Winning Work: Persuading Myanmar’s telcos to work together on a scam awareness campaign

It was no easy win when public relations agency ERA Myanmar scooped the Mumbrella Award for Collaboration in the recent Mumbrella Asia Awards – in fact they had to unite the whole telco industry in order to create a public awareness campaign warning citizens – who had only recently started to own mobile phones – of scam attempts by criminals

Let me start by saying, although we at the agency are writing this article, the credit for the Mumbrella Asia Award for Collaboration Award should be shared equally. Let me also say that gratitude is owed to the four operators who continue to compete passionately, and who chose us over many other talented Myanmar agencies – working for them at the time – to run the communications for this campaign.

What do you think happens when a country goes from less than 10 per cent mobile phone penetration to more than 100 per cent in a matter of a couple short years? For most of us, we’ve had decades to get accustomed to technology. 

However, for people in Myanmar, this connected and sophisticated new world we live in was still foreign. As a result, millions were at risk of becoming victims of cyber-crimes. Because of this, technologically savvy criminals took note and began going after this ‘soft target’ demographic en masse – via international gateway scams.

The way it worked was by renting an international outbound gateway and using bot phones to make thousands and thousands of missed calls to international numbers. When the user called back, their phone bill was deducted and a per cent of the call cost went to the international gateway, the foreign operator and the Myanmar operator.  The rented gateway received approximately 80% of the small charge, but if just one million of Myanmar’s 50 million subscribers called back, it could add up to a huge sum for that day.

“I have been getting multiple missed calls from unknown numbers repeatedly. I gave them a missed call back and MPT deducted 2000 kyats from my balance when I call back.”

This was one of thousands of complaints indicating the huge public knowledge deficit on this issue. And it wasn’t just our client, but all four of Myanmar’s operators that were receiving multiple fraud calls – with many users complaining about the balance deduction and blaming operators for their financial loss. 

A whole industry fell under intense criticism for not taking steps to equip customers with the knowledge to ignore such scams. An urgent meeting was set between the communications teams for all the companies and a strategy was proposed. In short, collaborate for the good of the industry and the customer – with the campaign ‘Four Operators Team Up To Fight Fraudsters – by us at ERA Myanmar in collaboration with Telenor, Ooredoo and MyTel for MPT.

Our agency took the lead in working between various communications departments to develop content to be distributed on every operator’s channels, and in the media. This was the first time in Myanmar’s history that the highly competitive telecommunications companies joined forces for the good of the whole public.

By making the content ‘unbranded’ – it meant we could encourage media and our telecommunications partners alike to run with it. Furthermore, for every earned print story that got published we then used it to pitch to digital editorial teams too – in order to garner online media coverage as well.

Our public relations team handled the pitching and media outreach on behalf of all the operators for the duration of the campaign. Leveraging public interest and our team’s relationships with the journalistic and editorial community, the press releases and infographics produced hit print in full-page colour at a number of tier-one media titles.

This was a rare case where the numbers of the campaign were more than vanity metrics. Every one of our print stories, broadcast news segments, website articles and social media articles/shares by media combined to hit nearly every kind of customer we could have hoped for. Not only that, they were getting the full and complete information.

By modest estimates our content reach exceeded 30 million and more than likely approached 40 million. All of the media pitched covered our news. And in many cases, the journalists went above and beyond in giving us page space for our infographics as well as going in-depth with their own reporting.

What made this campaign special, or ‘winning work’, cannot be fully credited to us. After all, we were just doing our jobs for the clients. No, this story is truly unique because for a brief moment, telcos in one of the most competitive industries out there were able to put aside their competitive nature for the good of a country and its people. That was something special indeed.

Anthony Larmon is managing director at the PR agency Era Myanmar


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