The international media has had a field day this year portraying
Asia as a region in real economic difficulty and under a permanent haze.
However, the reality is somewhat different and PR professionals
targeting the region must realise this if they are to be successful.
The economic situation is certainly bleak. But it varies vastly from
country to country, and governments are reacting differently. Some of
the larger PR consultancies have dashed for the door, cutting staff and
even closing offices, but to write off Asia is a mistake for the PR
Having the spotlight turned so brightly on the region has made Asia sit
up and pay attention to how it is being portrayed around the world. The
reality is that the opportunity for the PR industry in Asia today -
especially PR practitioners who can offer counsel and execute programmes
globally - could well turn out to be the best yet.
There are many corporations and indeed governments that are desperately
seeking ways to restore damaged or even destroyed reputations. Not only
are there some willing and able customers, but in many respects the
Asian media has never presented as many opportunities as now for PR
Unlike its western counterparts, the Asian media has never shied away
from reporting good news. The need to offer a negative for every
positive has not been a dominant feature of reporting in the region. In
the current environment where there is a natural abundance of negative
stories and events, the Asian media is more eager than ever to receive
anything offering a positive spin.
As far as television is concerned, advertising revenue is down almost
everywhere and some countries cannot afford to continue to pay for the
high level of American programmes they had relied on previously. In
Malaysia for instance, budgets for foreign-sourced programming have been
slashed by up to 40 per cent. The result is that they have to produce
more local programming, albeit with reduced budgets. Many networks have
cut their subscriptions to the international news agencies such as
Reuters and APTV that provided news gathering services for them.
In other quarters, some broadcasters are carrying on with plans to
launch new programmes and services. China’s CCTV and Shanghai TV are
both still on track with plans to launch a global satellite service
catering to the expatriate Chinese community.
What is needed from PR professionals is inventive story creation and an
understanding of what broadcasters want. But practitioners need to
consider the subjects they wish to promote carefully. Pushing Prada when
there is rioting for rice won’t fly.
Most countries are publicly predicting they will be out of difficulties
in six to nine months. But more cynical pundits believe it will take
three years before the tiger economies are back to their annual eight to
ten per cent growth rates.
The unpredictability of the recovery makes it difficult for companies to
gauge the correct level of spend to protect their market share now and
to position themselves to take full advantage of the recovery when it
happens. There are therefore positive opportunities for consultancies to
provide creative solutions that are more cost-effective than traditional
Some major companies are already beginning to increase their
communications spend simply because the risk of holding back and losing
out in the recovery is too great. My advice to the PR industry is to
reap the opportunities in Asia now.
Shoba Purushothaman is group director international at Bulletin