Focus On... Australia

Australia's PR industry is on a rapid growth trajectory. As a relative global comms upstart, the industry is really blossoming down under but not without its problems.

Business centre: Sydney
Business centre: Sydney

Straddling the digital abyss and balancing on the edge of a potential recruitment void has left the country's comms shops with real challenges to navigate.

However, having circumnavigated the worst of the recession, Australia is in a great position to deal with these issues and take its PR industry beyond the cracks in its blooming communications landscape.


The industry in Australia is well represented on all scales, from the large global giants through to the smaller boutique agencies.

Despite this presence, according to Scott Pettet, general manager, Lewis PR Australia there is still a general lack of understanding in terms of what PR is.

‘Generally speaking, the PR profession is not well understood here in Australia', he said. ‘I think there is a lot of work to be done in that area, especially by the industry peak body, the PRIA.'

This appears to be reflected in the comparatively low budget allocation to comms  spend, cited by Australian firms Red PR's MD Fleur Madden-Topley who believes: ‘the key challenges are  the budgets clients have for PR.'

Adding: ‘Red PR is a partner in a global alliance called PROI and I am always amazed at some of the budgets our partners get from their clients in other countries.'

Recruitment is also one of the industry's key problems. With the fast growth of a relatively young comms sector, finding good candidates to fill the newly available positions is difficult.

Australian recruiter, Jeremy Wrench, MD, Capstone Careers has seen a massive upward swing in job opportunities but a shortage of talent. He said: ‘There is a noticeable shortage of talent in the Australian market currently and with a buoyant  economy and rapidly expanding comms industry, PR practitioners are in high demand.'

Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific's executive vice president Ian Rumsby reflects these views, saying: ‘High numbers of young talent leave the country every single year.

‘That means that the industry is going to have to work harder on identifying, attracting and retaining talent if it has any chance of developing at the pace it needs to.'

As is the case in most markets, the digital revolution has taken a strong hold and agencies are battling to own this space.  However, according to Rumsby there is still some way to go.

He said: ‘Agencies are all grabbing for a piece of the digital pie. Advertising and media buying agencies are shifting long-standing business models to adapt.

‘Those who get it right will ultimately become recognised as some of the most influential organisations of the next decade.'


Key print titles on the Australian market include The Australian and The Australian Financial Review.

Madison, Vogue, Gourmet, Traveller and Marie Claire are all key influencers in the consumer market.

Broadcast is dominated by free-to-air channels the Seven, Nine and Ten networks, being joined by sports-focused channel Channel One more recently.

SBS and ABC networks all offer a more international schedule.

According to Pettet, the relationship between these media channels can spread negative news at a rapid rate, a pattern that regularly occurs: ‘Bad news, and even untruthful news, can travel at such alarming speed.'

He added: ‘A brand can be besieged by a crisis in a matter of minutes as news of an incident breaks on Twitter, spreads to blogs, gets picked up by an online news site, then radio, then the six o'clock evening news. This cycle happens on a regular basis.'


Bellwether brands

Major brands operating in the Australian market are mixed between the usual suspects such as McDonald's, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Toyota and local retail brands Coles Supermarkets, David Jones and Myer.

This, according to Frank PR Australia MD Myfanwy McGregor creates an interesting reputation challenge: ‘One of the most interesting reputation challenges is brands trying to reinforce their "Australian Made" or "Australian Owned" credentials.

‘This is becoming a challenge for a lot of iconic Australian brands being taken over or bought by big multi-national companies.'

Pettet cites social and digital media as one of the key problems faced by big brands trying to manage their reputation.



Boutique agencies play a key roll in how the industry in Australia operates, forging out niches for themselves and working in partnerships with some of the larger, more established names.

These smaller agencies tend towards the technology, consumer, travel and healthcare sectors according to Pettet.

Fleur Madden-Topley highlights the point that 'biggest doesn't mean the most successful' adding: 'Australia has a handful of large corporate PR agencies, but personally I would not define them as the most successful.

'The agencies you are hearing a lot about are the more boutique agencies who are really pushing the boundaries, including clever social media campaigns and making some noise for the brands they represent.'


Public affairs is a commonly practised discipline throughout the comms industry in Australia.

The government works on a triple layered system, with local, state and federal bodies to take into consideration.

Pettet explains: 'At a federal level, agencies need to have a presence in our capital, Canberra, to be most effective. Government spending on PR is significant and there is a defined process for agencies wishing to tender for government work.'

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