Asia more open to innovation in the public affairs space, says Fleishman US exec

Kris Balderston says APAC region more open-minded than others and keen to address big problems through broad and inventive PR campaigns

Kris Balderston
Kris Balderston

Stakeholders in Asia are more open than their counterparts elsewhere to trying new PR strategies in the growing public affairs space, said Kris Balderston, general manager of FleishmanHillard’s Washington, DC office and head of the agency’s public affairs practice.

Speaking to PRWeek in Singapore yesterday, Balderston said public affairs communications has evolved into an arena where various groups – brands, NGOs, and governments – come together to address large problems, and then discuss how to get their message out.

But it’s countries in Asia that are best at listening to new ideas, he said.

Balderston spoke at a public affairs conference in Singapore earlier that day, and said he "really found it rewarding because people in Asia, and particularly Singapore, are really quite innovative and open to ideas, as opposed to other parts of the world".

"People are just more open to it here," he told PRWeek. "I don’t know if it’s because they are growing economies, but I don’t find people in Asia turning around and saying ‘we know how to do it’ like in some other places. They’re very open-minded."

Balderston has more than 30 years’ experience working in the US government, including at the State Department and in the White House under president Bill Clinton. He specialises in creating public-private partnerships to address global social problems, and continues that role at Fleishman with a stronger communications focus.

He says the key to creating successful public affairs initiatives is "to have a nice portfolio of corporations, NGOs, foundations and government", and that those groups in Asia are increasingly keen to work together on innovative PR campaigns as consumers become more concerned with a brand or NGO’s public service image.

"It could also be that [these stakeholders] are entering new markets, so they’re more game to trying innovative things to get a foothold," Balderston said. "They’re facing issues and problems here too, so they’re trying to figure out new ways to address them."

Having effective public affairs campaigns that address large social problems is particularly important in emerging economies, said Balderston, because "the efficacy of the market will only succeed if you’re helping to build the workforce, the client base and the marketplace".

He said agencies hold a unique position now in the public affairs space because they have the power to bring together clients from all different groups and be a "translator" for their ideas.

"You want to be a translator of as many different groups as you can; government, NGOs and corporations," Balderston said. "The problems that the world is facing are global, they’re complex, and no one sector can solve them anymore."

"I view us as a global problem-solving platform and I feel like I’m continuing my public service from a private sector role."

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