PR/Marketing, Singapore, Strategy
Comments 2

Loose lips sink ships: Why Singaporean leaders can consider being more careful with their words during a crisis.

Yesterday I wrote this post praising the media response of Feng Tianwei. It went viral. Today, I want to write about how strange the PR response of the Singapore Table Tennis Association  (STTA) is.

Again, a caveat: this post is purely from a PR perspective–I have zero “insiders’ information” on hand about STTA or Tianwei and I don’t personally know people from “either sides”.

And precisely this analysis is strictly from a PR perspective, it also means that whenever you find an association/ a company/ an organisation going against its own people, you can apply the same analysis.

Before I start writing about how “loose lips sink ships”, I wish to deviate a little from Tianwei’s case and refer to another ongoing controversy– the Qiuqiu Vs Netcentric lawsuit.

Once again, disregarding who is “right” or “wrong”, I cannot help but wonder if QiuQiu would have avoided the media shitstorm if only if she had a more polished and measured copywriting on both her blog and her fundraising page.

As a PR practitioner, I certainly see many similiarities between Qiuqiu’s and Tianwei’s current situations! Here are some verifiable facts:

  • Both Qiuqiu and Tianwei are public figures who have their own tribes/ fans. You can verify it via their Facebook fan pages. (Qiuqiu’s FB fanpage/ Tianwei’s FB fanpage)
  • Both Qiuqiu and Tianwei are labelled “deviant” by their respective organizations. You can see it via the official press releases by their respective organizations (Churp Churp’s official release/ STTA’s official release)
  • Both Qiuqiu and Tianwei are strong personal brands that polarize the crowd. This means that you either really hate them, or really love them. You can see it via the strong “for” and “against” comments surrounding this issue–just google.
  • Both Qiuqiu and Tianwei are really hardworking professionals. You can measure this by the number of posts Qiuqiu does on a regular basis, and how hard Tianwei trains.
  • Both of their respective organizations made hurtful personal attacks on their characters, which both Qiuqiu and Tianwei firmly dismissed as “false accusations”. You can see it via their respective responses. (Qiuqiu’s response/ Tianwei’s response)
  • In both cases, there was breakdown of trust and subsequently communication between the organizations and the talents. (Qiuqiu’s blogpost/ Tianwei’s ex-coach speaks out.)

One significant difference is that Qiuqiu’s case is already going to court, whereas we don’t know what will happen in Tianwei’s situation.

The ball is now in the STTA’s court.

This is why I definitely don’t envy the leaders in STTA right now–they are in a very difficult position.

Why do I say this? Let’s take a look at what the current official statements are:

“Responding to queries from TODAY about the incidents, the STTA did not confirm or deny the matter.

“Disciplinary matters are private and confidential, and the STTA declines comment,” said STTA chief executive officer Wong Hui Leng.

However, we also believe very strongly in values like discipline, respect and the importance of teamwork and working together towards our common objective of bringing glory to Singapore.

“Moving forward, we are looking forward to working closely with all our partners and stakeholders in charting the sport’s path towards the next Olympics and beyond.” “

Don’t you think this response is really…puzzling?

Why on earth would STTA “decline comment” over rumours concerning their highly-prized national table tennis paddler?

In addition, the inclusion of the word “however” is also very strange. The CEO could just have left it out, but no–it was in.

Obviously, someone from STTA spread unconfirmed speculations of “disciplinary issues” to the media. Many people in the media and the public subsequently started to speculate with their best guesses as to what happened.

If STTA “declined comment”, this means that it won’t get its version of truth out to the public.

If this is not a STTA’s Public Relation-ist’s nightmare, I don’t know what it is. 

“She has been ill-disciplined, disrespect n misconduct as reported in the newspaper then it is a disgrace to the nation instead… It is also good for STTA to send this signal to the players that STTA shall not tolerate those players with bad characters.”

So on one hand, STTA’s official response is “we decline comment”. On the other hand, you have STTA’s second most powerful leader commenting away with bad English on social media.

“Personal Capacity” or not is irrelevant, because the public sees him as the deputy to STTA, not as a “person” David Sim. In fact, from a PR perspective in this context, the public does not care about the person David Sim.

Therefore, the difference in response between STTA’s head and its deputy is yet another contradiction. So, this means more people will speculate! :/ Now that Feng Tianwei releases her media statement, STTA is forced to officially break their silence too.

If they were to continue staying silent, there would be consequences…

…Because, the current public impression of STTA is that it sabotages the careers of its own employees/ talents!

  • Firstly, if I were a foreign talent considering developing my future in Singapore, why would I choose STTA? I probably would consider representing other countries if not at least for my peace of mind.
  • Next, if I were a top foreign coach wanting to pursue an ambitious professional career in Singapore, why would I choose STTA? I won’t think it is worth the risk to work for an association with a history of high-profile fallouts with coaches.
  • Last but not least, STTA seems to have a management that seems to be a little…high-handed. Maintaining silence on their part would only worsen Singapore’s reputation on the global stage.

The way I see it- at this point, there is only ONE logical solution for STTA to pursue. I won’t reveal it yet because I want to see what they will do next.

At any rate, risking bad publicity citing one example of some milk and eggs that totalled less than SGD500 is really not very wise. This is simply what the Public Relations system IS. The PR system does not really care whether you are right or wrong, dishonest or not, high-handed or low.

At the end of the day, is your corporate reputation worth less than SGD500?

So what can you learn from this STTA saga? I’d leave you with a quote from Warren Buffet:

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Always remember: Loose lips sink ships. During a crisis, stay low, keep quiet and stick to one official narrative. Have a great week ahead! 🙂


  1. Peter goh says

    Read the straits times today. Jing Jun hong’s husband is Loy Soo Han, technical director? Isn’t that Jing Jun Hong boss? Isn’t there some sort of conflict of interest? I am just wondering if this is revenge for removing Jing as the head coach. If they mention they want to train local talent, why is the next batch still helm by foreign born players that has low ranking? Perhaps you can write an article on this?

    • Whoa I’m only interested in the public relations side leh, this whole saga seems too political and complicated! :////

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