Is bad PR hampering Malaysia’s global image?

During A+M’s Comms Malaysia conference held at Aloft KL recently, several journalists took to the stage to discuss how the state of PR had impacted Malaysia’s overall image on the global news scene.

Kamarul Bahrin bin Haron, executive editor of Astro Awani, pointed out that PR needed to be ready at all times.

Speaking on the recent MAS tragedies, he said these were clear examples that news does not pop up when it is convenient for the PR industry and that is why PR professionals need to always be armed and ready.

“When a crisis hits, journalists are going to get the news out whenever and at whatever time they can. This might be through sources, social media or whichever outlets possible. Hence, if PR professionals want to capture the attention of journalists, they need to very quickly adapt to this change,” he said.

Speaking on the crash of MH370, he added that in the 21st century, the public was no longer accepting of the fact that when a plane had been missing for hours, the organisation had no concrete information on it. Today people want instantaneous information.

In the case of MAS, it wasn’t just a company statement or a press releases, but rather “information about lives that matter”.

“It is a confirmation on the loss of a loved one. The global public was criticising us because from an information flow perspective, we were not keeping our mouth in order. How can we accept that? It is a blow to the pride of Malaysia and all the good things present in this country,” he said.

It is during such crisis situations that PR professionals need to actively leverage the trust they have built with journalists to ensure a quick supply of accurate information for dissemination.

Keith Kam, journalist and news producer of BFM Media, added that this was especially vital during a crisis because when wrong information is disseminated it not only looks poorly on the news organisation, but in turn the PR agency and the company supplying the information.

“The most frustrating aspect of being a journalist is the unavailability of a PR person when it comes to clarification of a news piece,” Kam said.

Jahabar Sadiq, CEO and editor of The Malaysian Insider, also added that because of the quick turnaround time for news, journalists no longer sit around and wait for responses from PR folks. They often simply bypass the PR folks to go straight to the source. To counter this phenomenon, PR folks need to reposition themselves as not just gate keepers of an organisation, but rather experts who are readily available for a statement when approached by a journalist

Broaden your horizon, PR guys

One gripe online journalists in Malaysia seem to have, according to Jahabar, is that despite the rise of various online portals, Malaysian PR folks still seem very reliant on traditional channels. However, the way news is being consumed is changing and many simply jump onto their mobile devices to access information.

“There are a lot more media channels out there so we all compete for the PR folks’ attention and vice versa,” Jahabar said.

“PR consultants have to move their focus from mainstream media into online portals now. Online portals do not see as much engagement from PR people and we do the calls more to get the news and recognition that PR people send out to the traditional folks. I think PR relies on outdated books on media channels as there is not too much interaction from PR experts with us online mediums.”

Meanwhile, Kamarul added that PR agencies are still stuck in a traditional mindset of getting the journalist to come down to cover a story or event. With the limited number of journalists out there and the numerous events, this is not always possible.

He explained this was when PR people needed to step up their game and identify opportunities in these “unattended spaces”.

“If a journalist is unable to attend to your client, PR folks should step in. Use that empty space and grow into it. PR practitioners are equally skilled in writing stories and technology has enabled anyone with a smart camera to make instantaneous videos. Send us your completed or nearly completed stories and we are likely to rework it slightly and use it. I can’t attend all the events, but what’s there to stop you from making a good story out of it and pushing it out?”

He added that consumers today rarely care where they get the information from or what platform it is based on – they want to decide for themselves.

Stop acting like the ad folks

PR folks today need to stop mimicking the ad industry.

According to Kamarul, because advertising has become so advanced and big in value, it has lost the ability to build a brand trust with the public.

PR still has not – it is still trusted. A PR account executive today, hence, needs to know that it’s not just about making calls and pitches proactively, but rather being relevant to the content that is trending.

The experts added that when a topic is trending, and it is relevant to your brand product, that’s the best time for a company to speak out. PR should not be replaying the same one key brand message like advertising does for a brand, but rather it should create a range of narratives around it.

“There are a lot of stories to be told from one piece of news or product. If PR wants to act like advertising that’s how you will be treated. But PR is not advertising – it is about great storytelling. Make the most of one story and come up with as many narratives as you can and then, there will not be such a thing as ‘limited space’,” Kamarul said.