PR pros the world over face many challenging issues, from local economies to talent. Erica Iacono moderates this virtual forum of top pros from different regions to get the global view
PRWeek: How would you characterize the PR business in your country/region? Have there been any significant changes in the past few years?
Claire Li (APCO Worldwide, China): The PR industry in China is definitely in a growth phase. However, brand differentiation is difficult, while pricing seems to be the most important factor to clients here. One significant change in China is the rise of local agencies that are competing head to head with global ones.
Ryan Peal (Hill & Knowlton Australia): PR in Australia is alive and well, actually supercharged these days as more marketers are turning away from traditional advertising and toward the game-changing ability of communications pros.
Patricia Ott: (Lewis PR, France): Due to competitive market conditions, globalization, and consolidation, companies rely more and more on their consultancy taking a qualitative approach to helping them differentiate from the competition. They also expect more specific and targeted results from their PR agency.
Stuart Wilson (MS&L, UK): I would suggest that the UK has to be one of the most sophisticated PR markets in the world. Over the past few years, this sophistication has been augmented by the fact that alongside the traditional use of the UK by US multinationals as a regional PR hub, we now see work from the emerging markets.
Regions like the Mideast, central Europe, India, and the Far East are creating large new companies that look to London for their PR needs once they decide to expand beyond their home markets.
Magdalena Carral (Ogilvy PR, Mexico): The PR business has grown significantly in Mexico. Ten years ago, there were only small boutique PR operations (except for Zimat, which was a pioneer in the Mexican market) and the bigger US agencies were winning all the RFPs. Little by little, Mexican operations have grown bigger and are now handling many international companies' PR.
The lobbying area has also grown in importance and size. Lobbying is not yet regulated in Mexico, but it's coming to a point where it needs to have some rules.
Shuri Fukunaga (Burson-Marsteller, Japan): One of the significant changes I see in Japan is the elevation in the status of the PR profession. In the past, PR was seen as being implemented by specialists, as if [it were] a craft. However, we are seeing today that it is increasingly more recognized as an integral discipline within management.
For the first time, stakeholders in this market are making themselves heard and making corporate demands on management members to build a company with integrity and performance. This pressure is guiding in this trend.
Manuel Huttl (Waggener Edstrom, Germany): PR has become a mature business with key players in every market niche. There is lots of competition going on. We also face a development from average output towards high-quality outcome. In the future we will see more PR consulting going on.
Vladimir Frolov (RIM Porter Novelli, Russia): The PR market is constantly growing as Russian business tends to be more open to the media and the media starts respecting business.
It's a common thought that Russian PR is mostly about media relations and sponsoring, and things such as social-oriented projects are a lot less popular. Still, research held among Russian PR managers discovered a growth of internal communications, crisis communications, government relations, and reputation management.
Ciro Dias dos Reyes (Imagem Corporativa, Brazil): There are 1,100 PR agencies in Brazil, with 12,000 employees. Total revenues reach $350 million (US) according to the Brazilian Association of PR agencies.
The good news on the economy has expanded new business opportunities in the communications field. Integrated solutions are more and more required from PR pros and firms. This means that such things as blog-monitoring activities, issues and crisis management projects, and reputation programs have been required as never before.
PRWeek: Are there specific challenges that are exclusive to your country/region in terms of PR and communications work?
Sarah Sherman (The Hoffman Agency, UK): The main challenge is that we need to communicate with a much more diverse, fragmented audience, usually with a fraction of the budget and on top of a much higher cost base than the US.
Europe is such a diverse region, yet so many people tend to lump it into one big mass, or worse, tack on the Middle East and Africa to make an even bigger mass. I can't think of a more diverse region from a social, political, religious, or media perspective than EMEA.
Peal (H&K): We have challenges in convincing some clients that it's OK to be first in the world at something - and that it is not necessary to wait for their corporate headquarters mainly located in the US or EMEA to launch a major initiative. Many still believe being located in a smaller country like Australia means they can't develop innovations that could be a first for the company.
Kenneth Chu (Ketchum, China): Foreign companies are often subject to much more intense and unbalanced scrutiny than local companies. One of the results of China's resurgent nationalism is that any perceived "insult" to the Chinese people by a multinational company often leads to a barrage of negative coverage.
[Such an] "insult" can come from a range of issues, including being seen to offer supposedly inferior products or services to Chinese consumers (Dell, NestlŽ, SKII, to name a few), to advertising depicting "sacred" Chinese cultural symbols - e.g. dragons (Nike) or stone lions (Toyota) - in an unflattering light, or from simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time (Starbucks in the Forbidden City).
Often the onslaught starts in the blogosphere, and much of the time the facts of the matter end up getting lost in the nationalistic vitriol that is heaped upon these "offenders." Furthermore, once the story gains momentum, be it accurate or not, it is very hard to contain as the trend is for media to copy and paste such sensational stories without verifying the facts.
John Morgan (GolinHarris, China): In Greater China, hands down, the greatest challenge is talent. We hear this concern around the [globe], but having worked in other parts of the world, I'd say our case is clearly more severe.
Melissa Arulappan (Corporate Voice/Weber Shandwick, India): What is perhaps unique to our country is the challenge posed by the cultural and regional diversity of India. Running a multi-city PR campaign is at times almost like running several multi-country programs in one. This is particularly noticeable when one is launching consumer campaigns where the cultural nuances become more defined. Even within one city, there are cultural pockets created which may call for a different strategy and approach.
Vivienne Segal (Sefin Porter Novelli, South Africa): Transformation initiatives provide both a challenge and an opportunity. Government has put in place black economic empowerment (BEE) legislation aimed to encourage broad-based participation in the economy. This places pressure on consultancies to transform their own organizations at all levels in order to secure government and corporate work. While posing a challenge, it also opens up opportunities to consultancies that are fleet of foot and able to take up the opportunities opening up in these markets.
PRWeek: What sectors provide the most opportunity for business and growth in your country/region?
Frolov (RIM-PN): The service sector presents more opportunities for business. Financial services, for example, are new and obscure for Russian consumers, so there's a necessity for them to be explained. That is where PR comes in.
Segal (Sefin PN): The government and NGO sectors hold a lot of promise for South Africa and the stronger economies of sub-Saharan Africa, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, and Kenya. Social communications - in the sense of reaching all sectors of the community - is growing in strength, particularly in areas such as HIV/ AIDS education and advocacy.
Bob Pickard (Edelman): Pharma is the key growth area in a country with an aging population where it is illegal to advertise legal drugs. Now that Japan's economy is back on track, financial is hot with so many commercial transactions.
In general, corporate is strong (driven by demand for CSR communications counsel) as well as anything to do with b-to-c and blogger outreach.
Ott (Lewis): Industries including auto, aerospace, chemical, energy, consumer goods, Internet companies, events and trade show organizers in various sectors (IT, industry, entertainment, channel).
Huttl (WE): Definitely strategic consulting, as more organizations now recognize the value of intangible assets - perception and reputation. Both can be most efficiently changed through communication. We also face lots of new opportunities in internal communications - foremost in sectors where there are several departments with different objectives.
Chu (Ketchum): Given that much of the world recognizes Asia as a rapidly developing and expanding marketplace, virtually every industry sector is actively present here and seeking expansion. In China, there are several areas that are very promising, including auto, healthcare, luxury goods, and food and wellness products.
PRWeek: How much of the business out of your office is truly global in scope?
Arulappan (Corporate Voice): A lot of our work is global in scope because, to use the clichŽ, the world is flat. Campaigns for many of our international clients are drawn from their global programs and adapted to India. Similarly for Indian clients, several of our programs are global in nature because the audiences they're addressing are not restricted to India.
Fukunaga (Burson): Once upon a time, our work with foreign firms operating in Japan was a major part of our business. Today, the portfolio is very different. We work increasingly with very Japanese organizations in the very Japanese domestic market. We work with them not only in Tokyo, but in the prefectures, as well as Asia, Europe, and North America.
Morgan (Golin): More and more of our business is truly global in scope, particularly as the larger conglomerates undertake global initiatives that require a "glocal" approach that needs more than a Chinese name to be successful.
Still, it's not an industry secret that the average office in Asia-Pacific strives for a 70/30 split between local/global business. Such numbers were probably more talk years ago, but are reality today.
Peal (H&K): We are involved in many major global assignments, especially given our status as a mature market. These assignments are generated mainly through our technology and healthcare teams, and in an increasing rate with our sports and sponsorship team.
We are actually seeing clients who have started mainly as Australian-led initiatives and are now expanding across the region - a reverse from the traditional global client starting points of New York City and London.
Changes in media
PRWeek: What changes have you seen in the local media scene? How important are new and consumer- generated media?
Arulappan (Corporate Voice): With 30.32 million Internet users in urban India, of whom 20 million are online everyday, the social- media environment presents a tremendous opportunity for PR pros, although it still has not been used very effectively.
Social media is a whole new world and PR practitioners in India are still a few months away from creating winning campaigns in this area. Despite the proliferation of media in India, the focus for most PR campaigns is on a miniscule percentage of these media.
Wilson (MS&L): I've lived and worked in Toronto, New York, Chicago, and London. I can honestly say I've never seen a more challenging and aggressive media than [that in] the UK. I'm not sure that the UK media is always the best, but it certainly fulfills its role as a watchdog on society.
Pickard (Edelman): The decline of newspapers is just starting in Japan, but they have a long way to go, with some circulations several times [that of] USA Today with a population less than half that of America.
TV news is still credible in Japan, but it is losing eyeballs to the Internet. Traditional media properties are projecting the power of their brands online, but not as effectively as BBC has in TV or The New York Times has in newspapers.
Chu (Ketchum): Traditional media, especially TV and papers, still play the leading role in creating original news content, enjoying unparalleled credibility and impact among the general public. For this reason, a multinational company managing PR in China cannot afford to overlook influential mainstream media outlets such as China Central Television or the Beijing Youth Daily in Beijing, or the XinMin Evening News in Shanghai.
Dias dos Reyes (Imagem): In Brazil, just a small group of companies have consumer-generated media on their radar and consider it a relevant point in terms of shielding brands and reputation.
A year and a half ago, our agency created a specific department to monitor blogs, video blogs, sites, hotsites, wikis, and virtual communities. The idea is to offer strategic input for companies concerned about predominant perceptions on the Web, as well as ideas on how to generate positive information there.
Huttl (WE): The magazine landscape has changed a lot. There is a growing importance for online media. Lots of publications offer paid content through advertorials these days because editorial offices are shrinking due to the lack of marketing money and spending into advertisements. More and more marketers would rather invest in advertorials, because they are able to influence the content.
Digital communication will definitely play a bigger role in the future. But we will have to wait until the market matures.
Visit globalaccount.prweekblogs.com to keep track of this ongoing conversation and to share your thoughts on these issues.
Manning Selvage & Lee (London)
APCO Worldwide (Shanghai, China)
Ciro Dias dos Reyes
Imagem Corporativa (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
MD, Sefin Porter Novelli
(Johannesburg, South Africa)
Hill & Knowlton (Australia)
Regional MD, Greater China
GolinHarris (Hong Kong)
CEO and partner
Ketchum Greater China (Shanghai)
Lewis PR (France)
RIM Porter Novelli (Moscow)
The Hoffman Agency (London)
President of North Asia
Waggener Edstrom, (Germany)
VP and director of development
Corporate Voice/Weber Shandwick (Bangalore, India)
CEO, Ogilvy (Mexico)