"If our interviews with 2,000+ Asia-based marcoms professionals tell us one thing, said Mike Thorne, editor at Pearlfinders, "it’s that brands are seeking input from agencies that can get to grips with their underlying business challenges, rather than out-of-the-box PR services."
Pearlfinders speaks with major brand leaders and provides forecasts to marketing agencies, such as Ogilvy & Mather, Havas EHS, and Ketchum. This year the business sectors the firm advised its clients to keep an eye on for growth were FMCG (or CPG), apparel and retail. Consumer electronics also showed a boost. And while FMCG, financial services and sport, leisure & entertainment sectors all registered a slight dip in marketing investment plans from brands globally, they still combined to represent more than 30 percent of all briefs for global agencies.
But for Asia’s PR industry in particular, FMCG showed growth for brand investment plans in the Pearlfinders research, as did apparel and retail. Travel and leisure still represented the largest chunk of PR spend plans for the region, despite a large drop compared to a year ago.
"Over the last 12 months," said Thorne, "we’ve observed a huge shift in the sectors offering the greatest opportunity for PR shops. Where previously airlines, hotels and luxury apparel commanded the biggest PR budgets, now global networks should focus on the increasing need for major campaigns in FMCG (CPG), apparel and retail. Those brands targeting high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) will also remain a reliable source of briefs for agencies in 2015, with this demographic increasing their share of global wealth faster than any other and increasingly making their decisions based on lifestyle content online."
The study highlighted that Asia’s online PR efforts have grown most rapidly. For example nearly three times as many brands in Greater China plan to invest in tactics for influencing online masses.
"Singapore, Malaysia and in particular, Greater China," said Thorne, "are entering something of a golden age for comms professionals—we saw a 192 percent increase in brands’ requirements for PR support compared to last year, with the scale and scope of projects also increasing significantly."
On a global scale the Pearlfinders research showed a 7 percept jump, year on year, in the number of brands that said they were looking to use digital channels for customer development or retention, rather than just acquisition. That finding shows a growing maturity for the medium that was also reflected in the Marketers Outlook Survey, which PRWeek conducted earlier this year with our sister publication Campaign Asia and research firm Ipsos.
Results there showed a growing reliance on all digital channels in Asia, while traditional media formats, including TV, all showed shrinking shares of spend. The two reports also spotlighted social media as a clear area where marketing related firms should bolster efforts. Pearlfinders says in its report that "while big-budget advertising is still the weapon of choice for marketing teams in Asia, increasingly, social is the most effective channel to reach Chinese Netizens".
That’s an area the report's authors thought looked like opportunity, not just for Chinese firms but for western ones too. "Given the international reach of social content," they wrote, "European agencies shouldn’t be afraid to flex their muscles and target new clients globally in 2015."
That assertion derives from collected data showing a bias toward global outfits, particularly from brands operating in Greater China. In 2014, for brands that said they planned to review their PR strategy in 2015, over five times as many expressed a preference for a global network as opposed to a locally grown one. So while many brand leaders will say in conversations that getting local executions right is a high priority, the data shows that when it comes to actually hiring a firm, the money goes to those that can provide a global reach. That would make sense both for big multinational firms that would need a partner that operates in multiple countries and for Asian brands that aspire to become the next generation of global names.
While the past decade has been largely about how foreign companies could access China’s market, for example, the next ten years should see China’s firms looking to spread recognition across the globe. These companies are not likely to look at a local partner to help them go global and if large PR firms can articulate their individual advantages well enough, their global foot print will be a major selling point with firms in China and the rest of Asia.
Again Thorne observed, "At the heart of this is a greater confidence in where a trusted agency partner – and particularly a global network - can add value. Every day we see a new example of this, from tea brand Chuanhe looking to refine its brand strategy with an affordable-luxury positioning to Red Bull investing in psychographic segmentation to improve its understanding of student audiences in Singapore. With the complex nature of local content deployment and the decoupling of strategy and implementation now commonplace for global brands, there is a fantastic opportunity for PR agencies to leverage superior knowledge, reach and understanding in these markets to redefine their role in the marketing mix."
"International shops should take further encouragement from the fact that five times as many of the brands planning to review PR in 2015 specified a preference for a global network as opposed to local partners."
We’ve seen that high-end auto brands like BMW, for example, are prioritizing social listening to help form their strategy here, while Bulgari is boosting online spend to capture the imagination of increasingly diverse wealthy individuals."
One way brands plan to win those wealthy consumer hearts and minds is through the customer experience. Pearlfinders research found a significant uptick in marketers’ preference for experiential tactics. Apparel brands especially showed interest. The percent of marketers in the sector that said they would use experiential as a key part of their strategy grew over 4 percent globally from 2013 to 2014 and more than 6 percent in Asia. And the world’s single largest market, the USA, showed a 7.5 percept jump.
But perhaps the best news from the report for PR firms, based on interviews with 2,000 Marketing & PR decision-makers across Asia, is 6 percent indicated an intention to increase investment in PR for 2015, compared to less than 1 percept saying the same in 2013.