Learnings and Musings on Public Relations and Life Under Malaysia’s MCO 2.0

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With the pandemic continuing to put strains on Malaysia’s healthcare systems, the government has tightened COVID-19 restrictions by implementing a two-week Movement Control Order (MCO) quite similar to the one implemented in March 2020. Dubbed MCO2.0, Malaysia’s reinstatement of the MCO encompasses a stricter range of industries and imposes even more stringent interstate travel restrictions that people would need to follow. 

For Malaysia’s public relations scene, press briefings, face-to-face client interactions and coffee chats with journalists clearly won’t be returning anytime soon. PR practitioners in Malaysia would then have to continue building on the working cadence in the new normal. They would need to take on the pivotal role of protecting the reputations of the organisations they represent. This means that the role of public relations and communications will become even more integral, and communications teams would need to work closely with the business leaders of the organisations they serve to cater to employee needs during a critical time.

Our Malaysian PR colleague Kiranjeet Sidhu gives a lowdown on Malaysia’s business landscape, her perspective on life under lockdown during MCO 2.0, and some of her PR recommendations at a time of crisis based on her experiences at PRecious Communications.

PR under Malaysia's MCO 2.0 - PRecious Communications

How has MCO2.0 changed Malaysia’s business scene? And how has this shifted the way Malaysians live and work?

With the reinstatement of MCO 2.0 in Malaysia, only businesses that fall under factories & manufacturing, construction, services, trading & distribution, and plantations & commodities are allowed to operate. However, only 30 percent of management staff are allowed to be physically present at the workplace.

Since the pandemic, many companies have been forced to shift from traditional operating methods to full or partial work-from-home (WFH) schemes. With the implementation of MCO 2.0, employees physically present at their workplaces must continue observing the government’s standard operating procedures.

On a more personal note, the ongoing crisis has shed light on the value of maintaining one’s mental health, as the pandemic has caused a lot of disruptions to our daily routines. With MCO 2.0 in place, we could only engage in social activities with those who live in the same household. We also can’t have a proper sit-down meal in restaurants, as only take-outs and food deliveries are allowed. Life under lockdown has forced us to rethink how we live our lives. And as we cope with the challenges of adapting to lifestyle changes brought about by MCO2.0, it is important to focus on building resilience and putting physical and mental well-being at the top of our priority list.

How has the lockdown posed challenges in Malaysia’s PR scene?

Most businesses in Malaysia adopt the ‘wait and watch’ approach, which seems to be the most logical thing to do at this juncture. The same approach applies to a service-led industry like public relations. 

In Malaysia, as is the case globally, clients have withdrawn their proactiveness towards continuing PR activities, and most of them have put their PR partnerships on hold. 

If anything, the lockdown has forced PR pros to exhibit one of the most valuable traits in the profession—agility.

Since the start of COVID-19, organisations’ spending priorities have been changed, especially on the marketing front. Seeking the right balance during a global health emergency is imperative. We are currently seeing a PR landscape typified by increased competition among brands, and more targeted creative integrated campaigns that extend beyond traditional PR. 

Social distancing guidelines have driven event cancellations nationwide. This necessitates that PR practitioners become more proactive and agile in scenario planning and coming up with contingency measures. Above all, PR teams must communicate clearly and transparently with each stakeholder group, while providing insights on alternative ways to connect with the broader audience (like coming up with virtual events)

Have you gained some insights around managing client expectations during the lockdown?

If there’s a key takeaway I’ve learned, anything can come up at the last minute. The news cycle is moving at a rapid pace, especially now during these unprecedented times. If a client with absolute certainty wants a piece of content to be published, I would recommend that they turn to owned channels instead. 

Not all stories are newsworthy. It’s the PR professional’s job to find out why the audience should care, but it’s not our job to always say ‘yes’ to our clients.

A majority of Malaysians are working from home right now—and this means many office phones are not in use. Reaching journalists by phone is almost an impossible feat. With the prevalence of COVID-19-related stories, journalists’ inboxes are flooded most of the time too. Journalists have a lot to deal with right now, so getting your story featured in major publications means that you have to devise a better strategy to reach journalists. Focus on building media relations. Starting a casual introduction and making your way up by sharing story pitches is an effective tactic.

Indeed, Malaysia still presents opportunities for brands and startups on the rise. It’s just a matter of cutting through the clutter amidst the lockdown and being able to wade through the ever-changing media landscape with ease.


Drop our team a note to explore how we can help build your reputation and thought leadership in Malaysia.

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