Faaez Samadi
Mar 28, 2017

'Staggering' rise in crisis work amid global uncertainty: Porter Novelli CEO

Brad MacAfee says while campaigns and integration remain key to the PR business, reputation management is top of mind in the current geopolitical climate.

Brad MacAfee
Brad MacAfee

Communications agencies are facing a greater tide of crisis and reputation management than perhaps in any time recently because of rising uncertainty across the world’s political and economic landscape, said Brad MacAfee, CEO of Porter Novelli.

Speaking to Campaign Asia-Pacific in Singapore, MacAfee said virtually not a single day has passed in the last couple of months when a client has not contacted his agency for help on some area of reputation management.

“The amount of growth we’ve seen in reputation management in the last year is staggering,” he said. “It’s obvious that it would be fast-growing, but the rate is really surprising. However, it can also offer great rewards for an agency like ours, as good reputation management drives client loyalty.”

From the new US administration to the South China Sea dispute, and from Brexit to Korea’s historic presidential scandal, MacAfee said that although many brands are not actually in any sort of reputational difficulty, “everything seems a bit heightened right now”.

“In this era of uncertainty and potential political tensions coming at your business, everyone is looking for any insight and guidance around these global geopolitical issues,” he said. “With clients, it’s not about being either alarmist or opportunist. You want to be a good counsellor.”

MacAfee raised the highly contentious issue of fake news, which he said most brands were currently unprepared for because they see it as a political issue, and not yet a business one.

“But then you get an incorrect tweet from a government official over your pricing around a procurement, and then you see your stock slide,” he hypothesised. “There are some businesses at greater risk from fake news than others, that’s fair. But as with any good communications risk assessment, you have to figure out that likelihood.  We’re finding some brands are really ill-prepared for this right now.”

The growth in crisis work has helped contribute to a successful past year for Porter Novelli and MacAfee, who moved into the CEO role just over 12 months ago. The agency has 22 offices in 16 countries around the region.

Within Asia-Pacific, MacAfee says the agency has seen the largest growth in China, where it is exploring opportunities with SMEs looking to expand their footprints internationally.

“A lot of SMEs are really going global out of China, and we’re helping them into Southeast Asia, Europe and North America,” he said. “A lot of brands are doing risk evaluation around their expansion into Southeast Asia, and bringing in communications firms to help to see around potential issues.”

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