Public relations in Southeast Asia

In this picture taken on April 23, 2015, a man walks past the Malaysia's iconic Petronas Twin Towers (C) from the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) ahead for the 26th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AFP Photo/Mohd Rasfan)

Culture plays an important role when it comes to business and communication in the Southeast Asian region. With the vast diversity of cultures and languages in the region, there is no surprise that the public relations sector needs to be on top of its game when it comes to pitching ideas and content to potential clients.

With recent crises in the region spanning from the infamous MH370 incident to the numerous Uber rape allegations within the region, it is obvious that public relations has become an imperative function in both private and public sectors.

Albeit public relations being the study of applied communication, there is still a heavy inclination towards an American and European narrative. These influences can sometimes prevent certain public relation theories and strategies from being implemented in Southeast Asian countries due to the region’s diverse cultural backgrounds. However due to the gradual expansion of Southeast Asia to international markets and vice versa, there have been numerous instances of public relations taking on transformative properties to adjust and adapt to the diverse Southeast Asian consumers.

The domination of western perspectives in public relations opens up an entire niche market of businesses and operations searching for properties of transformative public relations to utilise within individual countries in the Southeast Asian region. This tailored form of public relations relinquishes the prior attributes of the communication model so it can be rebuilt for a local audience.

For instance, the same campaign that runs through the United States will not work in Malaysia unless it is localised to suit the consumers in this disparate country. “Malaysia is a multicultural and multilingual market, that is modest in size but also incredibly complex. We cannot transpose an external idea and make it work within Malaysia as a campaign project. Malaysia is too complex to fit western ideas,” said Elliza Rahim, Managing Director for Corporate Affairs and Strategic Marketing at Essence Burson-Marsteller when contacted by The ASEAN Post.

On the other hand, there are other global companies that believe in staying true to their core practices while employing local channels.

Raymond Siva, Country Head of Edelman Indonesia stated in an email correspondence with The ASEAN Post, “our team in Indonesia is close to 95 percent local, with a deep understanding of the Indonesian market and consumers. It is essentially the same in all the other offices throughout the SEA region. Collectively, we are able bring a unique perspective to issues of importance in ASEAN and counsel on effective channels of message distribution throughout the region.”

When asked about the future of public relations in Southeast Asia Siva said he believes that data and analytics would lead the future of communications.

“In a nation like Indonesia where digital penetration, use of social media and adoption of e-commerce have exploded, the insights obtain from all data points available will be crucial to develop an effective communications and influencer strategy. The inevitable integration of Brand and Reputation disciplines will also require a new type of professional and that is what we are preparing for," he concluded.