Five thoughts on the debut Asia-Pacific PR and Communications Census

Written by Dr. Clāra Ly-Le MPRCA, Managing Director, EloQ Communications

I’ve enjoyed being a PRCA Southeast Asia member since it launched in the region last year, and I was pleased to be asked to provide comments for its new regional Census, which is a hugely valuable source of data and analysis on the public relations profession in the region.

Having had a look through the report, here’s a few more of my thoughts on what it all means.

1 – Diversity means creativity

I’m not surprised to see data on PR’s diverse mix of ethnicities, nationalities and languages. I certainly find most APAC PR practitioners speak both their mother-tongue and English and I think the more languages they know, the better – this is a globalized industry after all. Having this diverse workforce is so important – it can not only increase our creativity but also help PR agencies to understand a more diverse client base, and cater our campaigns for more people.

In general, this is an industry which I think is more accepting and welcoming of diversity than other industries, and I believe no matter what background, education level, demographics or disadvantage a person has, as long as he or she has the right attitude and determination to learn, they can excel in PR.

2 – Client satisfaction is king

I definitely believe it is important that PR considers itself a profession, rather than just an industry – what else is it, if not? PR should consider itself a profession to create a positive self-image and encourage practitioners to work in a responsible and strategic way.

Evaluation is definitely important to this, but I think that all evaluation methods are relative. The best evaluation is clients’ satisfaction, and each client has different evaluation criteria. It’s hard to say which method/framework means most until you work with them.

3 – Back to what we should be doing

Looking at which tasks are getting more and less important for PR people, I predict that in future editions of the Census, digital/social media will continue to increase in importance and be selected as the main function of more than 50% of respondents. But I don’t think this should be thought of as meaning we need to fight against digital or ad agencies – we should be working hand-in-hand with each other.

As for the things getting less important, I agree that sales promotion is now less relevant. PR, in its very essence, is about building and maintaining reputation, not about directly increasing sales – this is a part of marketing. That misunderstanding has gone a long way, but it now seems like we’re back to doing what PR should be doing.

4 – We need to talk about wellbeing

I’m surprised and sad to see some of the findings around wellbeing and the lack of benefits on offer to PR professionals. Employers should be offering things like regular health checks, stress management, and opportunities to relax and socialise.

But it is a complex issue – we all accept that some level of stress and pressure is natural in a job where you are often expected to be available to clients outside of working hours, and react quickly to difficult situations. This can be very unhealthy, and PR leaders absolutely need to work on policies and solutions to overcome this issue.

5 – Reward and develop staff equally

I’m curious about the indications that there is a gender pay gap in PR. This could be due to men being more likely to be in senior or management positions, but if you’re looking at two people in the same position, and there is a pay gap, then we have a serious problem.

As a manager, I like to give bonuses and opportunities to invest in training and development rather than just a straightforward percentage pay rise to my staff. I find this is a good way to invest in them and keep them happy – if it’s just a question of how much percent rise you get, it’s easier for people to get dissatisfied and leave.

An overview of how Vietnamese and American PR practitioners perceive the use of social media in crisis communication

written by Dr. Clāra Ly-Le, MComm MPRCA, the Managing Director, EloQ Communications

In Vietnam, social media has become one of the most popular communication platforms. Despite the powerful effect of social media in conditioning a crisis, and the trend to integrate social media into crisis management strategies in many countries, Vietnamese companies have often ignored or underutilized these channels.

As part of my doctoral dissertation, I seek to compare the perception of social media in crisis communication in Vietnam to that in the U.S. As America has always been considered a role model and main influencer for Vietnam’s PR practice, the comparison can help understand the underlying factors contributed to that perception. I interviewed 12 Vietnamese practitioners and 8 American practitioners who have two to 25 years experience working in the PR industry in their respective countries. Read more

PRCA SEA Future Leader Award Entry: Laura Naland, The Hoffman Agency

The annual PRCA SEA Future Leader award for Insight saw PR and communications practitioners aged 25 and under enter essays of up to 1,000 words, responding to the following brief: In the world of digital disruption and a highly diverse Asia Pacific region, what role does Public Relations & Communications play in building responsible, ethical businesses?’ Below is one of the shortlisted essays.

Digital disruption is rife, affecting organisations across all industries and markets. And with good reason – the benefits of digital disruption are wide-ranging. From automating manual processes, increasing efficiency and output, to combing through big data sets and deriving customer insights for improved offerings, executives are identifying the potential digital disruption has in improving growth prospects. According to the Forbes Insights/ Treasure Data survey, 83% of executives who see their organisation as market disruptors report increased revenue over the past three fiscal years, compared with 54% of those considered non- disruptive or partially disruptive enterprises.

We live in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an era defined by frontier technological breakthroughs such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) amongst others.

However, while frontier technologies offer a multitude of opportunities, the pursuit of innovation may result in ethical challenges. Take for example the autonomous car conundrum – if an autonomous car finds itself in a situation where it faces two choices: driving over and crashing into a pedestrian or crashing the car and potentially killing its passengers, what should the right course of action be? Beyond autonomous cars, other pertinent issues such as the impact of automation on jobs or AI biases also come into play. In this sense, Asia is a particularly interesting region to analyse.

A melting pot of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities, and with varying levels of digital maturity, it stands to reason that complexities would arise. Simply employing technologies does not guarantee success, and there exists certain risks unique to Asia if we don’t approach implementation with caution.

Consider how digital disruption affects each community differently – less developed Asian economies are at greater risk of seeing more jobs eliminated by automation. In comparison, wealthier countries have larger knowledge worker sectors that can be augmented by AI; and have the resources to reskill workers.

It is scenarios like these where Public Relations (PR) can perform a key role in serving as the guardrails of ethics to encourage businesses to be responsible even as they pursue the bottom line.

As societies gear up for a world of automation, we see top technology brands reassuring consumers that their jobs will not be lost and merely transformed. PR plays a vital role here as it helps shape public perception. At the end of the day, businesses want to make money – and public perception can have a significant impact on business, as seen in cases such as United Airlines suffering a near $1 billion loss in value after a passenger was violently dragged off an overbooked flight. As consultants, PR can act as a checkpoint for companies to ensure they carefully consider their ethics and social responsibilities in the communities they operate in.

Beyond a company’s external image, another way that brands can leverage PR and build responsible and ethical businesses is through internal communications which shapes corporate culture. Internal communications is about engaging with employees and ensuring a shared understanding of a company’s vision, values and goals. It is able to establish an authoritative voice that can facilitate discussions, debunk rumours and encourage employee- buy in. Internal communications can be an important tool to strengthen an organisation’s culture, and if a company’s internal culture and values are ethical, these underlying values can guide the organisation even as it transforms digitally to ensure all ventures are responsibly- taken.

However, it is important to note that PR can only fix the problem when companies ask them to. PR is indispensable in storytelling and shaping narratives – but it cannot act alone. It is part of a larger ecosystem – within companies, the business heads make the final decision; while externally, PR needs the support of media and journalists to run stories.

Nevertheless, PR is powerful as a consultant – while it typically only intervenes once engaged, it can advise companies to prioritise certain messages and activities to improve perceptions. For example, we know that facial recognition technology has grown tremendously, and is now being utilised for a variety of purposes. What started out as a convenient way to verify one’s identity – such as in the case of unlocking devices or checking into hotels – is now being leveraged for surveillance and even as a regulatory tool in China where residents who dispose of trash properly can get points on the social credit system. PR can help companies developing or implementing the technology consider a transparent message around how the data collected is being used, and ask the tough questions around the technology’s applications. This ensures the company carefully reviews its ethics and responsibilities, and addresses any fears or distrust among the community.

Finally, while the landscape around us is being disrupted, we should also consider the disruption of PR itself. PR has conventionally been associated with media relations, but has evolved to encompass much more. Coinciding with changing consumer habits, apart from traditional news outlets, we now have social channels and different types of advertising media. And to ensure messages are consistent and unified across the board, PR will be indispensable as the core function behind every form of communication. PR practitioners function as storytellers, enabling businesses to tell unique stories that can resonate with consumers’ pain and passion points.

As we power ahead with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, governments in Asia are already stepping up to lead the world in the development of ethics and governance – China revealed a three-step road map to lead in AI by 2030, South Korea is the first country to implement a nationwide IoT network, and Singapore last year created a high-level council to advise the government on legal and ethical issues related to the continued adoption of AI.

The increased government intervention is a sharp reminder to businesses to be more conscious about ethics, and PR can help shape each organisation’s identity to create a strong call-to-action for all. Alongside governments and leading technology brands, PR will be an integral component of Asia’s foray into frontier technologies.

PRCA SEA Future Leader Award Entry: Lidya Sophiani, Maverick Indonesia

The annual PRCA SEA Future Leader award for Insight saw PR and communications practitioners aged 25 and under enter essays of up to 1,000 words, responding to the following brief: In the world of digital disruption and a highly diverse Asia Pacific region, what role does Public Relations & Communications play in building responsible, ethical businesses?’ Below is one of the shortlisted essays.

Fueled by the internet, today’s consumers are constantly bombarded with tons of information trying to grab their attention. Bots, machine learning and artificial intelligence are invading their privacy to ostensibly serve them better.

Their world, experienced in large part from the internet, is also now fraught with danger. Frauds, spam, phishing, identity theft, hoaxes, fake news and deep fakes make their world one where trust is in short supply.

Businesses are particularly vulnerable because they are generally seen as impersonal money- making machines with no real social purpose. Their marketing and even corporate social responsibility programs are viewed with suspicion and often met with infuriation because of their senseless domination of the consumers’ bandwidth.

In this brave new world, PR and communications has one major role in ensuring the continued prosperity of any business: building its social capital.

With social capital, businesses — especially those in controversial industries — can secure social operating licenses among the networks of communities they depend on for their continued success. This will not only help inoculate them against attacks and crises but also gives them a platform from which to communicate with credibility, authenticity and transparency.

PR’s first task in building social capital then is to help businesses attune themselves to the nuances and norms of the societies they operate in. They need to make sure that the corporation’s values and identity align with what’s actually going on in the marketplace.

Part of this attunement hinges on education and getting a buy-in from the top management of a corporation.

Responsibility and ethics do not always come readily and naturally to businesses, whose objective is to make money. Businesses have often had to be made to realize that in a highly connected and well-informed society of the 21st century, no business would thrive by simply making positive claims.

The public’s skepticism means that they are more likely to double-check any claims made by companies and expose inconsistencies and gap between companies’ claims and actions. As such, not giving enough attention to ensure the implementation of responsible and ethical business practices would mean exposing their businesses to risks of losing profit and revenue, especially since it is more costly to fix a company’s image than actually maintaining it.

PR’s next task, assuming it is successful to get business to realize that embracing responsibility and ethics is good business, is to give it a solid platform from which to communicate.

Just as personal branding is a futile exercise if the subject has no character to start off with, businesses that haven’t defined their corporate character will find it difficult to differentiate themselves and convince anyone of its authenticity.

PR can help a company do some corporate soul searching, a process that, when done correctly, can energize the company with a unique corporate character and a sense of social purpose beyond just making money.

If this is achieved, then what remains is to ensure that the rest of the corporation is aligned before activating the corporation’s corporate character, communicating in a way that is authentic and “useful” for the communities that are important to its continued prosperity, rather than targets of a marketing campaign.

This is when a company with social capital will realize that it has cultivated a network of communities and influencers bound to its social purpose in a non-transactional manner, where they create shared value for each other.

Take the example of Danone AQUA’s #BijakBerplastik campaign in Indonesia. Danone AQUA launched the campaign in 2018 as an extension of its effort to become the leader of sustainable effort since its first recycling program that was initiated in 1993. Through the program, Danone AQUA collaborates with various parties, from healthy and sustainable lifestyle enthusiasts, activists, artists, as well as social enterprises.

Working together with communities and other parties who share the same interests and approaches such as adopting positive activism and avoiding blame-shifting in resolving plastic waste issue, Danone AQUA has driven a nationwide awareness on the importance of responsible consumption and waste management. When a company works alongside local communities to solve a common problem, they are building their social capital and exercise responsible and ethical business practice that benefits all the parties involved.

Danone AQUA here used its PR function to identify and connect it to various communities and parties involved in the collaboration for #BijakBerplastik campaign with a localized approach that works best for all. Buy-ins from communities and local organizations, however, would not be possible without company’s awareness and realization of the need to be responsible and ethical in continuing their business.

While the final results are yet to be seen, Danone AQUA, which has been reviled by environmentalists for its disposable water cups and bottles that have washed ashore on Indonesian beaches, has already won some critics over and even a few advocates in its journey to cut down plastic containers.

PR and communication’s role in building responsible and ethical business is now more crucial than before because of the climate of distrust that prevails. As professionals in PR and communications, we have traditionally bridged the gap between businesses on one hand and the media and other stakeholders on the other.

We go out into the world and bring back insights, new information and new skills to enable our business clients to remain relevant and connected to their consumers and other stakeholders that matter to them.

This is a role that PR has traditionally held but repurposed for today. It involves PR and communications professionals to work in the intersection of management, analysis, measurement and evaluation, as communications now need to take place across paid, earned, shared and owned platforms.

PRCA SEA Future Leader Award Entry: Alyson Tay, Mutant Communication

The annual PRCA SEA Future Leader award for Insight saw PR and communications practitioners aged 25 and under enter essays of up to 1,000 words, responding to the following brief: In the world of digital disruption and a highly diverse Asia Pacific region, what role does Public Relations & Communications play in building responsible, ethical businesses?’ Below is the winning essay.

Digital advances are transforming how we live, learn, work, and play – and the media industry is, of course, no stranger to how digitalisation is altering its landscape. Changing consumer behaviour and an increased hunger for instant gratification has forever evolved the way we view and digest content, moving slowly away from linear offline publishing and steam-rolling ahead towards multi-platform distribution models. The general consensus is “anytime, anywhere”.

In fact, annual growth of internet and active social media users in Asia Pacific (APAC) has increased by 10% and 12% respectively, according to the Digital In 2019 Report by We Are Social and Hootsuite. More consumers are constantly plugged in and being bombarded by information from virtually every platform possible.

With this, it’s no surprise the public relations and communications industry has grown more complex as we adapt to new forms of communications. As the go-between for the brand, media, consumer, and the wider community, PR professionals have to work closer than ever with their brands and clients to identify new storytelling opportunities that provide value to the audience, on the right platform, with the right approach.

The key connecting factor here is trust, which is imperative to building a good relationship between a brand and its audience – and this only becomes even more necessary during times of digital disruption. Yes, our job is to take a brand objective and create a palatable story that aligns with the broader business goals, but it’s also to provide guidance and counsel around sharing the right messages in an ethical and responsible manner.

As transparency comes under scrutiny and consumers slowly recognise the impact of #fakenews, PR professionals need to lead the way in un-blurring the line between fact and fiction.

PR should proactively combat fake news

Sensational news will always travel faster than the truth. In Singapore, according to a 2018 survey by Ipsos, four in five consumers were confident in their ability to spot fake news – but 90% were actually unable to distinguish the fake headlines from the real ones. With social media being a hotbed for misinformation – paired with APAC consumers’ high social penetration rate – users are vulnerable to being exposed to unverified sources of information all the time.

The good news is that consumers are aware of this threat. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found 71% of Singaporeans rely on traditional media as a credible source of information – a five-year high – and 73% were worried about false information or fake news being weaponised. It’s great that the rising threat of fake news elevates trust in traditional media; the fact that The Straits Times has dedicated an entire section to debunking it is testament to how intrusive it is.

Better reporting is the way forward in the fight against fake news, and the pressure is on for media publications. Journalists have their work cut out for them in identifying credible sources

and information as they implement improved fact-checking and research processes to ensure what is published is accurate. This presents a real opportunity for PR professionals to work collaboratively with journalists by providing accurate and timely information from our clients, building them up as thought leaders, which in turn helps journalists gain access to credible sources. Similarly, PR practitioners have the responsibility to proactively counter misinformation and take a stand whenever we spot something amiss.

Take last year’s Trump-Kim summit as an example, where we saw speculations from unverified sources on the earned media value. Our team at Mutant Communications saw the opportunity to reach out, armed with verified statistics through a client’s media intelligence platform to correct the statement in subsequent news syndications. PR professionals have an obligation to help journalists and the public identify facts, and in doing so foster a transparent relationship that builds trust organically.

Ethical concerns around paid influencer promotion

APAC is one of the most digitally active regions, and this has led to an increase in consumers who trust in influencers, vloggers, and social media celebrities for purchasing decisions, the latest report by Meltwater found. In fact, a report by Celebrity Intelligence shows 80% of respondents in SEA said influencers are pivotal in shaping their opinions and buying decisions. With this amount of clout, it’s no surprise there’s a growth in paying key opinion leaders (KOLs) to create content promoting a brand.

As PR practitioners, we have taken product-centric briefs from clients who want to engage KOLs, with the main objective being to sell as many items as possible. While KOLs do have a role to play, PR professionals have a duty to guide clients in making smart choices when working with them. It’s not enough for clients to simply pay a bunch of KOLs to spread their message – the onus falls on PR professionals to educate clients on how they can pick the right people, platform and timeline to run with their message.

Similarly, consumers are savvy, and can easily identify when someone is being paid to sing praises. However, it’s not always clear if a post is organic, or if it’s a masked, sponsored ad – and consumers should be given enough context to know immediately if the post’s objective is to spark a specific purchasing behaviour.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” if it means doing what’s right

Numerous agencies will probably disagree with our approach here, but we believe it’s okay to take a stand and voice disagreements when it comes to servicing clients that go against the company’s values, or if there is a disagreement on what is ethical and what isn’t – even if it means losing the business.

For example, we have walked away from a potential client who wanted to front-foot an

anti-LGBTQ agenda across Singapore, and we’ve also said no to clients who were willing to pay us to set up fake profiles and write fake reviews for a product. We also regularly speak up if clients ask us to “fudge the numbers” or want us to play a part in spreading a mistruth as part of a media pitch (thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often!) We are not and should not act as mouthpieces for clients. So, rather than acquiescing to the demands, PR professionals should educate clients on how they can drum up thought leadership the right way.

For instance, I worked with a company that sells child passenger safety products – a huge issue where Singapore is lagging behind its OECD counterparts. We created a comprehensive PR and content strategy around the importance of using age and weight-appropriate child restraints, and by building a steady pipeline of educational content, we converted many of their customers into huge advocates for children’s ride safety. These advocates then championed our client’s messages unprompted across various parenting forums in Singapore, resulting in a direct uptick in sales.

At the end of the day, nothing erodes trust faster than being lied to. As PR professionals we are the messengers between all stakeholders, and it’s our job to safeguard the transparency between them.

Truth is our greatest currency, and we have a great responsibility to communicate with honesty. Let us play a part in shaping ethical brands and businesses by making truth and transparency their core values.

The Poetics of the C.V

By David Zhang, Delivery Consultant, MCG&Co

Jobseekers expect their C.V. to be the golden key to their search; yet, many do not carefully construct and polish up this document. I felt strange writing this post, giving advice to an audience of highly-talented job-seekers and hiring managers. I want to highlight that I got my current job at MCG&Co through crafting a compelling C.V.

This is my third month in the recruitment industry. Every day, I review at least fifty to one hundred C.V.s/LinkedIn profiles. If your C.V. cannot impress me, I doubt that it will fly by our clients. I have met with some really talented people who have not been able to convert their varied experiences and impressive achievements onto the page. I am becoming more aware of how candidates can stand out across the digitech, marcomms, and management consulting sectors­. With that said, I would like to share this insight with you.

candidates,

the c.v. is the key

to showcase your achievements,

to unlock job opportunities,

to highlight career progression,

to command another’s respect

oversell,

and you underperform

undersell,

and you lose out

clients and hiring managers,

help bring clarity to applicants,

craft your company’s narrative,

understand your culture and structure (or lack thereof),

stay consistent with your message across platforms

if you are a successful candidate,

your c.v. will bridge the perspectives of both parties

a marriage of principles and interests

helping you secure an interview

1) Declutter, declutter, declutter!

If your C.V. looks denser than my university readings, I will not be motivated to read about you (and even less likely to reach out via an InMail or a phone call). Explain your work as you would to a tenth-grade student, breaking down jargon into layman’s terms and quantifying tasks/projects completed. Distil your work into key points and keep them concise.

Fresh graduates, your C.V. can be a one-pager. Seasoned veterans, please limit yourself to three pages, focusing on roles over the last five years.

2) Get rid of that generic cover letter

If you’re going to include a cover letter, keep it personal. I would rather receive a short and convincing email of five sentences regarding specific incidences and examples than read your cover letter addressed to John Doe at Acme on Main Street.

3) Spell-check, edit, condense, proofread, and format

Ask your friends/family/professors/mentors to read your C.V. Use spell-check and several sets of eyes to ensure that your C.V. is properly proofread. Be sure to break down acronyms, as hiring managers could be from HR and not be familiar with the industry. Format everything nicely and save your work as a PDF–not everyone uses the same composition programme (Microsoft Word, LibreOffice Writer, Google Drive, for example)

4) Write with intention and an audience in mind

Make every word count. Let your voice emerge from your writing, particularly if you are applying for copywriting roles. If you are a creative, infuse your C.V. with your imagination. The goal is to ensure nothing is superfluous–keep everything focused and industry-specific. In addition, be sure to understand the culture of the organizations that you are applying to. Ensure that your “personality” on the page is in line with theirs.

5) Font and sizing

Garamond is safe middle-ground. Out are the days of Comic Sans. Safe advice: sans serif for designers, serif for client servicing/office-related work. Ensure headers are in a larger font.

6) Optimize your C.V. for A.I.-parsing

With the digitalization of the world comes the digitalization of hiring practices. Your C.V. will go through some level of processing, either by LinkedIn or an organization’s internal systems. If you are a designer, ensure that your relevant points stay in the same text box, so your information is not misread by the machines.

Post-script:

Superior to this advice, I would advise you to be sure to optimize your LinkedIn for recruiters. With the advent of Easy Apply and LinkedIn as a job portal, your profile becomes so much more important. Tag your profile to “open for opportunities” if you would like to be contacted about potential roles you would be a good fit for. Stay tuned for my next post on how to ensure your LinkedIn profile attracts head-hunters and talent consultants. Good luck!

The Communication Problem in the Communications Industry

The communication problem in the communications industry

By Surekha Ragavan, Campaign Asia

Handling multiple time-sensitive accounts at once is a tricky feat for PR agencies, and can often lead to communication breakdowns. But do in-house teams feel that they’re at the brunt of this problem?

At a recent panel by PRCA Southeast Asia in Singapore, three brand heads and one agency head sat down to debate common communication problems around the client-agency relationship, and how to go about fixing them.

You’re speaking my language

To optimise client-agency relationships, semantics are everything, according to Jeremy Seow, Singapore CEO of WE Communications.

“We all speak English but we don’t speak the same operating language. I think it’s really important when the words ‘marketing’ and ‘content’ means different things in an agency world and on the client side,” he said.

“A successful relationship is when they’re both on the same page about say, what content really does, or what is defined as top or bottom of the funnel. The faster you get there, it’s a starting point for the consultants on the agency side to really start thinking broader than just the press release that they create. It really pushes the team.”

On the other hand, it’s also common for young PR professionals—especially in Singapore—to use their agency experience as a springboard to an in-house role.

“Agencies are preparing them for this transition to client side. So we, as an agency, and as an industry, could do better in marrying some of the operating languages on both sides,” said Seow.

A first step to improving language, said Seow, is understanding what the terms ‘in-housing’ can mean for agencies. “We say ‘in-housing’ a lot, and that sometimes makes us feel like the ‘out-house’. And the out-house can feel like the dog-house,” he said.

Geraldine Kan, head of communications, Asia Pacific & Japan, HP, agreed with Seow and said that agency consultants should be treated and spoken to like extended team members.

“We need to have a shared idea of what success means. Because an agency might feel like they’re able to do really cool creative work. Whereas, as a client, I need something that’s measurable and I’m able to bring upstairs,” said Kan.

This ‘shared idea of success’ is echoed by Rasyida Paddy, ASEAN PR Lead for Oracle. “[Agencies] may be pitching certain things that appeal to a comms person, but you also need to understand that I’m proposing this to my client and I need to be able to socialise this idea internally,” she said.

“It’s about putting yourself in the clients’ shoes and understanding what they have to deal with in-house. For a lot us working in MNCs, we have to report back to stakeholders, the stakeholders report back to HQ, and HQ needs to report back to business stakeholders. All those stages might look different.”

One way to bridge that gap is a basic but no less vital step: ask questions.

“[Agencies need to] have visibility over how their clients spend their time. The truth of the matter is, for many of us in-house, a lot of time is spent in meetings. We are very time-poor. If you feel like you don’t get sufficient info that you need, just ask the questions,” said Paddy.

HP’s Kan concurs. “We live, eat and breathe our brand. And we have to educate our agency about the hard networks, the soft networks, where the decision-makers are. And I wish, I wish, I wish, agencies would ask me more questions. I really do,” she said.

“You have to know how your client is set up. With the way the ecosystem is integrating, I don’t think we have a choice. And this is incumbent not just on the brand, but also on the agency to find out how it works. Because otherwise, PHD is going to eat your lunch.”

WE’s Seow said that feedback or review sessions are also helpful for agencies to understand where they might be falling short. But of course, these sessions should also commend the good work they put out.

“I’ve worked with a lot of clients who are very solutions- and business-focused, they don’t really proactively talk about the good stuff that goes right. They only talk about all the stuff that goes wrong,” he said.

“And on agency side, we tend to think ‘I’ve screwed up, I’m going to be in bad shape’. In the past couple of years, I’ve been a lot more encouraged by these review sessions because we also talk about the good stuff.”

On the flipside, Derrick Koh, head of internal communications, East Asia & Japan, Schneider Electric, encourages agencies to review his in-house team.

“To get better quality of work, better efficiency, better speed, there has to be a better way than just providing complaints to the agency when they’re not stepping up to the game. So we thought, let’s self-reflect a bit. What can we as clients do better to help them along? Because at the end of the day, it’s like a marriage,” he said.

“The best person to keep you honest is the agency, they’re working with you day in day out. So we created a checklist and gave it to all our servicing people and said ‘why don’t you rate us on a half-yearly basis on these key criteria?’”

Is age just a number?

The rate of account handlers entering and leaving their positions is high, and oftentimes, this means that the account handler is fairly junior.

“I’ve seen unsuccessful agency relationships where the main account handler is one or two generations younger in terms of experience than the client. As a client leader or as an operations leader, that’s a recipe for disaster,” said Koh.

“At some point, we have to recognise that there’s a disconnect between them and the senior clients. Senior clients are still mostly 40 and above, and if you have an account director who’s never had that type of boardroom discussion and trying to present a one million dollar concept that executes across paid, earned, and owned at a very troubling economic time…”

On the plus side, Koh added that some bigger agency networks have started rectifying this problem by bringing back senior account handlers where necessary.

Young account handlers may have creative prowess, but may sometimes overstep into the “radical” zone, he added.

“Sometimes the client doesn’t ‘get it’ for various reasons, whether [the idea] is too advanced for the type of industry, or for the management, or the type of customers that the client has. So there should be some patience [on the agency side] when pitching an idea where the client doesn’t get immediately,” said Koh.

HP’s Kan said that it’s not just about age, but where to fit in different talent in different circumstances.

“In one circumstance, I might want to bring in somebody who’s 20-something and really creative to pitch an idea. And in times of a crisis or dealing with something reputational, I’d better have somebody in there who has gone through a few hard knocks,” she said.

“Stakeholder management is key, not only in-house but in the agency as well. It’s my job to help my team as well as the agency’s team understand what the stakeholders think. How we want them to feel. Ultimately, we’re people. We cannot forget that we’re working with different human beings with different skills and preferences.”

Read the news!

Don’t just read the room, read the news. What seems like an obvious must-do for PR professionals is, apparently, a dying trait.

“I feel like sometimes we forgot along the way that we’re consultancies, not just the production agency. We’ve forgotten how to be culturally, politically and economically aware to have that decent business conversation with clients,” said WE’s Seow.

“I’m beginning to see the decline in the number of people who read newspapers. Sometimes, I work with young PR professionals and I tell them ‘could you just do me a favour and read the Saturday paper?’”

Koh said that it’s “music to the client’s ears” when the agency can start their conversation or pitch with a big picture comment linked to the client’s business.

“Something that’s current, something that’s not just craft-related, something that they know has some sort of direct or indirect relation to a business impact,” he said.

“It’s fine to say ‘hey, we can put out a press release, hold a press conference, we can hook up with this influencer’, but to what end? I think fundamentally understanding and speaking that bigger business language is important. For an agency, it’ll do well to have a good grasp of that. It’ll lead to more work, more credibility, and it’ll build trust.”

On top of that, a better worldview also means better work. He cites the conceptualisation and success of Nike’s campaign last year with Colin Kaepernick.

“A good agency might say ‘It might be a PR project, but hey, can we pull marketing in?’ because we need that kind of marketing activation and the budgets that they have to make this a bigger idea. I don’t think [the Nike campaign] started and ended as a PR idea. It had legs in different parts of the organisation,” he said.

HP’s Kan agreed that reading the news should be mandatory for agencies. “They have to figure out what people’s interests are and what they’re talking about. You need those insights to go anywhere – because your C-suites are reading those papers,” she said.

“What’s happening to your clients is a function of geopolitics and economics. If you can’t have that discussion, I’m sorry but there’s no seat at the table for you.”

Original Source: Campaign Asia

How important is your job title in Asia?

By Prospect‘s Asia Pacific Team

There is no denying that job titles are important the world over. As human beings, what we do forms a huge part of our identity, self-worth and, centuries ago, even our surnames. Fast forward to the twenty first century and little has changed, particularly within the Asian market. The culture of business cards has given such huge precedence to the job title, that it is hard not to be instantly judged on a first meeting. And it’s not just clients and industry peers; whether you are a vice president or a senior manager could influence friendships, family relations and even finding a life partner.

So, how does this phenomenon affect business in Asia? Well, undoubtedly the title obsession can lead to feelings of worthlessness and dissatisfaction for workers. Even if you are highly successful in terms of your KPIs, not being promoted to a higher rank within a given timeframe, can feel like a huge blow. And as companies dish out more exciting sounding roles to appease employees’ need for status, they inevitably suffer from job title inflation. Who doesn’t have the word ‘senior’ or ‘lead’ in their title? As is the nature of inflation, this devalues the whole meaning of these supposedly impressive words.

In Asia, the issues are certainly complex but perhaps a logical solution could lie in looking beyond the title to something more tangible: the skillset. As a recruiter, employers are far more interested in a candidate’s knowledge, experience and passion for the role than their previous job title. Moreover, once you are in the interview room, a solid skillset and evident outcomes will carry far more weight than a title. The words ‘vice president’ alone will not demonstrate that you have good interpersonal and leadership skills.

But it is not just about getting the job, it’s about getting the right job for you. As a jobseeker, taking more time to study the spec and skills required, will inevitably prevent ending up in a role which does not suit. By finding out exactly what the role entails and if it is something that will motivate you day in, day out, is key to your future happiness. After all, surely being in a job that meets your aspirations in terms of growth and personal satisfaction, far outweighs the moment’s pride of flashing a new business card?

Naturally, this is easier said than done when there are networking events and family dinners to attend but maybe we need to change the way we answer the dreaded work question. How about removing your business card and job title altogether. Instead, talk about what really drives you, what you are passionate about and how you are making an impact. You may be met with ‘OK…but can I see your card?’ nevertheless you have shown what’s important to you. Ask yourself, is this person worth doing business or associating with if they are still only interested in what’s on paper?

Essentially, the Asian culture of the business card is not going to change overnight and perhaps not everyone wants it to. Titles may fill us with pride, but maybe for the wrong reasons if our 9-5 happiness is being neglected. Your skillset, passion and diligence mean more to both your employer and your long-term satisfaction. So, be brave, leave the cards at home and let your own voice define you.

About Prospect

Since opening our doors in the UK, back in 2002 and then Asia in 2010, we have loved working with an industry that blends the creative with business. Acting as an extension of our clients, we have been thrilled to advise a range of organisations on how to attract and retain their talent; from global brands to PR agencies. Getting under the skin of what our clients need and what our candidates want, makes us get up in the morning. Find out more here.

Life On The Other Side…

By Marlené Brewis, Consultant, MCG&Co Creative & Digital

As fancy as some may find the word Expat, it rolls off one’s tongue easier than the lifestyle projects. It’s bloody hardcore! Anyone who has mastered the skill of this lifestyle deserves a Cannes award, or maybe, just a pat on the back will do…

Being an expat for the past 6 years, I have been across the world from the UAE to the UK, Malaysia and now Singapore. Living in these diverse cities where overalls are traded in for designer suits, brunches become drunches and flipflops Jimmy Choo’s; the world of an Expat sounds Lush, I know…but not quite. Behind the scenes of all these amazing things lie deeper challenges when it comes to being an expat. Read more

Write right: How erors is reely kiling you’re credabilty

By John O’Callaghan, JOC Comms

 

Reading the comments section of online news stories and social media posts, I wince and shrug when people confuse “your” and “you’re”, leave out the apostrophe in “haven’t” or use creative phonetic spellings such as “incompatance”.

But I really get incensed when I see very basic errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation in articles, blogs and press releases from professionals who should know better or at least make an effort to do better.

As a communications consultant and former journalist, I’m passionate and sometimes pedantic about good writing.

Yes, language evolves and everyone makes mistakes. But how you write makes a big impression.

The devil is in the details. If your email or story is riddled with basic errors, the reader starts to question how thorough and accurate you’ve been with the rest of the information. Your abilities and credibility suddenly become an issue.

Luckily, there are plenty of tools and courses — many of them online and free — that can help you spot mistakes and improve your writing.

But no technology is perfect and there is no substitute for learning the basics, so here is a primer on how to avoid simple mistakes in whatever you’re writing.

(By the way, this is especially true if you’re getting inked up. It’s advisable to triple-check every last detail before the needle sinks into your flesh. Indeed, knowledge is power in the tattoo parlour.)

English is a particularly tricky language for spelling, with many exceptions to the rules and words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

This is one of my favourite examples about how a rule we all learned at school doesn’t always hold true: “I before E except after C — except when your foreign neighbour Keith receives eight counterfeit beige sleighs from feisty caffeinated weightlifters. Isn’t that weird?”

Spelling can be tough but spell-checkers are built into almost every writing platform, so use them. Just don’t trust them 100 percent and always check the dictionary to make sure.

Here are some pointers to avoid mistakes in spelling and usage that are amazingly common:

Their daughter is studying thereThey’re very proud. (Their shows possession or association. There denotes a place or direction. They’re is a contraction of “they are”.)

Your dog is yoursYou’re his owner. (Your and yours show possession or association. You’re is a contraction of “you are”.)

It’s = it is (“It’s warm outside”)

Its = possessive (“Give the dog its bone”)

Apostrophes are misused all the time. It’s “1970s” (plural for the years in that decade) not“1970’s” (which would be possessive)

To: Describes an action or destination. (“I went to the store”)

Too: Describes an extreme (“It’s too cold to go outside”) or is a synonym for also (“She went to Rome, too”).

Fewer: “There were fewer than 10 people.” (Countable noun)

Less: “You should eat less meat.” (Uncountable noun)

Perhaps it’s just me but lately I’ve noticed many people misusing “who” and “that”.

Who is for people. (“She is someone who never gives up”)

That is for objects or non-human living things. (“This is the dog that chewed your shoe”)

I’ll wrap this up with a dash through punctuation marks — the traffic signals on the road to clarity and understanding. In the writing courses I run, I use an example to show how the placement of a colon and a comma transforms the entire meaning.

An English professor wrote on the board: A woman without her man is nothing. The class was asked to punctuate the sentence.

The men wrote: “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

The women wrote: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Emoticons and emojis never belong in professional writing. 😡 👎😡 👎😡

Are question marks effective? They can be but use them sparingly.

Exclamation points do not belong in pitches, press releases and presentations!

Double dashes can be very effective – to highlight a point or a list of items – but do not overuse them.

To convey information clearly and cleanly, bullet points are great for:

  • lists
  • action points
  • statistics

Colons are used to set off a list before bullet points or within a sentence. “He had three points to make: this, that and the other thing.”

Personally, I dislike the Oxford comma — “She ate bananas, grapes, and strawberries” — as an unnecessary interruption between “grapes and strawberries”. But I make an exception for the sake of clarity: “She went to the bank and the store, and called her mother after lunch.”

I realise the Oxford comma is a very emotive topic, so that’s enough about that…

The punctuation mark I truly despise is the semicolon, which is used to link two independent clauses that are closely related. But most people don’t know how to use it — or overuse it — so it’s better to use “and” or break the sentence in two.

Here I will leave you with the immortal words of author Kurt Vonnegut in a rant of mine published in the Economist.

Of course, the editors could not resist a little poke of punctuation in the headline…

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