Staff Reporters
Jun 13, 2018

Live coverage of CampaignComms

Our editors' shared insights from Campaign's conference on the evolution of communications, which took place in Hong Kong on 13 June.

Opening panel discussion on the makeup of modern PR.
Opening panel discussion on the makeup of modern PR.

This page is an archive of a liveblog by our editors who attended CampaignComms at the JW Marriott in Hong Kong on 13 June 2018, Campaign's conference on the evolution of communications in Asia (the conference formerly known as PR 360). Updates were posted here throughout the day, in liveblog style (newest updates at the top).

Authenticity: It's not all about influencers (but it kind of is)
Posted at 16:20 by Matthew Miller

The day's final session, on reaching millennials in Greater China in authentic ways, revolved largely around the use of KOLs and influencers. While advising that there's no silver bullet in marketing, and that any brand needs a multitude of tactics for all different levels of the marketing funnel, the panel returned again and again to working with KOLs. 

Bastian Wong, founder and director of Flare Communications, described how paramount KOLs have become in the beauty sector and other FMCG categories.

"Two to three years ago, 30% to 40% [of the budget] was for influencers," she said. "Today, standing here in 2018, when we are planning budget, we actually allocate 60% to 70% of the budget to incfluecers and content."

By contrast, the typical media-contact list has shrunk from 100 names to 30 or 40. "This is a lot of change we are witnessing," she said.

The challenge with influencer marketing is it's not all "unicorns and rainbows", said Jay Milliken, senior partner and Asia regional lead at Prophet. "You can't control what's going to happen," he said. "You can make your investment, but they are people, they're not robots. ... For some industries it can be risky, because you can't control the vehicle you're putting your budget in."

Tony Chow, formerly with Marriott International, said a useful strategy can be to work with "micro-KOLs" who have potential. "The best strategy is to look at long-term relationships," he said. "I hope we can build from the beginnning and then they stay with us."

Maintaining authenticity is also tricky. "Authenticity lives in the mind of the consumer," Milliken said. People who make their living advising brands need to tell clients, this is who we think you are as a brand, and these are the KOLs that we think match with that. "And hopefully it works."

As for the concept of millennials as a meaningful segment, the panel didn't think much of it.

Behaviour is more important, Chow said, adding that consumption habts define consumer groups much better than age. "You could be 50 years old and be a millennial," he suggested.

Milliiken said segmentations need to be both identifiable and actionable. And while demographic categories are easly identifiable, only behaviours, attitudes, and psychographics are really actionable.

"Just because you're young doens't mean everyone is the same," he said.

New value in social listening
Posted by Robert Sawatzky

(L-R) Matthew Miller, Emmanuel Caisse, Michael Lim, Andy Ann

What’s the value of a ‘like’ on social media?  Besides providing a quick audience feedback tool to gauge engagement, the value of a ‘like’ has been facing increasingly more scrutiny by PR practitioners and their clients. Why? it provides no guarantee of further commitment or consumer engagement.

Then there’s the fraud, which Andy Ann, CMO of media intelligence company Meltwater sees as a major problem facing the industry. “We’re seeing brands and clients spending triple-digits on digital media but their conversion rates are getting lower and lower. That’s the problem with fake likes and fake scams,” he said.

Ann argued that social listening alone can’t always provide clients with the feedback data they need and increasingly his firm is looking at new sources of data about competitors and product environments with the help of AI and machine learning. “In the old days we only talked about social media listening, but now we’re going further to grow and to optimise.”

Still, for Michael Lim, branding and marketing director at Swedish lock company Assa Abloy, social listening provides that instant feedback around introducing the brand to new markets and the use of certain words in brand positioning. Words like ‘security’ for instance, have more financial connotations in Asia-Pacific than elsewhere he notes, and consumers can point out weaknesses online.

For Emmanuel Caisse, senior vice-president of analytics and insights at Weber Shandwick, social listening means listening carefully. Particularly as the cost of celebrity engagement skyrockets year-on-year in China, he says monitoring just views and likes does little for a brand, since they can see that most viewer engagement is with the celebrity and there may be little benefit for the brand that the celebrity is promoting.

Caisse pointed out that careful social listening on ecommerce platforms in particular can yield a multitude of highly beneficial information for brands beyond how consumers feel about a product. They can also see how consumers use the product and even how it’s used in conjunction with other products. “This was an incredible opportunity for product development,” he said. “New retail data has a wealth of information that hasn’t been explored yet by a lot of our social listening efforts.”

The best hires in PR are those who will 'stretch' a little to the left and right
Posted at 3.15pm by Olivia Parker

“We want hybrid talent. But hybrid talent doesn’t walk in your office saying ‘I’m a hybrid talent!’”
This was how Andréanne Leclerc, APAC managing partner and head of social at Ogilvy, summed up her frustrations with finding the best people to work for her. The three types of employees she looks for, she continued, are: “people who understand brand, people who understand culture or people who understand commerce”, and the best hires are those who can “stretch” a little to the right or left according to what is needed in any given situation. “The thing that gives me a skin rash is when they have an area of speciality,” continued Leclerc. “If it’s not in their area, like social, they give it to someone else.”

David Ko, senior vice president at RFI Asia, declared himself “vehemently” in agreement. “Skills can be trained, character and attitude usually can’t. People who are the best hybrids are the ones with curiosity.” Data scientists may be the exception to this rule, he added, saying he’s yet to meet a data analyst who has wanted to get involved with creative storytelling.

(L-r) Robert Sawatzky discusses talent with Andréanne Leclerc, David Ko and Robert Koh

Discussing hiring techniques, Ko said he now mainly uses LinkedIn rather than recruitment agencies. He finds that references from a person's former colleagues often prove more enlightening than interviews with the talent themselves, particularly as young hires often have excellent interview skills thanks to watching plenty of YouTube ‘how to’ videos. This can sometimes work against them, said Ko. “The not good ones are the ‘plastic people’. Their answers are what they think you want to hear, which makes it hard to get to the authentic self of someone. We interview more for character than skill, although they are both important.” 

Robert Koh, communications director at Bloomberg, agreed that while technical skills used to be the main priority in making new hires, today his department is more open to hybrid talent. “People have to hit the ground running so it’s a matter of seeing whether they have potential or not.

The panel also agreed that mobility — making sure talent can move around between different agency roles and different offices — is key to preventing churn, one of the industry’s biggest problems. Because most creative types and designers prefer to rotate through various agencies in order to build their portfolio, said Ko, he finds his agency is lucky to get “more than 18 months” out of most of them.

“Young travellers don’t read emails”
Posted at 14.15 by Jenny Chan

Young travellers, unlike corporate and business travellers, use apps way more to get information. The response rate from apps is much higher than other traditional communication channels, highlighted Christopher Chang, general manager of loyalty operations at Reward-U. The geo-check-in feature for the Reward-U app, for example, makes it easier for consumers to engage with merchants compared with lucky draws. A separate loyalty-program app that is not tied to the parent airline (i.e. HK Express) also enhances ease of use, he explained. “It serves customers better, and is more beneficial for other reward scenarios when they are not travelling. Travelling is only one part of their lifestyle.”

In the last few years, platforms such as Facebook and WeChat have really upped the engagement game. However, adapting to how communication channels are used in different Asian markets is a challenge for advertisers even though these platforms are widely popular, said Chang. A long-term strategy to make sure that these channels speak equally well to different Asian audiences, with appropriate adaptation, is key. The bar for adaptation is high, agreed Ben Hui, head of digital, IPG Mediabrands, citing Taiwan as an example, a market that has an extremely high social literacy rate.

For communications professionals in regional roles who are finding that platforms such as Tencent are not as open as other social channels outside China, the situation is challenging “to say the least”, said Hui, who advised against dealing with China with a Western mentality.



Making the 'north star idea' of the Palau Pledge into a reality was "insane"
Posted at 12.45pm by Olivia Parker

Adam Freedman, group head of consumer at Red Agency, talked the audience through the incredibly successful Palau Pledge campaign, which was tipped as this year's top Cannes contender by APAC creatives. The project encouraged the 160,000 tourists who visit tiny Palau island every year to police their own attitudes and actions around conservation by having them sign a pledge stamped into their passports committing them to looking after Palau's environment during their stay. 

"It was one of those moments where we were all talking about different things around sustainable tourism," said Freedman, when asked who came up with the idea. "We were discussing that personal element about signing things, and there was a lightbulb moment: what if we get people to make a pledge? To make it reality was insane." 

The campaign, which has collected 71,000 signatories so far and is predicted to gather two million over the next 10 years, has been widely praised by governments and on social media as a way of promoting responsible tourism.

The Palau Pledge

The whole project was a couple of years in the making, continued Freedman, who said Red Agency and Host/Havas were offered the chance to work on the campaign through a connection with the Palau Legacy Agency. As an Australian agency, they felt they were perhaps better placed to help than an agency from one of the countries where most of Palau's visitors come from, such as China or North Korea, because they were able to take a slightly more removed perspective on the country's environmental problems. 

Asked whether the publicity Palau has received from the campaign might cause further problems if it ends up significantly boosting tourist numbers, Freedman accepted this could be a "catch-22" situation. "We're monitoring sentiments now and working closely with government and legacy projects to make sure what we’re doing won’t be self-cannibalising," he said. "We need to really be mindful of the small infrastructure they have there." 

Measuring the efficacy of the whole campaign has so far involved assessing tourist feelings and actions during exit interviews from the country, he said. Long-term, the agency will also work with the island's conservation bodies to monitor levels of environmental degradation such as water quality and volume of litter. 

Integration mythbusters
Posted by Robert Sawatzky

(L-R) Matthew Miller, Darren Burns, Adrian Warr

What was billed as ‘The Great Integration Debate’ ended up as an episode of ‘Integration Mythbusters’, not only because the panelists were mostly in violent agreement, but because as moderator Matthew Miller, Campaign's online editor, pointed out, there are many potential misconceptions around integrated agencies.

Myth 1: Clients really want integrated agencies

“The data doesn’t actually say that” pointed out Weber Shandwick China president Darren Burns, pointing to recent R3 research indicating how few clients were working with agencies that do everything.

“Multi-service in all markets with equal ability in all services? I don’t think clients necessarily are looking for that” said Adrian Warr, managing director of Edelman Hong Kong. Instead, they’re looking for capability across a number of different practices.

“Proving that things work” is what clients concerned with conversion and business outcomes really want, said Burns. “It’s about being obsessed with our customer’s customer, versus being obsessed with just our own internal structure.”

Myth 2: Integrated agencies are more effective and cost effective

“To be fully capable across all disciplines in all markets is very difficult to do” said Warr, who noted most clients aren’t fully integrated themselves and like to engage individual teams.

Burns noted having too many agencies with separate mandates can be cumbersome, so consolidating the number of agencies or allowing different agencies (PR, social, digital) to pitch on projects can make sense. He argued PR agencies shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into categories – they can do much more for clients than strictly PR, which drew audience applause.

The two panelists did disagree on cost effectiveness, however. Warr argued that bringing different teams work to together requires glue, which involves effort, hence money.

Burns more willingly conceded there can be efficiencies through integration and that procurement-led pitches are more willing to listen to arguments around the value of integrated teams.

Myth 3: Integrated solution consultancies will eat agencies for lunch

Both panelists conceded that there’s a lot agencies can learn from consultancies in terms of how to solve client’s big problems holistically. 

But Warr noted that PR firms which are also building advisory businesses know their strategic disciplines better and he has yet to see consultancies nail great creative.

“You can weaponise an apology.”
Posted at 11:09am by Jenny Chan

Earlier this year, Marriott found itself in deep waters as China suspended its website following a mishap where the hotel chain listed Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan, and Macau as separate countries in a customer questionnaire. This was further provoked when an employee of the hotel chain liked a controversial tweet from an official Marriott Twitter handle.

In May 2018 the issue hit the headlines again, with US airlines being asked to correctly label Chinese territories. More than half of the room, when polled, are dealing with China-Taiwan-Tibet sovereignty as a business and communications issue. This is going to be a permanent and tricky issue, said Charles Lankester, EVP of Global Reputation and Risk Management at Ruder Finn. “Going with the term ‘market’, instead of ‘country’, is my unofficial advice,” he said. “It doesn’t offend anybody.”

That said, huge social media firestorms sometimes result in little business impact, as with what happened with United Airlines and Doctor Dao. “Just take a moment before thinking that any social media noise is a permanent crisis.” Still, a defensive strategy to prevent any geopolitics-related disasters is the way to go, as Flight Centre did, by tweaking things on their websites to reflect China’s naming preferences. 

"When the rubber hits the road, can a brand do a better job than saying sorry? KFC apologised for its UK chicken shortage in the most spectacular way," recalled Lankester. How? “With ’FCK’, a naughty word, but it was exactly what they wanted to say to their stakeholders in a self-deprecating way, which was pretty funny. This is a dangerous quote, but you can weaponise an apology”. 

Blueprinting the future of PR
Posted at 10:45 by Matthew Miller

Kiri Sinclair, CEO and founder of Sinclair (above left), and Annouchka Behrmann, head of brand, APAC, at Edelman, held a back and forth discussion about what PR does right, what it needs to do better, and what it should look like in the future.

1. Understand and value PR's core purpose:

Sinclair said that while technology, media channels and required skills change, PR agencies have proven flexible and adaptable and should not forget their core value. "We are doing what we've always done, we are engaging our publics," she said, adding that this central purpose has immense value for clients.

But does the industry value itself highly enough? "Are we understanding our own value?" she continued. "Are we explaining what our own value is? If we continue to use a completely different industry, advertising, as the framework that we use to evaluate our value, we're not going to get very far."

When clients call for simple executional help, such as "doing a press release", it's critical to try to expand those conversations to the strategic level, Behrmann said.

"We're never going to be able to deliver proper value from business communication until we can get to the bottom of what the business challenge is and address it," she added.

2. Add more rigour:

Edelman is investing across the board, in all kinds of specialists, Behrmann said. "This is incredibly important because we need to add more rigour if we are going to be taken seriously as an industry and by our clients."

Sinclair agreed. "The absolute change is going to come in the form of measurement," she said, adding that it should be built into all budgets at a level of at least 10%.

3. Scrap AVEs:

"I really want the region to scrap AVEs (advertising value equivalents) as a measure of PR success," Sinclair said. If you asked an ad agency to justify their work, they wouldn't tell you how much they spent, they would quantify the success with real measures, she said. "I'm a fully paid up member of AMEC, and I believe strongly in the AMEC framework," she said, adding that she spends a lot of time explaining why AVEs are not a relevant way of measuring what PR does, and never were.

"The term PR is redundant"
Posted at 09:45 by Olivia Parker

The biggest change affecting the work of PR and comms professionals today is that consumers are now so much more involved in all brand conversations, said panellists in the first session of the day at the CampaignComms conference in Hong Kong. Alannah Hall-Smith, vice president, Corporate Communications China and APAC at The Walt Disney Group, who has worked in China for three years and Hong Kong for 20, said that what she's noticed explode in the last four to five years has been the neccessity for brands to learn to "talk to the masses". Being open to and mastering use of all the technology platforms that enable engagement and responsiveness is crucial, she continued — and requires Disney's agencies to work differently and have a different skills base than in the past. 

Fellow panellist Simone Wheeler, global head, Group Communications at CLSA Ltd, agreed that tech has driven huge changes but also raised the point that events, which allow for what she calls "high touch engagement" with potential clients, are also more important than ever. Within the financial services world, she continued, the mismatch between the pace of technology change and the pace of regulation change is also having a big impact. "Regulation can't really keep up. And with things like blockchain and AI coming on board, there will be an even broader disconnect." 

Representing agencies among the brands on the panel was Rachel Catanach, president and senior partner at FleishmanHillard, who said that what brands are looking for from agencies today can be summed up in three ways: faster response times; better stories that transcend more channels and convert more consumers; and new technology channels. "AI is definitely going to impact how we do our jobs," said Catanach. "It is going to be more difficult to tell what is coming from AI and what is coming from a person. I think that's a real opportunity for the industry." 

The panel also discussed influencers, with Disney's Hall-Smith saying she sees the growth of KOLs all around Asia is "extremely interesting". Disney does not pay their KOLs, she said, but looks to engage influencers who really know and are behind the brand. 

The panel ended by answering the question: "do you even use the term PR anymore?" Their responses: 

Wheeler: "PR is redundant. Chief Communications Officer comes a little closer. To me it's about engagement...I'll go back and rename myself Chief Engagement Officer - CEO!"

Catanach: "I say communcations - but if I'm with a client who doesn't understand what we do, I say PR."

Stephen Thomas, Head of Group Brand and Communications at AIA Group: "In one sense PR is not a bad term because it does speak to engagement and interaction. At the company it's 'communications' but I think there’s still space there for PR."


Related Articles

Just Published

1 day ago

Behind Spotify's new Southeast Asia campaign

EXCLUSIVE: Campaign talks to Jan-Paul Jeffrey, Spotify’s head of marketing, on the streamer's latest regional campaign for Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines.

1 day ago

Tech MVP 2022: Sunil Naryani, Dentsu

MOST VALUABLE PROFESSIONAL: Chief product officer Sunil Naryani has been instrumental in elevating the product offerings from Dentsu and driving radical collaborations across market product leaders.

1 day ago

Why purposeful creativity is more important than ...

Why do we still rush to come up with a once-in-a-lifetime brilliant stroke of genius that had zero impact on anyone’s life or business, and then proudly stand on a stage receiving accolades for our achievements? MediaMonks' APAC ECD ponders this question and more.

1 day ago

Here's Google's plan to to help advertisers manage ...

David Temkin, senior director of product management, ads privacy and user trust at Google, who is leading the charge on preserving ad targeting and measurement while tracking restrictions loom, discusses these shifts.