Analysis: Is PA's apology enough to tide over the cultural PR storm after misuse of Malay wedding photos?

Three days ago, founder of female empowerment platform Crazycat, Sarah Bagharib, called out Radin Mas SMC and People's Association for the use of her wedding photos without prior notification or proper permission. The images were used as part of Radin Mas SMC's Hari Raya decorations at Tiong Bahru Orchid estate.

Along with improper accreditation to the use of her wedding images, Bagharib also called out the decorations for being culturally confusing. Bagharib said that as a member of the Malay/Muslim community who celebrates Hari Raya, she was “disappointed and frustrated to see the confused cultural messaging” in People’s Association’s use of a photograph of a bride and groom in traditional Malay outfit with Malay traditional wedding symbols to advertise the PA’s “ostensible celebration of Hari Raya” which she said is a completely different cultural event.

The post has gained the traction of netizens and news media outlets, and not long after Radin Mas SMC posted a public apology on Bagharib’s post. Meanwhile, People's Association also posted an apology on its Instagram page.  In the apology PA and Radin Mas SMC said it was unaware that the studio, Warabi Enterprise Art Studio, did not seek permission for the use of the photo. "The vendor has confirmed that they had obtained the photo from an online source without seeking the necessary permissions," it added. 

Warabi Enterprise Art Studio also owned up to the mismanagement of the issue and added that the clients were unaware that the photo was used without permission.

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Since the incident, Bagharib’s Instagram post has received over 17,000 likes, with various users express their disbelief that such a situation could arise. Group chief communcations and branding officer at Surbana Jurong, Karen Yew, also shared with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that numerous examples of corporate apologies have demonstrated time and again that a sincere apology – instead of a half-hearted or carefully crafted defensive one – delivered swiftly and unconditionally, can make a big difference to how quickly people are willing to forgive and move on.

“In this case, the apologies came across genuine and immediate action was taken,” Yew said. 

Adding on founder and lead consultant at Framework Communications, Susie Hughes said that while there isn’t a protocol if the vendor or agency partner should be named and shamed,  most agencies aim to operate in partnership with and as an extension of their clients’ teams. In that spirit, the client and the agency could collaborate on the response and both be part of an honest and transparent response, rather than one over the other.

When asked about what more PA and Radin Mas SMC can do to ensure they get out of the news cycle, Hughes said this should not be the first goal because it overshadows the appropriate apologies and identifying what went wrong.

“In addition to taking ownership of the mistake (which it looks like the parties involved have done), the goal should be to develop clear, easy to follow policies for content usage to prevent something like this happening again,” she added.

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