Opinion: Why last place is a bad place for PR in 2016

Charles Lankester, Ruder Finn Asia's senior vice president for reputation management, on why a recent survey slamming PR services in APAC is a good thing for the industry

Charles Lankester
Charles Lankester

A recent survey of ASEAN marketers from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) showed PR as "their worst performing" agency resource. This is a valuable industry alarm call.

Whilst this group is certainly not representative of Asia-Pacific, the results are still concerning. Our industry is undergoing the same seismic changes as many parts of the economy although many in the "PR" business seem blissfully unaware.

The challenge we face is that our industry is hugely polarised and fragmented: some practitioners still (think they) do media relations and others (think they) are data scientists.

At the heart of this schizophrenia is a legacy name - Public Relations. This should be consigned to the archive pronto as it causes more harm than good.

Moving from what is wrong to what is right in the industry, many firms, ours included, are seeing the light and evolving and transforming to the new order of things.

Looking ahead, there are three drivers I see as moving our industry towards first place among marketers.

First, reset. This is not a drill. Things really are different. We need to be different too.

Example: we used to rely solely on the media to reach those important to our clients. Nowadays we can talk directly through a dazzling array of alternative means. Yet some practitioners still think their main job is media relations and writing press releases.

We need to articulate and own this new environment and bring a 360-degree understanding of it to each client engagement.

Second, value. We must bring new, dynamic, vibrant and exciting thinking. We must augment and enhance our clients’ businesses and reputations.

Example: we must help them navigate the evolving digital environment, understand the new sources of influence and provide the initiatives to reach them. If we do this, we will be a valued, respected partner always welcomed in client offices.

Third, results. We need to be crystal clear how the work we do benefits our clients.

Example: we should strive to link our work to actual business results wherever possible. Increased sales, improved employee retention or a broader investor base are just three possibilities. To quote Peter Drucker, "what gets measured, gets managed".

If there was ever a time for our industry to strive for a marketing leadership position, that time is now. All bets are off. Marketing borders are breaking down.

Just one example: We are the reputation management experts. The last time I looked, reputation is something most CEOs care very deeply about. This is prime business real estate for our industry to own and manage, initiating work greatly valued by our clients.

So, in ASEAN at least, we are starting from last place. Do we have the momentum, insight and confidence to move up to first place as we go towards 2020?

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