Inside in-house: Rolls-Royce's APAC communications director on keeping relevant and emotional ties

Erin Atan, communications director, Asia-Pacific at Rolls-Royce Singapore explains why emotional appeal is key to the brand's PR strategy and how it is focusing on a content-led comms programme

Erin Atan

Mention the words Rolls-Royce and the first image that would spring into most people’s minds is likely to be that of a car.

It’s a scenario that is all too familiar to Erin Atan, APAC communications director, community investment and education regional lead at Rolls-Royce Singapore.

While Atan acknowledges that Rolls-Royce is one of the most recognisable brands in the world, she says it remains a challenge to highlight that it is an integrated power systems company that no longer owns the motor cars business – that is now part of BMW Group.

As well as Asia-Pacific, Atan and her team also look after the Middle East, Turkey and Central Asia. Within APAC, one person in Atan’s team is based in Delhi covering South Asia while another is located in Beijing overseeing the Greater China area.

Two Singapore-based specialists look after a specific market and function each. One focuses on Southeast Asia and also works as an advisor for internal communications, while the other covers Singapore and manages content planning for Asia.

Agency relationships

A network of agencies supports Atan’s team, including Ashton in Japan, CPR in South Korea and Avian Media in India, while at the regional level, Rolls-Royce works with Weber Shandwick.

The latter’s brief has changed in the last year, reflecting Rolls-Royce’s shift in strategy from sending reams of press releases to being a brand that is content-led.

"Weber Shandwick was largely focused on media relations – we are now doing this directly," says Atan. "We work with a blended team now which includes editorial, channel and traditional PR consultants, in line with our shift in strategy."

Atan and her team have been focused on rolling out this content-led strategy since the beginning of last year; planning, building the infrastructure, testing the channels and building the internal structure to support this.

"Previously, we were pretty much focused on being reactive – we were a media release machine and engaged with the press only if we had an announcement to make," explains Atan. "We related less to our stakeholders and were in danger of becoming less relevant to our future talent pool.

"We’ve always had plenty of stories to tell; about our heritage, the breadth and depth of what we do and where we are going. We want to engage with our stakeholders and take them on our journey so we become more relevant and accessible."

As part of this, Rolls-Royce has pulled together a study of its audience and built a ‘story’ architecture on which to base its stories and campaigns.

"We identify two to three high-value stories, build the narrative and decide on the format and channels to deliver the story to our audience," explains Atan.

"A single story campaign will have multiple versions in the best format possible to engage with the target audience. This approach is more proactive and involves a mix of channels from digital to traditional press to direct engagements."

Emotional appeal

To relate to audiences in the Asian markets, Rolls-Royce strives to make stronger emotional links in its communications. For example, it recently celebrated 50 years of partnership with Thai Airways International. On the back of this platform, the brand built narratives about technology, heritage and impact using traditional media and digital as well as events.

"You really get a strong sense of collaboration through the whole planning and execution of the campaign," explains Atan. "This is quite different to how we approach communication in other markets where we tend to be more straightforward in our engagements.

"The difference is driven by the Asian culture as well as the fact that a vast part of Asia Pacific is either emerging or developing."

Over the past few years in Asia, Rolls-Royce has been involved in a number of milestone events.

This includes the opening, in 2012, of the Rolls-Royce Seletar Campus in Singapore – the brand’s most modern manufacturing, training and research facility – and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s subsequent visit.

This year, the company’s PR and comms is all about crafting activities to continue the momentum of Rolls-Royce’s reputation-building effort.

The Generation Aerospace campaign, for example, has involved taking the Trent 1000 engine – designed and optimised for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner – on a tour to institutions across Singapore to encourage students to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths.

"Generation Aerospace is a significant PR programme we’ve put together in Singapore, which was later modified for Malaysia and Thailand," says Atan.

"A large part of our current campaigns are about attracting talent as we expand our footprint in Asia. To do this we are very much focused on content around the themes of impact, technology and people, and taking a very integrated approach to this."

A flexible approach

With Rolls-Royce more actively focused on delivering its messages to its target audience through the right channel and in the right format, Atan believes those in her team needs to expand their way of thinking.

"It sounds very rudimentary, but it’s a far cry from how we used to be very reactive," she says. "Instead of looking at specific spokes, the team needs to focus on the core theme of each campaign and then build the spokes around it.

"They find themselves needing to be more flexible and open to their way of thinking, basically moving away from the template approach which they are so used to."

From the wider business point of view, Atan say her team has helped to raise understanding about the brand’s technology, local investments and market impact, as well as playing a central role in managing brand reputation in times of crisis.

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