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.
June 14th, 2013 / 3:42 am
I was honoured to speak recently in Bangkok [pictures here] at the Asia-Pacific unveiling of ‘Humanitarianism in the Network Age’ (HINA), a groundbreaking new United Nations social media study.
HINA examines the implications for how a world of increasingly informed, connected and self-reliant communities will affect the delivery of humanitarian aid. It lays out some of the most pertinent features of these new technologies, such as SMS, social media and others, and identifies the opportunities and difficulties in applying them.
With so much social media content published by multinational corporations aimed at marketing to affluent consumers, I find this excellent report refreshing because it addresses the aspirations and interests of many millions of people who don’t normally make it into the everyday digital story frame.
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
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.
September 1st, 2010 / 11:00 pm
This morning I delivered this presentation to the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. We discussed the crafting and co-creation of persuasive narratives, digital storytelling through the newsfeed with stakeholders, the production and packaging of content for the new public mind, and how the art of PR is becoming more of a science.
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…
January 20th, 2010 / 9:00 pm
Today it was my pleasure to guest lecture two classes of PR students at Toronto’s Humber College. To say the least, I was impressed about the extent to which these bright and engaging students have a contemporary command of the forces of change shaping the future of public relations. Here’s a copy of my presentation deck:
- 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
- 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
- I wonder why the Australian Prime Minister is personally making so many statements to the world media about MH370?
- RT @PRWeekUS: A new agency star rises in the East by @Steve_J_Barrett | http://t.co/j7qAGOGFPm