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Does PR have a PR problem?

Anyone in the marketing industry will tell you their job scope is rapidly changing and PR is no exception. The playing field is now entirely different. That’s what the speakers at our recently held PR Asia conference highlighted.

See all about the two-day event here.

[GALLERY] Here’s what PR Asia 2014 looked
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“PR is really just a part of the whole communications, but a lot of people assume it is purely media relations. Why is that so?” Ambera Cruz, marketing head of APAC at Meltwater, and the moderator of the panel discussion, asked the panellists.

Let’s call it communications and not PR

“I think in a lot of organisations, PR is interchangeable with the press release,” said Angela Parr, director of PR and public affairs for Asia Pacific at Visa.

She added the truth was far away from that. PR professionals and agencies do far more than just media relations. It may have been the case historically, but a lot has changed with the onset of social media and digital, and in general. Of course, media relations is still crucial to a PR campaign, any activity and a communications activity, but it’s part of the entire communications plan.

“A lot of companies in the future will change it to communications, letting PR be a formal part of that,” she added.

Added Emma Dale, co-founder and managing director (Asia) of Prospect: “We are becoming more integrated than ever before. And now we need to bring talent into agencies and communications functions that are creative or digital specialists not just PR. If everyone’s understanding of PR is media relations, it will be tough to attract the right talent.”

And that’s the problem PR has.

Why it’s not just about the name

This misconception is causing the industry problems that are more than skin-deep. “Why can’t we find that sweet spot where PR agencies are able to help build strategies and become more than just arms and legs for their clients?” Cruz posed the question to the panellists.

It boils down to what the agency can offer.

“It’s not just me telling the agency what to do. It’s more about asking the agency what they can add, suggest,” said Audrey Mok, the general manager of communications at Sony Electronics Asia.

The relationship between a PR agency and a client is not that good, according to Dale.

“In Asia, PR agencies aren’t seen as being a true partner yet. I am sure that will change though.”

“Quite a few senior PR people leave and set up their own specialist boutique shops/firms – and are giving clients senior counsel and being their trusted partner. I think the frustration for in-house organisations is they are not able to have that level of access to the top management.”

Clients need to trust the agencies

On the client-side, it is imperative for them to share as much information as they can with the agency. A member of the audience aptly pointed out: “It is ironic that some companies know and want PR, but they do not trust the agencies well enough to share more information which are assets for them to do their jobs well.

“Clients know that PR is important and most cost-efficient, but it’s still in the bottom of the budget chain. We are expected to do a lot with very little input.”

And this warrants a change in perspective from the top management.

There needs to be a lot of education done about communications involving both in-house and external communications teams and the top management. Quite often, for the regional director of the company, unless he’s a marketer or communications person by training, it would take a lot to be comms savvy, the panellists highlighted.

And this differs from company to company. Quite often now, communications heads report to the CEOs. “Hopefully, we will see more and more of that – and that’s only going to happen if the CEO truly believes in the communications function and what it does,” Dale said.

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