Editor's letter - Asia: PRWeek Global Agency Business Report 2016

2015 was a year of steady, solid but not spectacular growth for most agencies in Asia, with most scraping double-digit growth figures.

Gary Scattergood, PRWeek Asia head of content
Gary Scattergood, PRWeek Asia head of content

Many pointed to the far east and far west of the region – India and China – as providing the best numbers, with a mixed bag in between.

Singapore and Hong Kong appeared sluggish for many agencies, while Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam remained buoyant.

But just like 2014, and frankly every year before that, the three issues keeping most agency heads awake at night remain skills, talent and staff retention.

It’s a story we journalists are tiring of hearing.

Yes, we know, millennials are notoriously hard to please - they jump ship for a few extra dollars or a jazzy new title on their business card. It’s also not a problem that is unique to PR, although the industry does seem to be at the extreme end of the scale, especially around retention.

There are many impressive agency bosses in the region and they are all trying to devise innovative ways to attract and retain the best staff.

There is a lot of talk around career planning, training, secondments, incentives and benefits such as free meals, travel cards and remote working.

But is it really working? At this precise moment in time, it doesn’t appear to be.

Some agencies in China have turnover figures of 60-70 per cent. In the wider region many agencies would be delighted with 20-30 per cent.

But there has to be something fundamentally wrong when one in three employees wants to leave each year.

When we speak to account executives or managers, we hear the same gripes; the hours are too long, they believe no-one cares about their career development and they think their role is boring.

Yes, boring. For all the talk – much of it valid – about Asia’s PR agencies being at the forefront of the digital revolution and expanding into a wide range of marketing services, many junior employees I speak to bemoan the lack of variation in their work.

They want to be a part of this bright future they keep hearing about, but they experience a huge disconnect. They are told about the great opportunities afforded by social media, video and story-telling, but too many tell us that traditional media relations takes up 90 per cent of their time.

Everyone knows how hard it is to recruit good people in many Asia markets. Let’s be blunt, PR is not at the top of many ambitious parents’ lists. This means that once they are through the door, the industry has to do more to keep hold of them.

Some firms, and more often than not they are smaller offices, network agencies or otherwise, do have an impressive track record in this respect. It is no coincidence that these are the environments in which, due to small teams, the workload is more varied and the atmosphere more collaborative.

I’ve spent the last year visiting many agencies and it is immediately apparent which are the ones where people would like to work.

If Asia’s PR firms are really serious about dominating the region’s marketing and communications battleground, these need to be the norm, not the exception.

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