PR is no longer a support function

PR no longer just a support function

PR stopped being just a support function years ago. It is as critical a business function as any other department, said Georgette Tan, group head of communications, MasterCard, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa at the concluding segment of the two-day long PR conference, PR Asia 2013.

Tan was speaking on the topic “the future of PR”.

This sentiment was echoed by other speakers throughout the conference, who said that going forward, PR will be increasingly in charge of business goals such as lead or demand generation.

(Read also: The PR function needs to be braver)

Internal communications

Issues such as the imminent death of the press release, smarter ways of managing crises, reputation management and change in tonality of brands came up as key areas of focus for PR in the future. However, what was emphasised hugely was the role of internal communications.

Internal communications has been the poorer cousin of PR and that needs to change,” said Michael Rose, director of corporate communications, Polycom Asia Pacific.

MasterCard’s Tan echoed the sentiment, saying it will be a priority for brands going forward.

There is a need to give internal communications as much importance as external communications, speakers said. Moreover, a solid internal communications strategy will benefit the external communications strategy as well.

“Our key stakeholder is our staff. The message needs to go out to employees first,” said.

Moreover, the ways of engaging staff have to be creative. “It can’t just be the usual email that goes out from the CEO,” said Paras Sharma, vice president, marketing, corporate communications and digital media – sports, Fox International Channels.

What PR professionals of the future should know?

On top of the usual skill-set comprising writing, storytelling and others, PR practitioners of the future must possess a deep understanding of the business, geo-political issues, social media and analytics, speakers highlighted.

And networking internally will be crucial.

PR professionals should not be seen as those wanting for quotes always, Sharma said. In order to portray what the brand stands for, they need to know everything that is happening in other departments.

With that covered, the key thing for public relations professionals to remember when they reach out to external audiences is their strength in story-telling.

“You are experts at identifying ideas that move people,” Mark Chakravarty, communications director, global baby, feminine and family care, Procter & Gamble, said.

“We need to see the insights in the stories that make editors want to write the stories,” added Chakravarty.

Making a case for the profession, he added that only when you don’t emotionally engage people, you resort to buying their attention.

A brand as an example is Google, which primarily relied on two things: great products and public relations.

“For us in the organisation, PR sits at the leadership table,” Myriam Boublil, head of communications and public affairs, Google Southeast Asia, said.

Another important area of development is point of views. Increasingly, comms professionals will be asked for opinions and not just facts. “Views are far more crucial than news,” Arunav Sinha, director, corporate communications, India, China and SEA of Yahoo APAC, said adding that the approach towards media should change too.

“Our attitude towards bloggers cannot be the same as that towards journalists,” he said.

Global versus Local voice

But one cannot ignore the issue that a rapidly globalising economy is throwing up for the communications function, particularly with global or regional operations attempting to control local offices – or so it is perceived to be.

Speakers said the local offices often complain that global’s grip over the decision-making process is quite tight and this hinders quick turnaround, especially in times of crisis on social media.

Many firms have tried controlling the comms function from global HQ, and find they cannot be effective on ground, said Shane Chiang, head of corporate, consumer communications, South Asia, HTC Singapore.

Chiang said the understanding of the local ops is crucial.

“It’s human nature to think we’re all similar. Brands need to understand that markets and people behave differently even in the same region,” Scott Pettet, Asia Pacific, Lewis PR, Sydney, said.

Pettet added that it was important for companies to have policies and guidelines to act quickly at a local level.

“You can’t wait for the US or the UK office to start work the next day, for you to respond to a crisis,” he said.

PR Asia 2013 was a two-day PR conference sponsored by H+K Strategies, Lewis PR and Rice Communications. Other prize sponsors included Claude Bernard, Studio M Hotel and Four Seasons Hotel.

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