Asia Pacific – World PR Report 2016

Article by Lynne Anne Davis, President, Asia Pacific, FleishmanHillard


We live in an era of epic global disruption.  In a region as fast-evolving as Asia Pacific, constant change is not a new norm.  Sharp or steady, market flux persists with 80% of global GDP expected to come from emerging markets – led by key Asia economies – in the next two decades.  As experts in helping clients seize these growth opportunities, APAC’s PR industry itself sustains a high-growth mode.  Unfortunately, the realities of scaling to the greatest possible heights are more difficult than they seem.

Ask anyone running a business in Asia what keeps them awake at night. Most will say it’s about finding, keeping and growing great people.  The single biggest threat to maximizing growth potential to the fullest is quality and engagement of talent.

Behind the results of this year’s Talent & Challenges survey are clear opportunities to take advantage of the current climate.

While most global respondents (82%) cannibalize rival agencies for recruitment, the number-one hiring source cited by APAC respondents (ex AUS/NZ) is in-house communication departments, followed by journalism and graduate programs.  The industry needs to look further afield and get more creative with how it attacks persisting talent limitations.

Growing from the Outside

A key survey theme in Asia Pacific is the problem of attracting talent from outside the PR field, attributed primarily to salary expectations, skills transfer and training.  Additionally, retention was cited as the number-one inhibitor of talent strategies.

Talent in Asia is a moving target, which can actually be good news.  In the Hudson Report on 2016 talent trends in Asia Pacific, this year is “shaping up to be one of the most mobile and fluid in recent times” with unprecedented numbers prepared to move jobs, move sectors and even move countries.   Specifically, one third of Mainland Chinese professionals plan to make a move within a year, with a higher proportion in Singapore (44%) and even more in Hong Kong and Singapore (50%).

These intentions bode well for cross-over recruitment, which is mission critical to the future.

PR’s massive transformation as an integrated, socially-centric industry was enabled by the introduction of non-traditional roles and expertise from other industries.  That must never stop in order to continuously innovate, expand influence and supply the rising demand for PR services – especially in Asia where local companies are aggressively disrupting categories, exporting brands abroad and creating new spaces.  Communications is their most effective strategy to break out as true game changers and market makers.

Likewise, demand for crisis management and public affairs work is rising rapidly in a region as issues rich as Asia.

Capturing Game Changers

Agencies with the consulting skills to advise on high-stakes, complex business challenges on many different levels are best equipped to cater to the burgeoning generation of global leaders from Asia.  Experience in legal, digital, government, NGO, management and HR consulting, for example, all apply.

For agencies operating on the high-value, high-margin reputation management end of the advisory spectrum, return on these investment hires is worthwhile indeed.  To draw talent, these organizations fish where the fishes swim by raising visibility in target sectors, employ mentoring programs for on-the-job coaching, make headlines with thought leadership, and prioritize training on an ongoing basis. For example, at FleishmanHillard, an intensive training program is required for certification of its crisis management counselors.

Winning Through Creativity

‘Social media community management, insight and planning, marketing and business development’ are quoted as the most relevant skills for PR executives in Asia for the next decade.  The drivers of change in this region support, indeed demand, the continuous development of such capabilities. Interestingly, creativity ranked third globally as an important future skill yet did not feature in the top three cited in Asia Pacific.  This is worrying.  Along with talent, creativity is without a doubt the most valued competitive edge an agency can have.

The dynamism, diversity and professional enrichment of agency life are alluring in an industry blessed with an abundance of growth.  Every player in it should be actively promoting the attributes of PR as a smart career choice as broadly as possible.  The future belongs to agencies that grow a talent trove from the inside and out.


Download a free online version of the ICCO/PRWeek World PR Report 2016 here.