PR is PR, Even in the City of Lions

By Brian Alberti, Senior Managing Director and Security Practice Leader, Davies Murphy Group, Inc.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Singapore to meet my colleagues at LEWIS PR (LEWIS acquired Davies Murphy Group last summer) in order to share ideas and best practices, and to get a sense for the PR landscape in the hub of Asia-Pacific. What I found was surprisingly familiar to the vibe here in the United States. Although there were many differences, which I’ll go into in a moment, the similarities in our strategies and tactics, as well as the challenges facing PR professionals, were striking.

Singapore – which literally translates to “City of Lions” – is a city state of only 5.6 million people, yet it’s the stronghold for the financial services and energy industries in the entire APAC region. That’s because the government welcomes big business and creates favorable conditions to draw in international firms and strengthen the economy.

The flipside of this economic and business stability is that the government is anything but laissez faire, and controls much of public life in the country. Singapore is affectionately known as “Fine City” because the government strictly monitors behavior. Hefty fines accompany jaywalking, gum chewing, spitting, food or beverage possession in the subway, and even – ahem – forgetting to flush. The government also influences what is printed in much of the mainstream media. As a result, public relations professionals in Singapore need to make sure that any major story they are pitching is in line with government policy. Freedom of the press isn’t so free.

Another slight difference is the length of the workday. The office I visited was fairly packed by 8:30 a.m. and would be routinely buzzing with activity after 8 p.m. One of the reasons for this, I was told, is that many young professionals cannot afford their own apartment or home in the world’s most expensive city, and end up living with their parents into their 30s. The workplace then becomes a social hangout as well as a place of business.

In terms of media relations itself, Singapore has a much smaller universe of outlets to pitch. There are roughly six main outlets that cover technology and business locally, and each is looking for a story that is specific to APAC, or even better, Singapore. This necessitates PR pros building strong relationships with journalists. On the day I left, two reporters walked into the office. I asked one of my colleagues if a client was coming in for an interview. She told me that the reporters were new, and had come in just to meet with the PR firm and find out who their clients were and which areas they had expertise in. That’s certainly something that is much rarer in the United States, especially in today’s environment of shrinking media staffs, assignment overloads, and freelance contributors.

At the heart of it though, I saw many more similarities than I expected. The team told me they have more and more trouble getting coverage for B-to-B product news, because it just doesn’t create the click-throughs that publishers are looking for. They find it harder to get briefings for clients, rather than email interviews or contributed pieces. Like us, they have turned their attention and efforts to, as they call it, “news-jacking” – scanning headlines for trends and immediate opportunities to develop reactive commentary. Much of the work they do is proactive brainstorming in order to overcome these challenges.

I left with the impression that, no matter where in the world PR is practiced, at its core it requires a certain type of individual who can be flexible, intelligent and creative in adapting to the constant changes in our industry in order to find a way to get the right awareness for our clients.

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