Country focus: No Short Cuts – Raising Awareness of IP in the Philippines
By Adrien S. Cristobal, Jr.
The need to raise public awareness of IP is a challenge shared by all IP offices. What should be their goal? Promoting the IP system to potential users? Or anti-counterfeiting and enforcement initiatives? How do they define and reach target audiences? How can they gauge the impact of their efforts? In this article for WIPO Magazine, Mr. Adrien S. Cristobal Jr., Director General of the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, recounts the Filipino experience in developing an outreach program to promote use of their patent and trademark registration systems.
Raising public awareness of the importance of intellectual property (IP) and of how the IP system works is a critical function of an IP office. Performing this basic task is indispensable to strengthening all aspects of the IP system and facilitating its contribution to socio-economic development. Awareness-raising designed to encourage the public to use the products and services provided by IP offices is also a crucial step in ensuring the financial sustainability of those offices, as the IP office of the Philippines found when it stopped receiving government subsidies in 2006.
The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines – re-branded “IP Philippines” in 2005 as part of the office’s new image – has been working to improve its public outreach programs. With a staff of 300 responsible for administering the IP system in a country of 88 million people across an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, IP Philippines faces enormous challenges in reaching the public. Meeting these challenges has been a central feature of the organization’s new business plan over the past two years.
A challenging task
Educating the public about IP is a formidable task for any developing country. With scarce government resources available to tackle urgent problems – such as poverty, health, education and law and order – it can seem difficult to justify investing in communications about IP. The challenge is made more difficult by widespread public ignorance or indifference toward IP, among both consumers and creators. Not only does the subject seem too technical for the layman, but it is also a relatively new field of knowledge. An even more serious obstacle is consumer hostility and ideological opposition to IP laws. Controversy surrounds such questions as how IP rights affect access to knowledge and medicines. And large segments of the public perceive the IP system only as a means for foreign multinationals to protect their own economic interests in the country.
"Marketing IP is not as simple as selling a bar of soap."
Finally, there is the lack of relevant experience and skills in government bureaucracies, IP offices included, which are not generally adept at marketing and communications. Although this can be solved by outsourcing, these experts have no experience in “selling” IP. Marketing IP is not as simple as selling a bar of soap.
In preparation for the cessation of government subsidies, IP Philippines commissioned a Resource Audit and Management Report (RAMP), and in 2005, with the assistance of the European Patent Office (EPO), began implementing changes which the Report recommended were needed for IP Philippines to become a self-sustaining organization. This included extending the functions of the organization beyond administering IP regulations.
Some facets of the change management arising out of the new business plan were within the organization’s control, such as streamlining operations, investing in human resources, redefining functions, and developing the IT infrastructure. In such areas, performance indicators were easier to define (e.g. backlog reduction and turn-around time) and to measure within a relatively short period. Public outreach, however, deals with the external environment, thus making it more complicated to measure results. Performance indicators tend to be elusive and it takes more time to gauge the impact of a project.
Before the new business plan, IP Philippines participated only in a handful of significant public outreach activities, such as seminars and conferences, co-sponsored by WIPO, EPO and other partners; or product trade fairs, where the office would set up information booths and distribute basic information materials. There was also the painting and essay writing contest held during the official Filipino IP Rights Week each year. But these events attracted low audience participation due to a lack of publicity. And after seven years in existence, the IP office remained an obscure agency, known only to a select group of people – IP lawyers (mainly representing large Filipino corporations and multinational firms), a segment of the business sector (such as franchisers), some academics, the pharmaceutical sector and inventors. The low level of public awareness was so obvious that it was not even necessary to conduct expensive surveys to quantify it.
Defining clearly the role of IP Philippines in society was the precondition before relaunching public outreach projects. With its new vision, the organization aimed to establish itself as the leader in all aspects of the IP system – policymaking, public education, coordinating enforcement, training and other areas –and to project this image to the community.
New brochures developed by the public relations team. (All photos courtesy of IP Philippines)
- Public Relations. Afterinitially hiring an external public relations (PR) firm, this was quickly replaced by an in-house team, composed of specialists, including professional writers and graphic designers, under the direct supervision of the Director General. The PR team issues weekly press and photo releases on enforcement events and other activities of the Office, and creates new information materials.
- Advertising. The Office hired an advertising firm to create a full-blown advertising campaign, to complement its re-branding and promote its products and services.
- Exhibition areas. Two exhibition spaces were opened on the Office’s ground floor: the Alab Art Space, which offers local artists an opportunity to exhibit works and performances at a very low cost compared to most galleries; and the Innovation Area, with displays featuring well-known trademarks and patents. The Innovation Area can also be used for establishing or strengthening relationships with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), inventors and industrial designers. The Office earns a small commission on sales from the art works, which is used for maintenance. Both exhibit areas act as direct contact points between the public and IP Philippines.
- Seminars, workshops, and conferences. All the basic orientation and advanced seminars conducted by the Office were reworked as “sales pitches” to convince audiences to register their IP, rather than merely informing them about IP. This meant re-training speakers and overhauling all modules to incorporate, for instance, workshops on how to register trademarks or file patents. Custom-designed seminars were developed for the different target market segments, such as universities, artists and writers and SMEs. IP Philippines also established networks with prominent associations within these sectors.
- Customer Service Area. The Office’s customer service area was renovated to make it more customer-friendly. Customer Service Desks, with two full time staff, were set up to provide information and explain the registration processes.
- Active promotions. For trade fairs, the IP Philippines exhibit booth was converted into a “sales mission,” where customer service personnel would give mini lectures and assist visitors in filling in application forms. The Office invested in attractive modern booths, complete with Internet access to the IP Philippines website.
- Partnerships. The Office partnered with the private sector for special events and activities, such as awards, lively contests for arts and designs and radio or television segments or features.
Customer service personnel attend to visitors during the IP Philippines Open House.
The new corporate logo and business plan were launched late in 2005 in a consultative forum with stakeholders in the IP community. Within a year of its implementation, results were already palpable. Media coverage increased dramatically in print, radio and television, as the IP Philippines press releases were disseminated informing the public about the Office’s activities, its policy positions on pending bills in Congress, and data on patents and trademarks that served as indicators on the state of the economy. The press releases always include a statement from the Director General or other cabinet officers reinforcing the message about the importance of IP for local creativity, innovation and economic development.
Improved public relations also resulted in more invitations for IP Philippines representatives to speak in different fora, radio and TV shows. Several universities organized their own IP seminars for faculty and administrators. The new trade fair exhibits yielded completed applications for trademarks, and follow-up customer calls were made to potential patent and trademark applicants.
The Alab Art Space, with exhibitions and performances by local artists, has attracted an influx of new visitors to the IP Philippines office.
The public also started taking notice of the new physical structures and fresh image of IP Philippines; and the Alab Art Space and Innovation Area created an influx of new visitors.
Advertising, on the other hand, was not accepted immediately by the Office. This proved too great a change of approach for an organization that, having grown up as a monopoly and a regulatory agency, had never felt the need to advertise its services. Moreover, with the emphasis on efficiencies and cost recovery during the first year of the transition plan, such a large investment in advertising did not sit well with many employees, most of whom were looking forward to a new salary structure and performance based incentives. There were also concerns that the volume of calls and queries following a successful advertising campaign would overwhelm the Office at this stage. Without adequate preparation to enable the Office to handle such increased demand efficiently – for example, by setting up enough phone lines and training people on how to handle customer calls – there could be a risk of backlash against the organization. The advertising campaign was therefore postponed, while the Office focused on direct marketing and public relations.
The Innovation Area, which opened in July, features outstanding Philippine trademarks, inventions and industrial designs.
One fundamental lesson IP Philippines learned when formulating and implementing public awareness and education programs is that a comprehensive strategy is essential. This does not merely mean adopting new communication strategies, tactics and tools, but ensuring that the entire organization understands and shares the corporate vision, mission and strategic objectives. The organization has to understand its role in society before it can start communicating effectively to the public.
The process IP Philippines went through in implementing the RAMP recommendations and the new business plan may not have converted 100 percent of the organization’s personnel to the new state of affairs, but it did send a clear message that things would be different. The new vision of “fostering a creative and competitive Philippines that uses IP for national development” meant nothing less than a dynamic IP Philippines playing a leadership role in all facets of the IP system and reaching out proactively to the public.
Outsourcing services for marketing, advertising and public relations is always an option. But educating the service provider on what the organization is about requires a lot of time and resources, since few private firms will have previously handled an IP office. By setting up its own public relations group, IP Philippines had a dedicated team immersed in the organization, continuously learning about IP, and constantly refining its messages.
Student models on the catwalk during the Jazz-Up Your Denims fashion design contest for students.
Finally, before embarking on a full scale marketing and advertising strategy, it is essential to put one’s house in order. Go back to the basics: since the product should speak for itself, services have to be improved – no amount of advertising or marketing can sell a lousy product. Moreover, the organization must be ready to absorb the flood of customers after an advertising campaign. Without the necessary infrastructure, the investment in marketing would not only go to waste, but would cause a backlash against the organization due to undelivered promises, unanswered calls and disappointing answers.
Public awareness and education programs are an integral part of a broader, deeper and comprehensive organizational strategy. Before embarking on an aggressive public outreach campaign, the foundation must be strengthened. Though it is easy to fall prey to the lure of the sound bite, there are simply no short cuts.
Population: 88 million
Surface area 300,000 km2
Languages: Tagalog, English
Principal industries: Agriculture, Chemicals, Fishing, Food Processing, Forestry, Mining, Textiles
An archipelago of over 7,000 islands in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is one of the richest reservoirs of plant and animal life on earth – containing 60 percent of the species found on the planet. From mountain plateaus to fertile plains, from rugged, active volcanoes to long coastlines, the Philippines have something for everyone.
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