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The PR industry remains strong

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.

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B-M confident of Southeast Asian expansion

December 29th, 2010 / 9:10 am

Burson-Marsteller is expanding its footprint in Southeast Asia as the region is among the most dynamic worldwide, says its Asia-Pacific president and CEO Bob Pickard.

While Singapore is Burson-Marsteller’s biggest market, Indonesia and Malaysia are quickly catching up, he said. Burson-Marsteller also has affiliate partnerships in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. Pickard said the agency is currently looking at interesting opportunities in the Vietnam market, as well as strengthening its ties in Thailand.

Building a strong brand is vital in Southeast Asia as there is a tendency for the PR industry to become bland and commoditised, he said.

The agency believes it is well-positioned to target the Southeast Asian market through its focus on quality PR consulting, digital work and closer affiliate partnerships in the region.

Making Burson-Marsteller a premier brand in Southeast Asia is a priority because “that is what our clients want”, Pickard said in an interview last month.

He said Burson-Marsteller’s Malaysian office, which was launched in November, would be tapping into the demand for premium quality PR, evidenced in the “impatient restlessness of clients shifting from one agency to another”.

“Clients will try one PR firm and when they won’t deliver, they’ll switch. We see a lot of client money restlessly shifting from one agency to the next in this search for quality consulting that we’re trying to provide,” he said, adding that quality — not price — was where the opportunities lay.

Pickard explained that a Malaysian office was necessary due to heightened interest for multinational PR in the weeks following the announcement of its affiliate tie-up with Essence Communications in May.

He said that that the tie-up with Essence Communications would continue to focus on PR in the area of general publicity and consumer marketing communications. Burson-Marsteller Malaysia would then concentrate on servicing corporate accounts of Asian and international multinational corporations (MNCs) in the area of corporate communications, digital communications, financial communications.

He said affiliate partnerships were not an unusual arrangement, especially since both Burson-Marsteller and Essence Communications share the same parent company — WPP Group.

Recognising that “the most exciting digital work” is happening in Asia, Pickard said the company was sending Asian talent to around the world via transfers — “exporting Asian talent instead of the traditional imports of multinational money, ideas and people”.

“Asian customers who have a global story to tell want a face-to-face relationship in Asia but they want a team to push their agenda and ideas to a global network,” he said.

There is also “huge untapped potential” in digital PR consulting in Asia, said Pickard, citing figures from the Burson-Marsteller’s Asia-Pacific Social Media Study launched in October.

The study reviewed and analysed social media activity by 120 major companies across 12 markets in Asia-Pacific; Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

The companies surveyed comprise the top 10 companies per country as ranked in the 2009 Wall Street Journal Asia 200 Index.

“We found that less than half (40%) of Asian MNCs had a branded social media presence, compared to twice as many Western MNCs in a similar study. And 55% of that 40% were not using actively what they had established. Statistics show enormous consumption of video in Malaysia yet many companies were not sharing the life of their companies through digital means,” he said.

He said the agency was looking to make digital hires. Helmed by Burson-Marsteller director and market leader Joycelyn Lee, the Malaysian office currently has six staff, including  Fleishman-Hillard Kuala Lumpur’s former corporate and finance account director Jida Zainal Azman and  former digital strategist Kelvin Lim.

Pickard said from being based on “the artistry of face-to-face relationships”, the PR industry has evolved to include “the science of highly measurable evidence-based undertaking”.

“We have to know analytics, the content side of media in a way like never before. We need relationship connections not just between dozens of journalists but thousands of people.”

The agency practises talent transfers, where employees are posted overseas to be exposed to different cultures across different markets. Not only do employees benefit from the talent transfer experience but clients too appreciate the wider perspective, he said. Talent is about diversity, he said, adding that all the agency’s offices were interested in employing people of various nationalities.

“The PR firm that invests most massively into training and educating intellectual property will be the firm that bright young talents would want to work for.

And that’s the firm clients would wish to hire,” he said.

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