Focus On...Singapore

Small and well-developed, Singapore's PR scene is poised to return to growth in 2010.

Singapore
Singapore

In PR terms, tiny Singapore punches well above its weight as one of Asia-Pacific's most important comms markets. This is due, in no small part, to the island state's importance as an international trade hub - populated by a mix of regional MNC HQs and established local brands.

The financial crisis, therefore, hit Singapore harder than most of its peers in the region, because of its role as a gateway to Southeast Asia and beyond. At one point in 2008 a double-digit economic decline was expected, before a second-half recovery eventually led to overall shrinkage of 2.5 per cent.

Much of the country's attention over the past 12 months has focused on the fallout from the economic crisis. ‘It has certainly taken centre-stage on many occasions on the front pages and news headlines,' says Weber Shandwick Southeast Asia MD Baxter Jolly. ‘To the government's credit, it has used PR to effectively communicate to stakeholders to ensure the public are constantly informed on the state of affairs.'

All eyes are on the global economic recovery. ‘Singapore, as one of the more open economies in the region, is likely to benefit more and earlier from this than other Southeast Asian economies but this is largely dependent on the pace at which international trade picks up, as well as any changes to the structure and systems of the global financial markets,' says Burson-Marsteller Singapore MD Allison Lim.

The lowdown

Small and mature, the Singapore PR market counts some 3,000 practitioners, according to the country's Institute of Public Relations.

The disproportionately high number of PROs is fuelled by a relatively large number of small and medium-sized PR agencies. ‘The industry continues to be very competitive and for implementation work, incredibly price sensitive, because of a large number of boutique, regional and local agencies,' says Lim.

The importance of regional PR cannot be understated. ‘The fact that Singapore is a regional hub for many multinationals from various sectors means often regional PR programmes are driven and co-ordinated from Singapore,' says Jolly.

The high proportion of regional comms clients based in Singapore accordingly makes the island state a popular destination for regional agency HQs, abetted by an attractive tax environment.

Influence

Singapore's local media environment is described by Lim as ‘tiny', and functions as an effective duopoly. Singapore Press Holdings dominates the country's print landscape, publishing the highest circulated Straits Times and Today newspapers.

Meanwhile, MediaCorp owns the island state's TV and radio stations, which also attract large audiences. MediaCorp also broadcasts regional business news service Channel NewsAsia.

The relatively controlled media environment means that, according to Lim, ‘international wires and Asian editions of international publications and cable channels such as the Financial Times and CNBC Asia, remain the sources of business news'.

Singaporeans are heavy internet users, fuelled in part by the country's excellent broadband and wireless infrastructure. Internet penetration currently stands at 66.7 per cent, and news is often driven online.

‘That said, Singapore is a small market, and clients tend to be conservative, with considerable effort spent on educating them on the changes and opportunities, so change here is often slower than in other markets,' adds Lim.

Key sites include tech community hardwarezone, user-generated youth site Stomp and Razor.TV, a news and lifestyle online TV service. International players such as Google, Facebook, YouTube and Yahoo are also extremely popular in Singapore.

Agencies

Singapore features one of the most mature PR markets in Asia-Pacific, populated by a plethora of international, local and boutique firms. The island state's biggest agencies include Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller, Weber Shandwick, Ogilvy PR and Edelman.

Important local players, meanwhile, are Mileage Communications, Fulford PR and Priority Consulants.

Specific disciplinary strengths include technology, which is beginning to grow again, and healthcare. This latter category, says Jolly, remains ‘quiet' owing to consolidation in the global healthcare industry.

Unsurprisingly, salaries were flat in 2009, although recruitment consultancy Aquent expects significant change in 2010. Its research indicates that 50 per cent of the country's PR firms will increase salaries in the first quarter of the year, with 40 per cent looking to grow headcount.

Specifically, Lim expects the number of in-house positions to grow in 2010.

Bellwether brands

Independent brand valuation consultancy BrandFinance ranked national flag carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) as the country's most valuable brand in 2009, out of a top ten that also included DBS Bank, Asia Pacific Breweries and telco giant SingTel.

Domestic brands singled out for their comms savvy include Shangri-La hotels and telco player StarHub. Several Singaporean brands, meanwhile, now strut their stuff on a global stage, such as consumer electronics company Creative, massage chair leader Osim, SIA, Tiger Beer, and Shangri-La hotels.

Local brands are complemented by a thriving international brand presence, many of whom use Singapore as a test market for the wider region. Key communicators include MasterCard, Microsoft, P&G, Nike, Nokia and McDonald's.

 Politics

The Singapore government is a major spender on PR, funding a range of programmes to communicate policy changes and community development initiatives. Public education initiatives cover such areas as healthcare, sports, re-skilling and financial planning, via the government's various individual ministries.

‘Singapore's government PR focuses on the use of communication to achieve specific goals such as nation building and foreign direct investment, and it has become more prominent in projecting a more participatory style of government, including public debate on issues that shape the country's future,' says Lim.

Special mention must go to an embarrassing 2007 hip-hop video created by Singapore Media Development Authority, to promote its work and capabilities.

Public affairs is seen as a key growth area, but remains under-developed.

‘It is unlike the UK or the US definitions, and tends to be very much more public sector and government relations-based,' says Jolly. ‘Nevertheless, it is a potential market given that Singapore sits at the heart of Asia. There is currently no clear market leader.'

Stats

Population: 4.99 million

GDP: $56,226 per capita (4th)

Unemployment: 3.4 per cent

Languages: English, Malay, Chinese, Tamil

Religions: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism

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