Postcard from Turkey

PR is not well understood in Turkey but there is huge potential for development, says Seda Yalçin, CEO of Weber Shandwick Turkey.

Turkey: the first PR company was established in 1974
Turkey: the first PR company was established in 1974

The history of the Turkish PR sector doesn’t go back very far.

The first PR company in Turkey was established in 1974. Following a similar path to Western markets, the Turkish PR sector evolved from pure media relations and event management to strategic consultancy, although the effectiveness of the latter is still under question.

The sector is heavily dominated by Turkish consultancies, although there has been an increasing interest from global agencies in the Turkish market. Global agencies operating in Turkey still constitute a very small part of the total market; only three of the 23 member agencies of the Communication Consultancies Association of Turkey are international.

The PR sector is still small compared with Western markets. The total turnover of the sector is estimated to be around $100m, which would only account for one per cent of the $9.5bn global PR industry.

However, considering the economic growth trend within the past decade, one can certainly predict the sector offers potential for development. Despite its economic and political challenges, Turkey’s economy is expected to grow 3.8 per cent in 2014 according to the OECD, which is above the average global growth rate of 3.6 per cent.

The PR sector is growing even faster in Turkey. It is estimated that consumer products, technology, financial and professional services are the biggest practice areas, while corporate reputation, marketing communications and digital/social media are the biggest growth areas.

As an online-engaged country with a young population, social media and corporate reputation have been growing in tandem. We witnessed during the Gezi protests how fragile the reputation of a company can be during times of crisis and how it can come under pressure on social media where information can be disseminated quickly.

Like other markets, the Turkish comms sector is also challenged by the convergence of traditional PR, social media and digital, and advertising. As social has become a key channel for reaching consumers, both PR and advertising campaigns have shifted to social and there is now an overlap between services offered by PR and advertising agencies. Despite this convergence, social media agencies still lead this space and PR agencies do not seem to be any closer to becoming the major player in social.

The key challenge is that the profession is not well understood in Turkey. Since its establishment, PR has focused on event management and media relations, and a large chunk of agency revenue has come from the big events organised for clients.

The concept of strategic comms was introduced in the 1990s and it is now used widely as a key selling point by agencies but, in practice, it often still does not go beyond sending out press releases and organising meetings. Companies tend to engage creative and social media agencies when developing marcoms campaigns, and see PR agencies as providing operational support to secure campaign coverage in traditional media.

This is not solely PR agencies’ fault, as they are mainly responding to client requests. But it will remain a problem as long as agencies are measured purely on the amount of press coverage they secure. The Turkish PR sector has huge potential, but primarily it should work on improving its own reputation.

Seda Yalçin joined Weber Shandwick in July 2013 to manage its newly established Istanbul office.

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