Growth & corporate philanthropy the priorities for new PROI global chair

Richard Tsang, PROI's first global chair from Asia-Pacific, spoke to PRWeek Asia about his historic new role and what his plans are for the independent agency network.

Richard Tsang
Richard Tsang

PRWeek Asia: How does it feel to be the first leader of PROI to come from Asia?

Tsang: PROI is the oldest and largest partnership of independent integrated communication agencies in the world - 2015 fee income was US$703 million. Whereas the partnership had a partner in Japan in the 1980’s and subsequently in Singapore, PROI did not start to recruit partners in the Asia-Pacific region till the early 2000s. Currently we have 15 partner agencies in APAC covering 30 major cities, including some of the largest in their market, with 2015 fee income of US$120+ million.

When partners from the APAC region only accounted for a small fraction of the partnership, we still enjoyed equal representation on the board, thus ensuring that our voices were heard. The nomination committee and global partners have strongly supported the need to have a global chair from APAC, as it is a fast growing region within the partnership and the APAC market is also increasingly important. I am immensely honoured that the partners nominated me to become the first. In our industry, teamwork is highly important; being the global chair to me means that I can encourage even greater teamwork among our partners regardless of where they may operate.

What do you believe this says about the strength and importance of Asia to PROI and the wider PR industry?

Asia has some of the most populous countries in the world, as well as some of the largest economies. With living standards continuing to improve, Asia has consequently become a major consumer market for many global brands. However, Asia is also a very complicated market for the PR industry. We have many different cultures and languages, and this diversity is always a huge challenge for PR practitioners. PROI’s emphasis on bringing in the best local firms to become partners is a shrewd response to these challenges. This provides the partnership with an important competitive edge that most international PR firms lack.

What are your main priorities as global chairman?

At PROI’s recent annual meeting of partners in Atlanta, in my acceptance speech as global chair, I raised two things I would like to accomplish in the next two years, both of which are fully supported by my partners.

  1. To promote the PROI brand – PROI is the third-largest integrated communications and PR firm in the world when viewed as one firm; however, the partnership is not as well known as its local partners in many markets. We believe that we are much better than our peers, and we would like to make this known. 
  2. To promote corporate philanthropy – PROI partners have managed some of the best CSR programmes in the world for their clients and have won numerous awards. I strongly believe that communications practitioners are in the ideal position to do good. We are experts at raising awareness, we have extensive connections and we are good organisers; all of these attributes enable us to be at the centre of activities that help the underprivileged. By doing this, our industry can transcend the limits of the corporate world; making a difference in the real world where people’s lives can change for the better, which ultimately is good for everyone.

I understand that PROI is setting up sector specialities, could you explain this further?

The industry is moving away from the generalist towards the specialist. More industries now require specific expertise to realise their plans and implement their communications programmes. Within PROI we have some of the most respected specialists as partner agencies, including healthcare/pharmaceutical, IT, finance/IR and crisis management firms. What we need to do is align our capabilities and establish footholds in several major markets, and then we can fully offer clients, whether local, regional or international, the expertise they need. Furthermore, sector specialities headed by various partners will be entrusted with setting up individual sub-networks and transferring knowledge and best practices.

Which markets in Asia is PROI focusing on to grow the partnership?

Globally we are finding that there are many client opportunities within sub-regional markets and Asia-Pacific is no different. Currently we are working hard to further develop our footprint in ASEAN markets. While these markets are somewhat small at this point, we believe they hold immense potential.

What is your view on the state of the PR industry in Asia overall, given the difficult economic conditions and the converging of communications and marketing disciplines?

I always believe that challenges bring opportunities, as long as you are well prepared. Effective stakeholder management is pivotal to the success of a business, and PR offers the ideal solution in this respect. When corporations want to spend their budget wisely, they will find PR offers most of the solutions they need, and at a highly reasonable cost. The PR industry as a whole is also developing; most of us now cover digital/social and event management, as well as what we have always been good at, such as lobbying, branding and marketing into the latest communication platforms. I would further add that we are more flexible to work with, whether it is outsourcing or secondment, when such need arises.

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