The PR industry is going through a transformative time, driven by societal change, technological change and globalisation, which gives any PR firm a huge opportunity to play a more strategic communications role than ever before, according to Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text100.
“The top concern is the ability to adapt and change our products and services to take full advantage of the opportunity and hire the necessary talent to continue to build our business as a digital communications business,” she said.
Organisations need to truly understand who they are and what they stand for, and find their corporate character and purpose. Technology has empowered stakeholders and audiences to really start a conversation, so when communications people have a dialogue with the stakeholders, they need to keep the consistency of that information.
“How-you-are is who-you-are,” she said. “In terms of the character of your organisation, there is a lot of work being done from communication’s standpoint. The concept of authentic enterprise is transparent both internally and externally, because now more than ever, consumers are your audiences, who own the brand, as opposed to you owning your brand.”
As for Text100, the agency has been a technology specialist for most of its existence, but moving forward, as technology is now becoming the core to all the industries, its business is evolving into new industries, such as automotive and travel.
“Our biggest investment is digital and social media," Hynes said. "Technology is still core to our business and we will always be best-known for, but we are work in many different industries now, and that’s growing. Energy is another area we are seeing growth. So, the biggest change is we are hired because of our technology expertise, not just hired by technology companies.”
In the APAC region, Text100’s key markets are India and China, in terms of growth opportunity.
“China is about the size of the population and the strength of the growth in that market,” she said. “It’s now more about China as a consumer rather than an exporter of products.”
Singapore remains critically important as a hub for Text100, because a lot of its clients run their APAC communications out of Singapore.
“Malaysia is where we run our digital hub as we are able to hire some great talent there. We created a team there to serve the rest of the world. It’s an entrepreneurial approach to business,” she said.
Yet despite all the evolution, traditional PR storytelling skills will always remain critical across all of the different stakeholders, according to Hynes.
“Ultimately, we want to get that consumer to be not just the point of sale, but to be a happy user of the product,” she said. “Once they become happy users, they become the ambassador for your brand and a better communicator of your brand than you would ever be yourself.”
In addition, the communication role plays an increasingly important part within organisations.
“There is certainly some degree of fear that employees will say something inappropriate or critical of the company, and that now has the potential to be so much more powerful than it was historically,” Hynes said. “That’s why so many companies are going back to think about who they are as an organisation and what they stand for in order to give the employees complete freedom to communicate.”
Hence companies and brands have to think about how they can ensure there is a consistent experience asnd story at every touchpoint around the decision life cycle.
“As we develop those stories, we need to ensure we can repurpose those stories or content regardless of where it appears,” she said. “Strategically, that’s the framework we work within. What’s important is whether these stories are consistent on all of the different platforms.”
In Asia-Pacific specifically, Hynes said companies have to be very mindful of culture differences across many countries, yet it's also important that any type of communication strategy be globally applicable.
“For companies whose HQs are in the US, their communication executives see the challenge is to ensure their voice to be heard at the earliest stage of the development of communication strategy,” she said. “There is no ownership of the best ideas. It’s all about how to take that content and repurpose it for different markets.”
Taking India as an example, she pointed out that traditional media remain strong and internet penetration is much lower than everywhere else in the world.
“So, at the strategic level, you have to think about all of the different tools we use to communicate with people may be different or the emphasis on the different platforms changes depending on what market you are in,” she said.
Companies that get this really well are beginning to evolve into social businesses. Likewise the lines between PR firms, advertising agencies and digital specialists are blurring.
“That’s because it really doesn’t matter which department the idea comes from,” Hynes said. “What matters is the content, and that the centre is the audience.”
In social business, people organise around their stakeholders and make sure that there is a consistent story being told to their audiences.
“They pick skills from different departments and work around that, as opposes to say, marketing owns digital or PR owns digital,” she said. “Social media and digital is just a tool.”
Hynes suggested thinking less about tools, but more about what the strategic framework is, what story you want to tell, how you create the right level of content and how you make sure where your audiences are.
“Ultimately, the opportunity is to engage with that audience and to have a dialogue and conversation, not to simply broadcast information to them,” she emphasised.
Crisis management is another key issue in these digital times. “I think crisis is a test for the brand in social media or not, but the potential impact of crisis occurred by social media is now infinitely greater scale,” Hynes said. “It’s the speed that makes people nervous.”
The principle of crisis management remains the same, which is to be able to get ahead of the truth, admit the responsibility, explain yourself and re-direct the story. Also, companies need to have an online presence, because in any format of crisis online you need to be able to respond immediately in the same format.
“Organisations, which behave in an authentic manner and are willing to be transparent, are those who build great trust,” she added.
As for talent, PR now needs the skill sets that exist elsewhere. “We hire content people, or people with untraditional PR background, in order to be able to have that expertise,” Hynes said.
Digital talent remains a top priority, and Hynes said she is confident about finding the people she needs.
“It really comes down to finding talent that is a best match for both sides,” she said. And as Text100 aims to become a fully integrated communication agency in the next three years, people who join will have an opportunity to really build something.
“You are not only coming to here to use your digital expertise, but also get to use that with some of the world’s most significant brands,” she said. “If you join a digital start-up, you may not have that opportunity because the client base doesn’t exist.”