Public relations (PR) has existed ever since mass media came into the mainstream of the modern civilisation. Mass communications as we know it cannot survive without public relations and advertising. Supported by these two disciplines/practices (you may even add the think tanks here), mass media embarks on its mission of manufacturing consent and glamour and shaping public opinion and taste. It guides the reader to choose from simple consumer goods (a cone of ice cream, a piece of lingerie, a laptop) to complex ideas and ideologies.
It can be argued that while the media industry has rapidly changed after the arrival of the Internet (is still changing), the PR practitioners have not. With the exception of some, they have continued their past practices, especially in Asia. The same old press releases, phone calls to journalists, media briefings and the odd luncheonthere hasnt been much change in their age-old practices of interacting with the members of the press.
The question is how long they can stay insular and impervious to the sweeping changes affecting the media landscape.
The good news is that the current landscape is in favour of the PR industry. According to a story in The Economist (Good News, 14 Jan 2010), PR companies have done well during the recession. Spending on public relations in America grew by more than four per cent in 2008 and nearly three per cent in 2009 to US$3.7 billion. Compare these figures with other forms of marketing. Spending on advertising contracted by nearly three per cent in 2008 and by eight per cent in 2009.
The report further notes that PRs position looks even rosier when word-of-mouth marketing, which includes services that PR firms often manage, such as outreach to bloggers, is included. Spending on such things increased by more than 10 per cent in 2009, the report says.
Why has PR done well compared to advertising? The report cites two main reasons: PR is cheaper than mass advertising campaigns and the rise of the Internet has given PR a big boost.
When I circulated this piece of news to some of my contacts in the PR firms in Singapore, the response was overwhelmingly positive. However, they all admitted that they were not as advanced (in terms of practices, especially using social media) as the PR firms in the Western countries.
This shows that there is a huge opportunity for PR companies here. They can easily pick up PR lessons from the West. Sooner or later they have to catch up with them, and even surpass them as the economic pole of the world shifts from the West to the East. As Tom Friedman has said, the age of the Internet has only one motto: whatever can be done, will be done. If you dont do it, you are only creating opportunity for someone else to do it. If you are lax, the loss will be yours.
Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia portal.
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