We now face a world that is becoming increasingly polarised along geopolitical grounds and a growing generation of relentlessly questioning millennials seek a higher standard of ethics and transparency from our leaders. Our world-weary netizens, bombarded with social media messaging are more wedded to ideas than idolizing individuals.
Where does it leave the role of public relations professional?
In a thought-provoking interview with Trish Varker-Miles of Trish Nicol Public Relations, we try to unpack the dark arts of spin for Asian corporate leaders.
“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!”
Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)
TAE: How has the role of the public relations professional evolved over time and why does the role remain relevant now as it was a generation ago?
TN: In the last 5 years, digital and social media have fundamentally changed the way PR works. Once upon a time, media outlets had the power to decide which ideas, products and services the public wanted to hear about. Now, audiences hold the power. With search and social at their fingertips, consumers know what they’re looking for and have the tools to find it.
The role of PR is still very relevant, but now you really need a to have a strong story to tell. If you need to push your product, that can work on your social media platforms, EDMs, newsletters and blogs. But, when it comes to media coverage, you need to find those storytelling moments. A new product or colourway isn’t news on its own—no one cares.
In addition, the role of the PR agency has also changed – PR can now encompass not only generating media coverage but also creative communication strategies which incorporate social media management, content creation, events and activations. Digital and social media has opened up a whole new area that PR professionals can influence and manage for their clients.
TAE: How challenging is it today to represent clients or projects of Asian companies and present a positive light to a western audience?
TN: Representing Asian companies in a positive light to a Western audience is no more difficult than managing, for example, a European or Australian business. The complexity depends on the individual business, rather than their specific Nationality.
When managing reputation, it makes it so much easier to do effectively when clients are open to listen to local professional advice and are willing to be transparent and clear in their communications. I represent many Asian property developers and nearly all of those when entering the Australian market have engaged a local PR agency to assist them with managing their reputation in the media.
TAE: What challenges do you face when dealing with an Asian client whose educational background is not western and how do to temper some of the biases you may come across?
TN: The main challenge when working with the media can be language barriers when English is a second language. Most of my Asian clients however have extremely good English, but for those who don’t, it can be daunting process conducting interviews with the media. This is where a PR person can greatly assist in managing this process.
When working with the media it is important that there is someone in the company that can speak to them directly, without having to go back to Head Office overseas. Generally, by the time it takes to coordinate an interview with head office in a different Region the opportunity has passed.
Another challenge is that not all story angles a client wants to push are interesting to the media – but this is not specific to Asian clients, it can indeed be any client. Media has changed so rapidly it is difficult to keep up with what works and what doesn’t, there are certain story angles which may only work on social media or company owned blogs. Once again this is where a PR professional can provide valuable advice as to what channel is the best to push a particular story.
TAE: Is there a continuing relevance of print media outlets in today’s social-media obsessed users? If so, why so?
TN: Everything is moving into the digital space with the vast majority of print media now also having digital and social platforms.
Print media still has a place, however in property marketing, nothing on its own is moving the needle, what works now is an integrated approach to PR and communications. Layering everything together is what’s working. A campaign which integrates digital, print, social media, PR, events and activations is what is generating brand awareness, rather than looking at marketing elements in isolation.
In the property space developers are increasingly embracing social media. In many ways I find my Asian clients are more open to embracing social media than locally based ones and see it as an opportunity to build their company profile and brand awareness effectively.
TAE: What do you advise your clients about managing and coordinating their social media feeds? How would you rate the importance of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in helping corporate clients improve their public profiles?
TN: Social media works differently for different products and industries. With fashion and lifestyle brands with a lower price point, it’s a fantastic platform to directly shop for products, work closely with digital influencers and communicate what your brand stands for. For property developers selling multi-million dollar apartments, social is another tool for building brand awareness, but not the sole platform for generating sales.
Social media in property development, is valuable in communicating visually what your brand stands for, so people who visit your social platforms come away having a strong understanding of how you are positioned. Facebook and Instagram can certainly help to put your product in front of a targeted audience; however, I would always integrate social media with other marketing activity to generate sales.
TAE: Have you been faced with a client whose social profile has hit the proverbial “brick wall” and are there some golden rules you follow without fail to ameliorate their situation? Without revealing names, can you offer case studies?
TN: Every issue on social media is unique and requires its own individual management strategy. However, when issues arise on social media, honesty and transparency is the best approach. Ignoring issues or hoping they may go away can in many instances make the situation worse. People use social to air an opinion, when they are ignored the issue can escalate. It is always best to address issues quickly with honesty and transparency and if an apology is required, provide it.