February 14th, 2013 / 3:50 am
At the invitation of my friend Dr. Michael Netzley, I recently delivered this presentation at the Lee Kong Chian School of Business in Singapore Management University on the topic of “Digital and social media across Asia-Pacific markets.” It provides a general overview of digital dynamics in Asia-Pacific and outlines some communications approaches designed to resonate with social media communities.
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.
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:
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.
July 9th, 2011 / 2:16 am
June 1st, 2011 / 7:51 am
I first moved to Asia a decade ago. Those days, when people in the public relations business referred to ‘global multinationals,’ it was almost always in reference to Western companies communicating from the outside into Asia.
All of this is changing, and changing very fast: large numbers of rising Asian multinationals are starting to communicate on a truly global basis as never before, and even the reluctant Japanese companies – faced with a dire, declining domestic marketplace – see the urgent need to aggressively invest in international PR.
Based on the statistics, we shouldn’t be too surprised. According to a new Forbes list published last year, a whopping 34% of the world’s top 2,000 companies are now based in Asia.
Maybe most of these 689 companies are generally unknown around the world. But often for imitative reasons following what the old Western multinationals have done before them, these new Asian multinationals increasingly believe that communications can help them build profile and secure competitive advantage. Thus many are asking themselves: “What is PR and how can we use it to help achieve our commercial objectives overseas?” Given the enormous potential that this market represents, the opportunities for the PR industry are compelling and we in the agency business had better be ready to provide some convincing answers.
I can tell you right now that while this next-generation multinational communications market is going through the roof and will be substantial, capitalizing on this trend is without a doubt among the toughest challenges in PR consulting.
Those lacking patience and perseverance need not apply for this kind of work. Quite a few of these ascendant multinationals are complete newcomers to modern marketing, and so convincing them to conduct pioneering PR campaigns can be a daunting proposition to say the least.
Cultivating relationships carefully, understanding the cultural elements in play, starting slowly with a few often underfunded projects to build confidence, and checking arrogant attitudes at the door are all prerequisites to success.
Keeping in mind that inside many an Asian corporation saving ‘face’ can be much more important than Facebook, social media represents both a challenge and an opportunity.
On the one hand, it can be difficult to persuade conservative executives accustomed to exercising the prerogative of top-down control that nowadays the credibility of communication comes from peer-to-peer conversation with people who expect to be heard. But on the other hand, because digital is by definition about data, now we can furnish the tangibility of numbers and proof of PR’s power to make the abstract elements of communications more understood in a clear way that commands greater budgetary resources.
Dynamic talent combinations agency-side are key; that means world calibre foreigners with face-to-face relationship interface in the Asian headquarters cities, working in tandem with senior Asians posted in key Western markets. In the past, it’s just been the former, but now the latter is de rigueur for firms serious about surfing the next wave of commercial opportunity in the world of PR.
This is a picture of me and my colleague Margaret Key with my good friend and former client Michael Choo of Kia Motors Corporation. Back in 2002 when I lived in Seoul, Kia become the first rising Asian multinational I counseled on international communications. It was among the toughest and most satisfying assignments of my public relations career.
December 20th, 2010 / 6:33 pm
The North Korean surprise artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island will not influence Korea’s positive national brand image.
“Korean society was not deterred by the North Korean forces’ provocation, and neither was I, having arrived only seven days after the incident,” explained Bob Pickard, the President and CEO of leading communications consultancy Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific.
Events like this used to have a significant impact on foreign investment. However, things unfolded quite differently this time in Korea. Pickard considered the successful hosting of the G-20 summit as one of the reasons. According to Pickard, foreigners now know Korea given its recent role as the host of the G-20 summit and they also view Korea as a developed country.
“Korea’s geopolitically unstable image was improved by intensive efforts before and after the G-20 summit,” said Pickard. The situation may have been different if the North Korea provocation had occurred before the G-20.
Pickard stressed that Korea should not settle for the status quo. “Korea should focus on making ‘positive contrast’ with North Korea as one of its key brand management strategies and communicate consistently,” said Pickard. He explained that issues should not be centered on negative content, such as North Korean provocations or damage to South Korea. Instead, the ‘positive contrast’ should emphasize the strong attributes of South Korea.
He explained that South Korea should build a ‘mind and smart thinking’ image to reflect sharp contrast with North Korea’s ‘muscle and brute force’ and promote an open image against the traditionally closed stance of North Korea. “Without even mentioning North Korea in the process, the ‘positive contrast’ is made by promoting the strong attributes of South Korea,” Pickard added.
“Three adjectives that describe Korea’s national brand image are: dynamic, passionate, and fast. Korea can succeed by employing different national branding strategies based on these images,” said Pickard.
August 21st, 2010 / 7:00 am
A few weeks ago while in Beijing, I was interviewed by China’s PR Magazine. Click here for the English translation.
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.
April 24th, 2010 / 3:08 am
On April 23rd, I gave a speech to the 5th Annual Opinion Mining Workshop in Seoul. Attended by 150 academics, marketers, and social media thought leaders, the event was hosted by Daumsoft, a very exciting Korean company that among other things provides ultra-advanced business intelligence-gathering and media monitoring systems using their text mining technology. Here’s a copy of the presentation that I delivered:
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- New ranking of the top Chinese brands: http://t.co/81RHweXZDM | Today’s Chinese brands, tomorrow’s global brands
- Is PR a young person’s game? http://t.co/gHdaWZAgfp | Agency demographics skew young but the key is diversity rather than age of experience
- RT @communicateasia: NYT reporter decries PR use of media databases. Has the practice gotten out of control? http://t.co/e2pOFOlok3
- The climate change PR disaster: http://t.co/F5bIHgIN48 | via @holmesreport & @ArunSudhaman
- RT @digible: A brief guide to China's media landscape: http://t.co/hYHDwlqXRx | @danwei
- Creative tools for communicating climate change: http://t.co/jCnbmN3v7t | Speech by @AndrewRevkin at the 'Crowds & Climate' conference
- The classic Bob Newhart TV interview video: http://t.co/oQy7ZFGSAb | A favorite media training clip which I used many times in past
- The #PR function needs to be braver: http://t.co/KXp1fPIRfl | Unilever’s Sanchez is spot-on | via @MarketingEds
- @LPlus Thanks for the warm welcome to the Advisory Board. I am looking forward to helping drive the PR effort for @CrowdWeek #crowdweek
- I'm excited about joining the Advisory Board of @CrowdWeek: http://t.co/VW1JnF0HVu | Communications for the collaboration economy | @LPlus