December 10th, 2013 / 1:06 am
Lately I’ve had great fun playing with the Ngram Viewer, which visualizes the presence of keywords and phrases used in the countless books which Google has scanned in recent times. Given all the turmoil lately in the marketing world (in my case the PR industry) about which labels to use in describing our services, I thought it would be interesting to see how the different monikers have trended over the years (from 1900 until 2008, the most recent year available):
What I notice is the relentless rise of ‘marketing,’ which eclipsed ‘advertising’ decades ago. I was delighted to note the continuing – if declining – popularity of ‘publicity,’ a retro expression many in PR abandoned but that I have continued to enjoy using throughout my career (which started around 1990). ‘PR’ and ‘public relations’ remain subordinate to other expressions (including ‘publicity’), with the former having edged ahead of the latter in the early 1980s. ‘Public relations’ peaked in the late 1950s, the same decade when many of today’s great global consultancies were founded.
The significance of all this?
Possibly very little, except to underline the staying power of categories in the public mind which we should be careful about casually discarding with the advent of ‘digital.’ That term and ‘social media’ hadn’t really penetrated books that much by 2008, so it will be interesting to run a new Ngram a few years from now to gauge the extent of their ascendancy in common parlance.
March 26th, 2013 / 4:06 am
On March 23rd I was honoured to address the Bangladesh Brand Forum seminar in Dhaka.
In my presentation, I argued that:
- social media is revolutionizing the way the world communicates and it is powering the public relations industry’s global ascendancy
- in Asia, PR has traditionally been a relatively minor and subordinate part of the marketing mix but now it increasingly occupies centre stage
- because public relations is at its essence a social networking business, it is well positioned to thrive in the digital domain, especially in a region where mobile communications are the new marketing battleground
- media relations and publicity will always be a key part of PR, but now creating content, building communities, understanding analytics and applying the psychology of persuasion are all part of the picture
- PR will always be about the art of relationships, but increasingly it is a measurable communications science
October 8th, 2012 / 12:38 am
[The following draft is a rough translation into English from the article above which appeared in Bisnis Indonesia]
The public relations industry is a relatively new line of business which is seeing swift growth, especially in the Asia-Pacific region as most multinational companies are partnering with PR firms in building their communication to the mass media as well as to the public. Bisnis Indonesia had an opportunity to meet with President and CEO of Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific Bob Pickard to gain some insights on the PR industry’s competition in the region.
How do you see the development of the PR industry in Asia-Pacific?
We see that there is a tremendous growth of the PR industry in Asia-Pacific. We recognize that there are three things that were traditionally imported from West to East. The first is money invested in communications campaigns, the second is ideas, and the third is talent. But now Asia-Pacific exports all three of these things – here we have the money, the diverse ideas and a lot of human resources. There are many Asia-based multinational companies that have developed into big global players, and it creates a major market for the PR industry in Asia.
How much does a company usually spends for communication strategy?
Many companies in Asia-Pacific spend $1 million or more every year for public relations programs, covering the entire region. For instance, if a company which is headquartered in one country has branches in some other countries, such a budget would covers PR activities for all the markets. However, there are also companies which would spend $250,000 per year for their regional PR activities.
What is the strategy usually used by a PR company in order to reach their markets?
Currently, we are seeing a change in the communication model. Previously, the number of media outlets was so limited that every company tried to tell their story only through mainstream media. But now, social media is growing. It really helps PR companies deliver the clients’ message to the public.
Furthermore, communications built between companies and their stakeholders is no longer a one-way street, but more of a two way conversation. In the social media sphere, people can easily share any input with companies. In this context, every PR firm has to listen to what the clients need, understand the target audiences that they want to reach and also incorporate input from media before they can create effective strategies.
Do you think competition in the PR industry is tight enough?
There are hundreds of PR companies these days and some of them are located in Indonesia. This surely creates competition among the firms, especially in terms of the budget levels proposed to the clients. There are relatively small PR companies which would normally compete on price, while there are also PR firms that play at the higher level and compete on quality. Such firms provide premium thinking such as building a corporate reputation, handling CSR activities and they also become commercial consultants for the clients. Competition in the PR industry is not excessive. There is still a lot of room to develop. The PR industry is at a relatively early stage of development, unlike advertising which is already a more mature business.
With respect to price competition, does this pose a significant threat to big PR companies?
Not at all, in fact it provides opportunities for PR companies to be established and to thrive. The presence of new [Asian] PR firms provides new ideas that the more established PR firms should learn from.
Does each PR firm need to have special skills?
It is ideal for a PR firm to have the capability to meet the clients’ needs in all sectors. Nevertheless, PR firms need to build deep experience and knowledge by domain. In our experience, we don’t just cater to one sector or a single industry, but we do try to extend expertise across geography and practice (that includes building our networks with governments). This is crucial to build reputation and trust in a PR firm.
What needs to be done by a PR firm in order to grow?
Try to see how it was 20 years ago, before social media arrived on the scene. Brands from companies could only become worldwide because they were published in traditional media. The change has been very rapid. Currently, rising Asian companies are becoming top global brands because they utilize social media platforms. PR firms cannot escape from this evolution and they have to use social media as a strategy to drive clients’ communications. One day, there might be an Indonesian company which builds a truly international brand on a social media platform.
May 17th, 2011 / 5:00 am
During the past week I enjoyed my debut as a regular contributor to The Holmes Report’s new ‘ThinkTank’ section. Through this summer, I’ll be writing about news and views from Asia-Pacific. Here’s my first column: Pakistan? Now there’s a PR challenge.
April 12th, 2011 / 5:02 am
A rising PR industry trade journo asked me to answer some questions today. I don’t know how much of the material she’ll use, or whether it’s that interesting, but here it is, FYI:
What does the PR industry need to do to gain access to the C-suite and what are benefits for companies of doing so?
The first thing we need to do is clearly demonstrate the value that public relations adds to the achievement of tangible commercial objectives. C-level executives know in their hearts that PR is now more important than ever, but many just can’t articulate why they feel that way. Many hope for positive publicity, and perhaps more fear a ruined reputation from what we used to call ‘bad press.’ What they increasingly need these days is proof of how PR can promote their image and how it can protect their brand: numbers, charts, diagrams, and analytics. Digital is by its very definition about data and so the rise of social media gives us the power to plot outcomes and track progress during the life of a communications campaign. This is what is increasingly called ‘evidence-based communications.’
What are the current barriers to that?
Even though the opportunities are enormous with PR poised to be the breakout player in this new era of digital marketing, there remains this tendency within the industry to think small. It’s ironic; in my 21 years as a corporate communicator, I’ve never seen our profession stronger and more powerful than it is today, but not enough people in our field stake a claim to the leadership that can be ours if we transcend this stifling lack of efficacy about what we do for a living. Overcoming the legacy of what can be a ridiculous inferiority complex relative to the advertising industry is therefore key. The other challenge that we must meet is the establishment of higher professional standards so that clients can enjoy a certainty of positive outcome across the full spectrum of their ‘touch points’ with PR. Quality levels can be wildly inconsistent across firms, industry sectors, service spheres and geographic contexts. That costs the PR industry credibility and results in a dampening effect on prices that harms PR’s ability to attract and keep the best talent.
Has the situation changed in the recent years in how brands and top management view PR and how? Especially for Asian leaders, what have their attitudes been?
It is abundantly clear that senior people in complex organizations of multinational scale are investing much more in PR than they ever have before. PR is evolving from its roots as a craft of relationship artistry to becoming a measurable modern science of persuasion. More and more, we have proof based on numbers to support our sales contentions. In Asia, the problem is that even in more developed economies, PR often remains a developing industry that is poorly understood by elites in positions of power. In one country, PR might be confused with advertising or advertorial. In others, it might be seen as simple press-agentry or even purchasing coverage with cash. The good news is that in more and more places, the contemporary reality of PR is being refracted through a social media lens and that’s where we can see the true vision of our industry’s future. In the past I think PR people may have been branded in some quarters as hyperbole peddlers, media grifters, or social conveners. Fortunately, today’s serious PR professionals are increasingly seen as a curious hybrid of social scientist, communications counsel and management consultant.
From the agency POV, how have they evolved?
I think we agency people are finally wrapping our heads around the fact that with social technology we now have the tools, techniques, and talent building a consulting business on a digital platform the likes of which we have always dreamed of. In order to exploit the opportunity this presents to PR, we must deliver consistently high service and quality standards while keeping a brand promise in a business where firms have had difficulty honouring commitments in the past. Indeed, there is a lot of restless multinational PR money roaming around Asia, switching from one agency to the next, fed-up with mediocrity and looking for certainty of positive outcome across borders. In some Asian markets, there are few or not enough post-secondary institutions offering PR education, so the smart firms are taking matters into their own hands and building their own training capability. For example, we have BMU [Burson-Marsteller University]. Education is at the heart of building a premium PR brand in Asia. At B-M, training the team to keep setting the PR standard for quality is my #1 priority. I often remind myself of what one of my Korean clients once told me: “Aim for the money, and quality suffers; aim for the quality, and the money will always come.”
May 10th, 2010 / 11:00 pm
It’s super to see how the new PR Week global edition seems to be flourishing.
For different reasons, I’ve been a fan of both the US and UK PR Week publications for years, but as each is so geared to the American and British domestic audiences (respectively), there was a gigantic ‘rest of the world’ blind spot between them and now we have a fresh source of international PR news content.
Considering the increasingly worldwide nature of communications consulting, there surely should be more room for quality journalism in this space and now we have another key player.
May 1st, 2010 / 2:00 pm
During my travels around Asia these past few weeks, I keep hearing about how management consulting firms are trying to get into the public relations business.
I reckon that we PR people can take this two ways:
- As a promising sign that the rising PR trade is now so powerful and profitable that it is ‘worthy’ of cross-sectoral competition from other providers of professional services who now want to get into our act.
- As a sad commentary on how the PR industry has failed to keep its promises with clients, who insist on a quality of especially corporate communications counsel that existing providers aren’t providing in ample or consistent measure.
There is truth in each of these perspectives, and so the PR industry should prepare itself for increasing competition from the newcomers. They are not trying to do PR by purchasing established PR firms, and they are not tending to recruit high-profile senior PR talent. Instead, management consultants are in most cases simply adding PR consulting to their existing range of advisory services. Rather than attract real PR people, most are simply putting on a PR hat.
Is this because management consultants have such a low opinion of PR consultants that they see communications as an easy add-on for people of their own advanced acumen? Or is it because they are somehow arrogant, believing that someone successful in their famous firm can become easily expert in a field so ‘simple’ as PR? I’m not going to attempt to answer such questions here, but it is noteworthy how the new front being opened in the PR war is so devoid of actual PR professionals.
It shows, too, and that may limit the commercial success of these raiding missions into PR territory.
The other day a famous management consulting firm circulated a white paper on measuring word-of-mouth marketing. With the prestige of the firm’s powerful brand behind it, I was prepared for an impressive experience. But when I flipped through one sophomoric page after another, instead of the expected ‘thought leadership,’ I found obvious observations about very basic 101-level PR concepts which were written with an overblown style and an attempted profundity. Accompanying the written article was a simple diagram of FisherPrice-level communications thinking.
If it isn’t the hubris of condescending professional services brands that will limit the appeal of their new PR offer, then it is the leadership limitations of the PR industry that will increase it. Our own profession — sometimes egged-on by false industry prophets — has often believed its own hype about how PR people deserve a ‘seat at the table,’ even though as a trade we’ve repeatedly shown that we have no business being there much of the time.
Others have traditionally held the biggest marketing cards and owned the most advanced research information, so we PR folks have been found quantitatively and qualitatively wanting in comparison. But now the balance of power is shifting PR’s way. Our traditional strength in relationship management is being amplified by the easy reach and measurability of digital. Technology may be causing a disintermediation in the global recruitment business (why pay a 30% headhunting fee when we have LinkedIn?), but so far it is helping to further extend the existing capabilities of the global PR business.
PR’s knack for distilling a client’s complexity into simple and compelling content (drawing on our skills as media storytellers), then sharing it persuasively with people across platforms in the right sequence comes naturally only with years of practiced experience. It is difficult to replicate this kind of thinking suddenly from an outside industry where, on a good day, PR will always only be a notch up from afterthought status.
The main thing going on is that there is a growing market for ‘big brain’ PR and clients are financing a flight to quality. Regardless of its traditional designation, the firm that can provide c-level answers to vexing communications questions will command a premium in the marketplace.
- Communicating crowdsourcing
- Overseas communications for Chinese multinationals
- BBC World News live TV interview
- Visualizing the rise and fall of marketing monikers
- The climate change PR disaster
- Humanitarianism in the network age
- climate change
- crisis communications
- guest post
- media relations
- national brand
- PR industry
- social media
- speaking platforms
- When ‘liking’ a brand online voids the right to sue: http://t.co/JDVubs2HoL | Lawyers running amok in social media | via @nytimes
- Negotiation styles around the world: http://t.co/NgAnpoZxby | I like some elements of the supposed Canadian, Hong Kong and Singapore styles
- Some clever comments on barriers to climate change communication and how it will take war-like fears to drive action: http://t.co/M68U9mLhQ1
- Users engage with major social networks predominantly via mobile: http://t.co/Bp9VSkio6H | via @datagems | Except @linkedin and @tumblr
- Three 'distance fields’ for communications: 'intimate space,' 'personal space,' & 'social space:' http://t.co/SiXYhJOM2M
- RT @wearesocialsg: Everything you need to know about social, digital, and mobile in China [new stats-rich report]: http://t.co/FxgEKlOxJ8
- I just read 'the necessary art of persuasion:' http://t.co/SVqCGuL3f9 | The classic @HarvardBiz article well stands the test of digital time
- Just what we need; yet another intrusion of sensory assault marketing into public space... http://t.co/sMzcv25ZpN
- These IPCC press releases are part of the problem communicating climate change: http://t.co/I3CawDpYF1 | Institutional constraints apparent