the TOM recall of Anbumani Ramadoss (pre ministership and post ministership, that is) the RoI would probably be better than for Tata’s Nano.
Which is the interesting bit. Ramadoss has spent no money on a PR consultant or an image consultant or people of that ilk. All he’s done is to figure out what attracts the media and kept serving them their favourite nuggets on a platter.
Which they gobble up with greed and relish.
There’s a lesson here for PR agencies and for clients who retain PR agencies. Look hard at all that is at your disposal: products, people, events. Try and find those elements that the media is interested in – that will make the news.
If Ramadoss called a press conference each day to talk about deaths by malnutrition and the increase in the incidence of cancer he wouldn’t get a fraction of the coverage he gets today – because that’s not what journalists want to write or report about and that’s not what consumers want to know about.
If this is indeed the era of sensationalist headlines and a Page 3 culture, give the media sensation and Page 3 content. That’s what Anbumani Ramadoss teaches me. And if it’s working for him, who am I to argue with his success?