#PRAwards 2021 spills: Human touch in PR remains important, says MSIG Asia

Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company, MSIG Asia, recently secured the bronze award for Best Employee Engagement/Internal Communications at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's PR Awards. Being big on sustainability, its parent company MS&AD, drew up a mid-term plan, Vision 2021, three years ago. It contained its ambitions and targets that would drive its sustainability agenda. However, in early 2019, MSIG discovered that markets from around the region were slow to integrate Vision 2021 into its business plans and operations as they were more focused on other priorities such as revenue growth, profitability, and customer retention. It then set objectives set to engage all 3,500 staff from its regional office and six core markets. At the end of executing its various strategies to achieve the objectives, it saw its employee participation for sustainability-themed townhalls increase from 70% to 90%.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, chief marketing officer of MSIG Asia, Rebecca Ang-Lee, shared her proudest achievement for MSIG in 2020, and what can be expected of MSIG in 2021. 

This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners and finalists’ interview series for PR Awards 2021. To find out more about the awards, click here.

What would you say was the biggest accomplishment for the whole PR/communications community in 2020?

Ang-Lee: The fact that 2020 had been a tough year for many businesses and workers worldwide due to COVID-19 is well recognised. Drastic changes at work and the lack of social interaction as a result of lockdowns, had contributed to work stress for many. That included professionals in our PR community, who at the same time were having our hands full, doubling efforts in protecting corporate reputation and building employee engagement especially since the outbreak.

I’m proud to say in spite of all the challenges 2020 presented, PR professionals have demonstrated tenacity as well as agility in the face of constant changes. As the situation evolved and regulatory requirements changed, sometimes as frequent as on a daily basis, we adapted quickly as we executed PR plans. With unprecedented digitalisation acceleration rate in 2020, we began to see more brands integrating online and social with offline, delivering outstanding and impactful results. Kudos to all in the PR community who made that happen and I look forward to greater successes in 2021!

What would you say was your proudest achievement of the year?  

Ang-Lee: My proudest achievement stems from rolling out our regional sustainability campaign with a focus on biodiversity conservation – rallying the support of stakeholders and partners, bringing together a collective voice for our planet.

Biodiversity and sustainability are still relatively new topics to the masses and at MSIG, we are just at the beginning of a great and purposeful journey as we believe biodiversity is the insurance that underwrites a healthy planet that ensures people and nature can thrive. There is a lot more to be done, and in this journey, education becomes the key in gaining support from stakeholders and building awareness first internally and then externally.

A lot of the work my team and I focused on in 2020 was centred around engaging our senior management team and educating employees in the organisation, bringing all our colleagues across different departments, levels and markets on board our sustainability journey, even in the midst of travel restrictions and physical distancing.

We worked with experts in non-profit organisations namely, International Union for Conservation of Nature, World Wide Fund for Nature and Conservation International Asia-Pacific – each a well-established leader in the field of biodiversity conservation – to develop educational content and engagement initiatives for all employees in the region.

We are heartened to see how receptive, supportive and enthusiastic our colleagues have been as the initiatives are being rolled out. In a recent employee survey, it was revealed 94% of employees in the region believe MSIG is committed to contributing to the development of a vibrant society and is helping to secure a sustainable future for the planet and our communities. This research result, coupled with the “Best Employee Engagement / Internal Communications” bronze title we won at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s PR Awards, has been a great encouragement and recognition for the hard work we have done. This has spurred us on in this really special and meaningful journey.

What are some communications trends you see carrying on post-pandemic?

Ang-Lee: With the exponential acceleration of digitalisation in the past 12 to 18 months, it goes without saying that we must all be able to effectively integrate online and offline as consumers switch between the two and spend their time divided across various digital platforms and social channels on a daily basis. PR strategies will therefore need to have the scalability and flexibility to adapt in today’s fast changing environment, and data will play a great role in that. Communications will become more insights driven in terms of planning, targeting and results learning, as we already see this happening.

Having said that, it is important that we remember the human touch in our PR plans which should remain as top priority because building relationships is a crucial element in PR and it cannot be totally replaced by technology.

The past year, we are also beginning to see an increasing worldwide focus on climate action.  In a recent study by Financial Times in collaboration with MS&AD Insurance Group, of which MSIG is a member, survey results suggest as climate crisis intensifies, natural capital is rising up the agenda for organisations in Asia. As PR professionals, we can do our part in supporting that agenda and make a difference for nature as we influence and engage our stakeholders, colleagues and the public towards protecting natural capital.

What can we expect from your company in 2021? What are you hoping to achieve within the next 12 months?

Ang-Lee: We have spent the past year or so building and driving an internal culture of sustainability across the region. In 2020, we also committed to drive our biodiversity agenda forward by partnering Conservation International Asia Pacific in biodiversity conservation efforts in the region, as part of our sustainability journey. In 2021, we will continue to build better in these ever-changing times whilst ensuring flexibility when the need calls for it.

Internally, we will continue to galvanise our people around a common sustainability vision and drive an internal culture of sustainability within MSIG through workshops, contests, as well as biodiversity conservation activities to deepen employees’ understanding and appreciation of nature and conservation.

Externally, we are exploring opportunities for business growth and innovation that will continue to drive our sustainability agenda. In February this year, we collaborated with Thailand’s regulator and AIS Insurance Service to launch “Prakan Kubdee”, a pay-as-you-drive motor insurance designed to adapt with our customers’ commuting behaviour in the new normal. Not only does the product promote safe driving, its pay-as-you-drive monthly payment model encourages drivers to drive less, reducing their carbon footprint.

Our biodiversity knowledge portal which is accessible to the public will also feature more informative and educational content in the coming months. We hope that this will be a useful resource for all to learn more about biodiversity conservation.

Unlike typical marketing campaigns, this initiative is one that welcomes competitors joining the bandwagon as together, we will become a collective force for a great cause that contributes to the society and nature, bringing about a more substantial positive change for Mother Earth!