Bob Pickard Facebook Bob Pickard Flickr Bob Pickard Foursquare Bob Pickard Pinterest Bob Pickard LinkedIn Bob Pickard Slideshare Bob Pickard Stumble Upon Bob Pickard Twitter Bob Pickard YouTube Bob Pickard RSS

A decade doing PR in Asia

July 7th, 2012 / 4:35 am

It was exactly ten years ago today that I arrived in Asia at Seoul to start writing a brand new chapter in my communications career (after 12 years working in the North American PR industry). Reflecting back on that decade now, I feel so fortunate to be living in such a dynamic part of the world where sometimes it seems everything is always pointing in only one upward direction.

But that’s not always true (consider the case of Japan), and Asia is no stranger to business cycles. In 2002, memories in much of the region were still fresh from the 1997 financial crisis. At that time, the IMF, Wall Street investment banks and Western governments were ladling out unsolicited advice in heaping helpings to cash strapped Asian countries.

I remember such a smug condescension in communication from West to East during those days!

Of course, since the 2008 meltdown in America through the present day debt debacle in Europe, we have seen Asia quickly go from being the poor student to an increasingly affluent teacher, communicating with a humble tone admirably absent the kind of arrogant superiority to which Eastern ears had become accustomed to hearing in past.

The staggeringly rapid shift in economic power towards Asia is gathering momentum, and Western companies and people need to get used to it and update their outlook accordingly. Old assumptions and stereotypes need to change to conform to the new realities.

History teaches us repeatedly that as the economic centre of gravity goes, so goes the cultural and communications power. We see this happening now, whether it’s the Korean Wave or the rise of Bollywood while Hollywood declines or record expansion of the Chinese media globally while Western broadcasters cut overseas budgets.

In the global public relations business, Asia is also rising. The flow of Western talent and treasure into the region is well known in our industry, but less visible is the advance of many powerful Asian consultancies with international ambitions which are rising fast.

I’ve written about the rise of this region in the world of PR before, but on my 10th anniversary here I would like to share 10 truths about PR in Asia that especially Westerners in their home markets might consider:

1.  Communication should start with humble listening, not boastful talking

Especially at a time when communication is becoming more and more about conversation on social networks, succeeding in this new Asian age demands listening and thinking with an open mind attuned to modern Asian sensibilities, not just talking and bulldozing ahead with traditional Western approaches.

2.  What works in America or Europe doesn’t necessarily work in Asia

It’s a common sense point, isn’t it? But time after time, I see public relations effectiveness in Asia needlessly compromised by presuming that the way PR is done in New York or London will be effective in Tokyo or Hong Kong. Whether it’s how media relations is conducted or the way that communities form on social networks or even how people use language to communicate, the Asian experience can be markedly different than Western ways.

3.  Asia is not a country

Indeed, as far as PR campaigns are concerned, there really is no such thing as a market called ‘Asia.’ It’s amazing to me the cookie-cutter assumptions I sometimes encounter about doing PR here; as if what works in China will work in India even though within each, there is an incredible degree of demographic, cultural, and linguistic variation.

4.  Asian PR merits serious investment

Communicating with such diverse constituencies can command considerable PR resources, because operating in multiple languages takes much more staff time, which costs more money. When you consider the economic pressures of rising salary expectations in countries where the GDP is growing (not to mention high inflation levels in many markets), then higher prices than one has historically expected of Asia can be anticipated.

Stereotypes should not set PR budgets; Asian PR can already seem expensive compared to what many have assumed in the past. I’ve seen no shortage of situations where someone thinks that if PR costs a certain level in the West, then it should surely cost much less in the East, where ‘there’s much more cheap labour to go around.’ The problem is, in many Asian countries, PR is a relatively new or emerging field of endeavour, meaning that there’s a large demand for a much smaller supply of experienced PR people, driving prices up. Then there’s the expectation that all PR staff must be fluently bilingual in an international firm, in markets where often huge majorities of the population do not speak English, meaning all the recruitment demand fishes in a tiny bilingual talent pond that further steepens the cost spiral.

5.  Quality is the thing

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. Education must be at the heart of building a premium PR brand in Asia. As especially friends in North Asia will remember, 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.”

6.  English fluency is no guarantee of success

In many Asian PR offices, the best writer in the language that matters in the market may not communicate in English so well. When I ran offices in Seoul and Tokyo, some of our best media relations people couldn’t speak much English but the clients sure loved the publicity results. English fluency is no guarantee of a great strategic mind, and there can be these apple-polishing bilingual poseurs who manage overseas audiences well in the language of convenience for head office.

7.  Forget the cultural condescension

Partly because English is a second language in Asia (meaning many PR people may not be so keen to challenge and engage in fast-moving debate in English at meetings and on conference calls), there is still this widespread sense that Western PR is somehow superior to or more advanced than Asian PR, but in my experience that’s not objectively valid nor relevant in most circumstances. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen loquacious foreigners come to Asia with the attitude that the Asian PR people are a relatively ignorant audience whereas they are like oracles. A more peer-to-peer approach always earns the most goodwill. Let’s also note that Asia is now teaching PR lessons of its own, as we see with the worldwide rise of ‘apology communications.’

8.  Asian PR citizens of the world

A few years ago when I was running the Korean operation of another agency, I attended one of its meetings in Washington, DC when I made what I regarded as a statement of the obvious: “The global PR firm that attracts and champions the Asian talent will be the PR firm that wins in Asia.” I was challenged on that point by someone there, and was told that “the Asians look to the expatriate for leadership.” It was ironic to hear that kind of outdated talk, because my Korean successor was sitting in the room with me, and I think a key reason our office was the fastest-growing at that time in our company was the fact that the Korean staff knew he would be taking over after my two-year term and felt highly motivated by that eventuality (he and they went on to grow the business bigger than it was during my tenure).

There have been some stories lately about how because of ailing Western economies, job-seekers are heading East to Asia looking for opportunities. I don’t doubt it, but actually there have always been plenty of people heading to Asia; in the PR world, the flow in the other direction has been more like a trickle.

The Asian going West in an international PR firm — more so than vice-versa in my experience — can face many obstacles: stereotypes about whether people from their country can do well in the target country, assumptions about their ‘quality level’ (see above), questions about their language capability, whether they will find ample client business to fund their relocation, how adaptable they will be to a new cultural context, etc.

The priority must be on achieving diversity, not conforming to be the same. That’s why cross-border transfers in our consultancy aren’t rare; they are routine – and sincere (i.e. not primarily designed to prevent people being poached by a rival firm).

9.  Asia as a global platform

For many years, the dominant trend in Asian PR for multinationals was the import of Western money, ideas and people into the region, but now we we’re starting to see significant export of all these things from Asia by all kinds of exciting emerging multinationals (who will become globally famous from Asia for the first time on a digital marketing platform).

Just about every other week we see major Western multinationals anchoring important international headquarters and global functions into Asian centres like Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai. Some PR firms are seizing this opportunity and putting global functions into the region – such as the leadership of our energy practice based in Beijing – but alas others still have the attitude that anything ‘worldwide’ must of course be based in a Western centre like New York or London.

10.  ‘Face’ is just as important as Facebook

Probably the most important perspective you gain by actually living in Asia over several years is an innate feeling for the all-important ‘face‘ dynamic. Time and again, I’ve seen Westerners make costly mistakes in Asian commercial situations because they just don’t get it. In my opinion, grasping and mastering ‘face communications’ is the most important thing to know about doing PR in Asia.

I can’t write any blog on this topic without mentioning the value of relationships, which I think tend to have a different and often a more durable dynamic in Asia. During an era when a world with a shrinking attention span is embracing the transactional ways of fast-moving cool ‘digital’ technology, there is a special significance to the warmth of  face-to-face ‘analogue’ relationships that stand the test of time.

Generally when doing business in Asia, I think the feeling is more ‘relationship first, contract second’ rather than ‘contract first, then relationship.’

Compared to what I knew working on the other side of the Pacific where needlessly aggressive and often angry e-mail communication is certainly not uncommon, here I find relatively friendly – if often spirited – face-to-face encounters are more the norm when it comes to solving disputes and finding common ground.

Or maybe I’m just imagining that, having been over here a very long time now…

Categories: Asia
comments(17) Tags: , ,


The rise of Asia in the world of PR

August 17th, 2010 / 9:00 am

These days the media is filled with stories about Asia’s economic advance, and the public relations industry is no exception to the regional macroeconomic trend. If the business momentum of Burson-Marsteller in this part of the world is a good commercial gauge, then there’s a rising tide of PR investment in Asia and we can certainly expect the trend to continue.

For international communications firms based in Western countries and their multinational clients, Asia’s ascendancy represents either a great chance to ride the new PR wave to a truly global prosperity or a big risk to miss the boat entirely and be left standing on Western shores.

Winning in this new Asian century of PR demands listening and thinking with an open mind attuned to modern Asian sensibilities, not just talking and executing and bulldozing ahead with traditional Western approaches.

I think understanding the following factors will help determine which outcome occurs:

What works in America or Europe doesn’t necessarily work in Asia

It’s a common-sense point, isn’t it? But time after time, I see public relations effectiveness in Asia needlessly compromised by presuming that the way PR is done in New York or London will be effective in Shanghai or Mumbai. Whether it’s how media relations is conducted or the way that communities form on social networks or even how people communicate, the Asian experience can be markedly different than Western ways.

…and Asia is not a country

Indeed, as far as PR campaigns are concerned, there really is no such thing as a market called ‘Asia.’ It’s amazing to me the cookie-cutter assumptions I sometimes encounter about doing PR here; as if what works in China will work in India even though within each, there is an incredible degree of demographic, cultural, and linguistic variation.

Asian PR merits serious investment

Communicating with such diverse constituencies can command considerable PR resources, because operating in multiple languages takes much more staff time, which costs more money. When you consider the economic pressures of rising salary expectations in countries where the GDP is going through the roof with double-digit growth, then higher prices than one has historically expected of Asia can be anticipated.

Stereotypes should not set PR budgets

Asian PR can already seem expensive compared to what many have assumed in the past. I’ve seen no shortage of situations where someone thinks that if PR costs a certain level in the West, then it should surely cost much less in the East, where ‘there’s much more cheap labour to go around.’ The problem is, in many Asian countries, PR is a relatively new or emerging field of endeavor, meaning that there’s a large demand for a much smaller supply of experienced PR people, driving prices up. Then there’s the expectation that all PR staff must be fluently bilingual in an international firm, in markets where often huge majorities of the population do not speak English, meaning all the recruitment demand fishes in a tiny bilingual talent pond that further increases the cost spiral.

Quality is the thing

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. 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.”

English fluency is no guarantee of success

In many Asian PR offices, the best writer in the language that matters in the market may not communicate in English so well. When I ran offices in North Asia, some of our best media relations people couldn’t speak much English but the clients sure loved the publicity results. English fluency is no guarantee of a great strategic mind, and there can be bilingual poseurs who manage overseas audiences well in the language of convenience for head office.

Forget the cultural condescension

Partly because English is a second language in Asia (meaning many PR people may not be so keen to challenge and engage in fast-moving debate in English at meetings and on conference calls), there is still this widespread sense that Western PR is somehow superior to or more advanced than Asian PR, but in my experience that’s not objectively valid nor relevant in most circumstances. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen foreigners come to Asia with the attitude that the Asian PR people are the students and they are teachers when a more peer-to-peer approach would earn the most goodwill. Let’s also note that Asia is now teaching PR lessons of its own, as we see with the worldwide rise of apology PR.

Remember the Asian talent

A few years ago when I was running the Korean operation of another agency, I attended one of its meetings in Washington, DC when I made what I regarded as a statement of the obvious: “The global PR firm that attracts and champions the Asian talent will be the PR firm that wins in Asia.” I was challenged on that point by someone there, and was told that “the Asians look to the expatriate for leadership.” It was ironic to hear that kind of outdated talk, because my Korean successor was sitting in the room with me, and I think a key reason our office was the fastest-growing at that time in our company was the fact that the Korean staff knew he would be taking over after my two-year term and felt highly motivated by that eventuality (he and they went on to grow the business bigger than it was during my tenure).

Asia as a global platform

For many years, the dominant trend in Asian PR for multinationals was the import of Western money, ideas and people into the region, but now we we’re starting to see significant export of all these things from Asia by all kinds of exciting emerging multinationals. Some companies are seizing this opportunity and putting global functions in Asia, but alas others still have the attitude that anything global must be based in a Western centre like New York or Chicago or maybe London. PR firms have certainly suffered from this myopic tendency, but not in our case (we have some global functions located in Asia, such as the leadership of our energy practice based in Beijing).

Asian PR citizens of the world

There have been some stories lately about how because of ailing Western economies, job-seekers are heading East to Asia looking for opportunities. I don’t doubt it, but actually there have always been plenty of people heading to Asia; in the PR world, the flow in the other direction has been more like a trickle. The Asian going West in an international PR firm — more so than vice-versa in my experience — can face many obstacles: stereotypes about whether people from their country can do well in the target country, assumptions about their ‘quality level’ (see above), questions about their language capability, whether they will find ample client business to fund their relocation, how adaptable they will be to a new cultural context, etc.

I’m really proud that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Burson-Marsteller is that we have a very large exchange of professionals around the world, with robust people flows in all directions. Indeed, I consider the truly international character of B-M one of our greatest competitive assets. Here the priority is on being diverse, not conforming to be the same. Cross-border transfers in our consultancy aren’t rare; they are routine.

Relationships matter most

I can’t write any blog about PR in Asia without mentioning the value of relationships, which tend to have a different and often a more durable dynamic in Asia. During an era when a world with a shrinking attention span is embracing the transactional ways of fast-moving cool ‘digital’ technology, there is a special significance to the warmth of  face-to-face ‘analogue’ relationships that stand the test of time.

Indeed, it’s where the online meets the offline that’s the ‘sweet spot’ of PR in Asia, but more on that in a future post…


Categories: Asia
comments(10) Tags: , , ,


Au revoir to Canada

February 28th, 2010 / 1:00 pm

In a few hours my family and I leave Canada to re-join the 2.8 million our our fellow citizens overseas. We do so with mixed feelings, the nature of which I would like to express in this blog post.

I couldn’t be prouder to be Canadian, especially right now with my country’s class-act performance as a host and as a contender in the Olympic Games. This video narrated by Tom Brokaw and broadcast by NBC heralds a lot of Canadian virtues that are famous here but unknown elsewhere. What brought a smile to my face was this article in The Wall Street Journal: Canada group makes medals its business. The idea that such a determined and dynamic group of Canadians should unite around a high-impact initiative centred on competing with the world and winning is a refreshing tonic to what can tend to be the lassitude of our national efforts against those of other countries in other fields of endeavour.

Look at the hollowing-out of multinational Canadian enterprise. How many famous Canadian companies are known and respected around the world? You can count them on one hand, and still have fingers left over. It is telling that a country so big and blessed with resources should punch so below its weight in global business. Contrast our experience to that of the South Koreans, who with a small territory and scant resources transformed one of the world’s poorest countries over 50 years into a global economic powerhouse with corporations such as Hyundai, Kia, LG, and Samsung proud international champions.

As a people, we travel well and there is a vast network of Canadians around the world in leading positions across diverse fields. But if Canadians are going overseas to work, it seems more often than not that it is for the companies of other countries. If we want to be complacent about the future and live an easy life off our natural bounty and leave the ownership of our economy to others, we seem to be on the right track.

People at home have a mixed reaction to the overseas Canadian. While there is a widespread  respect for Canadians who gain global experience, in some quarters there is a vague resentment for different reasons.

Yet if you ask people in my own public relations industry if they would want to gain international credentials, in my experience Canadians tend more than their American counterparts to answer in the affirmative. In general, we Canadians certainly don’t lack confidence in our global suitability, what with past tourism slogans such as “The world needs more Canada.”

One thing is for sure: Canada needs more of the world in terms of immigration to keep its population growing. If there’s an irony I’ve noticed, it’s how a country with such incredible multiculturalism and nearly one in five of its citizens foreign-born, overseas we don’t do nearly enough to leverage our human resources for Canadian interests (because, again, there are so few world-scale Canadian organizations).

In many ways, Canada is arguably the world’s first ‘post-modern’ nation and I am happy that the Olympics have helped to showcase our strengths. Perhaps with the boost to our national confidence of these games, more of the hard work, the valuing of education, the attitude of being the best we can be will infuse us with a greater ambition to succeed and the will to win.

Every day, I will miss the good humour, free spirit, considerable creativity and restless intelligence of the people of Canada. I will not miss the frequent failure to think big, the sense of entitlement to prosperity, the petty regional parochialism, and delusions about our place in the world which give us comfort but don’t help us secure our global interests (even though we have every ability to achieve them).

I love Canada more than ever having been abroad, maybe a bit like how the Apollo 8 astronauts came to appreciate the Earth’s fragility when they saw it from space for the first time.

I’m really going to miss my family and friends, but thank goodness for broadband penetration and the ubiquity of telecommunications networks. I just wish we could experience the fresh air and wide open spaces of Canada using Skype.

Categories: culture
comments(4) Tags: ,


Two weeks into a great PR job

February 16th, 2010 / 7:00 am

The expression ‘drinking from the fire hose’ seems an apt one for my first two weeks as the new CEO of Burson-Marsteller in Asia-Pacific. In starting a new job in the information and networking business that is modern PR, the amount of data one needs to instantly absorb and the extent of relationships that must be suddenly forged is fantastic. It’s a pity we humans don’t come pre-equipped with pattern recognition software hard-wired into our brains.

My first day was spent in our firm’s Washington, DC office, which is a research-rich public relations and public affairs powerhouse. Given my lifelong passion for politics, I felt really alive there, like I was in a campaign headquarters with election day looming just around the corner. What I especially noticed is the ubiquity of bright and talented young people working in senior positions alongside profoundly experienced colossi of the PR and research worlds. In a way, the place had the meritocratic feel of Star Trek, where the best and brightest have well earned the top spots on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Then I proceeded to New York, where the B-M office has all the hustle and bustle that one expects of a Big Apple operation. Its substantial quality atmosphere is a distinguishing characteristic, evidenced in the apparent confidence of people who know that they are at the top of their game. The history and gravitas of the firm are unmistakable and I found the NY folks friendly, focused and unusually dedicated to their clients and colleagues. Many of them were kind enough to come and hear me provide a presentation in tandem with the showing of this superb TED video that plots the future trajectory of Asia’s economic rise. On my last day, I shot this video with the delightful Rose Gordon of PR Week.

Following that, it was on to Singapore aboard SQ-21, the world’s longest non-stop flight. As a Canadian who a few days earlier had been shivering in Toronto’s bracing -20 weather, I found Singapore’s +30 degrees an extreme antidote to the winter. The warmth of the welcome I received was commensurate with with the equatorial heat. Our office in Singapore is bursting at the seams owing to rapid growth, and having met many of the staff, I can understand why space will continue to be at a premium.

A few days later, I discovered much the same in our fast-growing Hong Kong office, where I learned first-hand about the massive bench strength B-M offers in public affairs and corporate communications. What I didn’t know beforehand is the top talent and growing business of the firm in the area of brand marketing. I also noticed here, as elsewhere in the region, the fact that while my new firm excels at telling the stories of world multinationals in Asia, it also champions Asian multinationals communicating their stories with the world.

Actually, compared to what I was expecting and to my past experience (having competed staunchly against B-M for years), I found that my new consultancy:

  • is considerably larger than what I had been told and also faster growing
  • excels at doing all kinds of great digital work that clients count on every day
  • offers an above average consistency of quality service across practices and geographies
  • has a far more sophisticated program focused on large multinational clients than I’ve ever seen before
  • consists of generally happy people who seem to feel that the journey is just as important as the destination
  • offers advanced financial systems and a well developed human resources infrastructure competently run with a sincere interest in employees’ lives
  • invests heavily in serious evidence-based intellectual capital that’s actually applied to the task of devising client communications programs (rather than just agency marketing)

B-M is not perfect and there are certainly areas for development in my turf (foremost among them is spreading the word more about the under-appreciated positives above), but these are the stand-out characteristics that I noticed.

Now that I’m into my third week (four if you include the days I spent personally responding to 778 congratulatory e-mails after my announcement went out), I feel confident in saying that B-M in Asia:

  • will always aim at setting a new PR standard with a relentless focus on achieving certainty of positive business outcomes delivered through client-centric consulting excellence
  • will be driven by an ambition to be the best we can be through continuous improvement to maintain our premier position

Yes, you can tell that I am now advocating my new company’s point of view, and more likely to emphasize that our glass is half-full. One of the things I have respected most about B-M over the years is that it didn’t need to call itself a thought leader to actually be one. But this is no time for complacency about our offer. These days, the competition is out there self-heralding its attributes more aggressively than ever, so I feel we need to underline where we are strong and growing with an evidence-based confidence that I am told by our veteran players has always been at the core of B-M’s corporate character.

I’m a greenhorn in the company with lots to learn (and no doubt many mistakes to make), but these are some of the the experiences I’ve gained during these early weeks. I’m so busy now that maintaining this blog will be hard, but I’ll try and keep at it.

Categories: blog
comments(2) Tags: ,


Apology PR: Asia’s latest export to the world?

January 15th, 2010 / 4:00 pm

When I moved from North America to North Asia in 2002, South Korea was roiled by the horrible death of two young school girls who were run over by a U.S. military vehicle (gruesome pictures of which were posted online). Afterward there were mass anti-U.S. demonstrations around the American Embassy in Seoul, located right next door to the Edelman office where I then worked. Feelings against America were running so high, I made a point of wearing my Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey when I went to the office, wading through what at times was an angry mob.

One reason why the anti-American passion was running so high? What some felt was the slow speed of the apology for the deaths from President Bush, pouring fuel on the cultural fire in a part of the world where a timely and appropriate apology is de rigeur.

Compared to the West — and especially to America, where I lived for several years — one of the first things I noticed living in Asia is how rapidly and frequently apologies are offered across a wide range of circumstances. At first, this seemed too quaint and maybe excessively ‘weak.’ Why apologize for something that’s not proven to be your fault? That was my attitude then. But over time, I came to believe that the generous Asian approach to apology ensures more harmonious and friendly relationships between people, contributing to civility in society and helping prevent angry public outbursts that one sees more often in Western societies.

Indeed, I increasingly found my own culture’s approach to apology callous and calculating; a tactic of last resort if there’s no other way out of a situation. I had reflected on this issue before, because in my role as a PR consultant to clients experiencing crisis situations, I have repeatedly fought battles with lawyers who always seem to insist that there should never be an apology if a company does something wrong, lest there be legal liability as a result.

All too often, the lawyers win the ‘apology war’, but it’s a pity because simply saying that harm has occurred and showing that you feel bad or sad about what’s happened evidences human empathy and does not constitute an admission of guilt. The Asians certainly appreciate that, and because the lawyers do not reign so supreme in their societies, PR people don’t need to ‘induce’ public apologies that are already a natural cultural response.

Thus, for example, the reflexive bowing at Japanese news conferences if ‘mistakes have been made,’ which even if sometimes reluctant and slow to happen — often a problem with foreign companies in Japan such as Schindler — is such a humble admission that public acceptance usually follows and the media is likely to move on to something else. Indeed, the media ‘pile on’ that happens to organizations or people who have erred often seems like society’s way of extracting an expected apology.

Does that thinking sound familiar? It should, because during recent years — and I have noticed this change since I returned to North America — the spectacle of public apology has become far more frequent in Western countries. There certainly have been many media stories about this tendency lately and the whole area of ‘apology communications’ has become very trendy in PR circles. In an age when so many people fashion themselves as ‘PR experts,’ the apology as the fast way to ‘get the media off your back’ if something bad has happened is now a commonplace theme.

Look at what happened to Tiger Woods when his apology was slow and selective, rather than speedy and seemingly sincere.

On both sides of the Pacific these days, if you are slow to apologize, then people are less likely to trust the sincerity of the apology when it finally does come. Just ask Mark McGwire or any of the executives bowing at Japanese news conferences who are especially sorry that they got caught doing something wrong (which in many cases they could have sincerely admitted much earlier had they been proactively transparent…).

Early in my PR career, I learned about the ‘CAP formula’ for crisis communications. Show Compassion, take Action, provide Perspective. Nowadays, in Asia and worldwide, I think it has really become the CAAP formula: Compassion, Apology, Action, and Perspective. There are even websites now that specialize in apology techniques.

For so many years, there has been this cultural condescension towards Asia; this sense that Western communications are always more advanced and thus American and European PR methods have been widely imported and adapted. In the area of apology communications, the reverse is true and I think the export of Asian apology sensibility is likely a change for the better.

[If you are interested in the apology element of professional communications, check out this excellent article by my former Hill & Knowlton colleague Boyd Neil. If you can read Korean, one of the top Asian thought leaders in this space with significant material online is the brilliant Hoh Kim, my successor at Edelman Korea who is now doing his PhD thesis in this area at KAIST].

Categories: blog, crisis communications
comments(3) Tags: , , ,







Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.