February 20th, 2012 / 1:37 pm
February 9th, 2012 / 9:37 am
January 2nd, 2012 / 5:33 am
January 2nd, 2012 / 5:27 am
For many years now, the United States has been complacent in its Asia-Pacific public relations, punching way below the country’s PR weight. This is now changing all of a sudden.
The US has embarked upon a considerable communications campaign across the region. Wary of China’s rapid rise, America is proactively executing a PR blitz concomitant with the diplomatic charm offensive President Obama led at the APEC Summit, the announcement of a permanent military base in Australia and advocacy of a new trans-Pacific trading bloc that would pointedly exclude China.
It is the sheer proactivity of the new American effort that I find noteworthy. In recent years the US has been on the defensive in the Asian media, reeling from a constant drumbeat of negative coverage tracing its relative weakness and decline compared to the strength and ascent of China. It is the Chinese government that has often seemed to take the lead in managing the news cycle, acting aggressive, coming across as confident. The United States, by contrast, has seemed to be in ongoing retreat, consumed by economic and political troubles at home that affect the country’s ability to sustain its interests overseas.
What a difference a decade makes. I remember when I first came to Asia the image of the United States was at its zenith in Asia. America was respected for its economic success during the Clinton era as the government ran a surplus and economic growth was a given. American entertainment was popular and the soft power of the US was unrivalled. There was also an enormous sympathy for the country in the aftermath of 9/11.
But especially after the Iraq War in 2003 and the US-based economic meltdown of 2008, the reputation of America took a beating in Asia and from a communications perspective, the American narrative has been unimpressively random and reactive. It has been difficult to discern a strategy amid such a defensive communications context. There has also been this sense that America has become a narcissist nation, so self-absorbed in US-centrism that it is unlikely to achieve societal alignment with Asian sensibilities.
Say what you will about the Obama administration, but when it comes to Asia, it has been much more focused and effective in its communications with the region. The very act of American public relations engagement with Asia sends a signal of respect to stakeholders who are more accustomed to lectures than listening from the superpower. This more humble and friendly personality of US communications – America the student in Asia and not just the teacher – is most impressively evident in what we’re seeing on the digital diplomacy front, with innovative social media activities in south and southeast Asia.
Given the world-leading state of the public relations art in the US, it’s about time we saw the country leverage its PR prowess in support of its interests. Especially now that Asians are extrapolating China’s growth trajectory and can see it becoming the largest economy probably by the 2020s (a prospect that unnerves some neighbor nations fearing an overbearing Beijing), the perception that the United States still matters and is aligned with Asian interests will demand even more robust communications in the future.
November 3rd, 2011 / 2:48 am
Today in Singapore I enjoyed speaking at a great industry platform, The Holmes Report’s Asia-Pacific ‘ThinkTank Live.’ The topic: “How Asian corporations are using social media to communicate with global communities.” Click here for a copy of the presentation.
November 2nd, 2011 / 3:14 am
Today I was honoured to address the Global HR Forum in Seoul, Korea on the topic of “Social responsibility > Social marketing > Social media.”
See the below or click here to review the presentation.
The event also garnered media interest, with this article appearing in the Korea Economic Daily (Korean language):
October 27th, 2011 / 9:08 pm
Here’s my latest contribution as The Holmes Report’s Asia-Pacific ‘ThinkTank’ columnist:
If there is one country that is preoccupied with its national image, it is the Republic of Korea.
Having lived in Seoul for a few years, I became very familiar with the acute sensitivity of South Koreans to their standing in the world, which has increased progressively and impressively in recent times.
Just 50 years ago, Korea was one of the world’s poorest countries, and now it’s one of its richest, recently setting new national records for GDP per capita and proudly earning its rightful place as a member of the G-20.
A country with few natural resources, Korea is well endowed with human wealth in the form of an ambitious and hard working population in a culture where the kids with the best grades are cool in school. The culture of continuous improvement through education runs deep in Korea and helps explain many national advances.
With remarkable speed, Korean companies like LG, Hyundai and Samsung have gone from producing cheap products that used to compete on price to premium products that sell on the basis of what is now their first-class quality.
That’s one reason why Korean corporate brands keep rising up the charts, but the national image remains a relative underperformer – and the Koreans know it.
Sandwiched between the giants of China and Japan, Korea has needed to fight for attention and it has historically struggled to communicate a clear and compelling brand in the world mind. Having been occupied by foreign powers in past, perhaps there’s a psychological legacy that helps motivate a keen national interest in proud differentiation.
Milestone national platform events like the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup have gone a long way to well introduce an impressive vision of Korea to the world.
Unfortunately, though, the continuing PR menace of Pyongyang casts a long shadow, especially when you consider that the most famous Korean in the world is likely the dictator Kim Jong-Il, the “Dear Leader” of the North.
There are actually a number of favourable media themes from the Koreas these days (most recently about the rising worldwide popularity of Korean cuisine), but such soft positives have often been obscured by a torrent of hard negative news from North. The terrible famines, the reckless nuclear sabre rattling, the destructive military adventures do tend to make a large proportion of “Korean news” rather bad news indeed.
It doesn’t help that Korea has misfired with its national marketing in the past, coming up with overseas campaigns that fail to catch fire with foreign audiences, because they have been dampened in their development by insular domestic dynamics.
But this is clearly changing now. The state of the marketing art in Korea is among Asia’s most advanced, and there is a widely shared national commitment to adding a premium country brand to the long list of Korean accomplishments.
During my years in Seoul, I was struck by how many companies had, as their guiding corporate objective, becoming a “global top 10″ or better in their respective fields. Some say that there is a national “inferiority complex” behind such thinking, but I prefer to believe that these lofty aspirations reflect a confident ambition that other countries would be well advised to emulate.
October 11th, 2011 / 8:23 am
Today I spoke at the Dow Jones forum in Korea: “Information Explosion: from Burden to Blessing.” See below for a copy of my presentation:
October 9th, 2011 / 12:13 am
In the decades to come, we should see the advent of ultra-intelligent, super-targeted marketing enabled by technology that amplifies our brain power and applies artificial intelligence.
The rise of ‘social operating systems’ like Facebook and Weibo makes it possible to share more information with infinitely large communities, but at the same time the sheer size of our expanding social networks is making it more difficult to communicate with individuals in a genuinely personal and customised manner. Nowadays communication must consist of listening as well as talking and given the broad scale yet atomized sensibility demanded by digital, in the future we will need the new thinking and augmented capacities we currently lack.
Public relations professionals have always been intelligent agents of information-sharing, knowing how to, where to, and when to share information with which people in different sequences so that they do or think things achieving intended communications and commercial outcomes. It used to be that we would need to have relationships with dozens of journalists and communicate through them with a mass audience via story placement.
Now we need to ‘know’ vast numbers of people – be they elite opinion-makers or average citizens – and maintain active and customized relationships with hundreds, thousands, even multi-millions. The dead reckoning of today’s PR minds won’t be enough to handle all this and there’s no canvas large enough where we can paint the far more sophisticated plans that will be required. So I think it is inevitable that we will need to delegate more and more power to super-smart systems that will help us communicate in what is becoming an unbelievably complex environment.
We need technology to help us simplify exponential complexity and today’s best algorithms aren’t solving the problems of scale and sensibility that are getting bigger than our current capability to address. This trend may become most evident in Asia, where we need to apply new technology to communicate effortlessly across diverse cultural and linguistic boundaries as never before.
September 3rd, 2011 / 5:43 am
by Bob Pickard
Last week when I was travelling to India, one story totally commanded the news: the hunger strike of social activist Anna Hazare, who was fasting to force pressure on the Indian government to enact a tough new anti-corruption law.
Day after day, every newspaper front page was dominated by coverage of the Anna protest, and in channel-surfing India’s many all-news TV networks, you would think there was nothing else going on in the world.
The Anna story received such massive publicity, to the extent that one can reasonably ask whether the media was just covering a phenomenon or actually also helping to create one for commercial purposes.
Certainly there were many conditions conducive for a craze, starting with a vast audience of consumers coveted by media organizations in a hyper-competitive news market (media of all kinds – including traditional and new – is growing in India).
As a country with a rising middle class that’s become increasingly fed-up with the negative consequences of corruption in society, India is surely ripe territory for such a popular protest. The middle class already numbers 160 million people and a study by India’s National Council for Applied Economic Research predicts it will explode in size to 267 million within five years (still a minority of India’s 1.2 billion people it should be noted).
Following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Anna’s emphasis on nonviolent methods struck a chord and he seemingly achieved ‘societal alignment’ with communications content that resonated with popular sensibilities. His approach recalled the passion and success of storied protests from India’s independence movement (Indian Independence Day’s arrival on August 15th was a timely milestone).
Conflict and contrast help drive the most vivid news coverage, and the government’s handling of the situation provided both for this story. Conflict: Anna was arrested at one point, which supplied grist for the media mill. Contrast: The fact that Anna shares in common with the Prime Minister an older age (both are in their 70s) provided ample opportunity for media to portray Anna as being vivified by ‘people power’ with the PM seeming wan and remote in comparison.
Momentum perceptions played a key role in the Anna story. Large and animated crowds were always in the backdrop, and later on as the hunger strike progressed, so were what seemed a bigger and bigger team of doctors tending to Anna. As the hero of the story became weaker, the apparent popular sentiment became stronger and larger at the same time owing to a classic ‘bandwagon effect.’
This created an audience-grabbing suspense; the question was: ‘will the government give in before Anna passes the point of no return?’ The prospect of a brave death draws a crowd in the media, especially if it is going to be on principle in support of a cause so many believe in.
This gripping drama, easy to follow and relentlessly repeated in the media, transfixed India and achieved world attention as few stories do (amplified and accelerated by social networks).
I don’t know if there was a public relations strategy devised and implemented by ‘Team Anna.’ If there was, I would give it high marks for results, because it looks like the Anna phenomenon is poised to effect political reforms and changes for the better.
1. Thanks to Prema Sagar and Rahul Sharma for sharing their insights on this topic…both brilliant observers of the India public affairs scene.
2. I was already working on my Anna article when I saw this Reuters blog and thought the headline was perfect and so have repurposed it here in this post’s title.
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