Thinking Regional, Acting Local in Southeast Asian PR

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Penetrating a fragmented market such as Southeast Asia entails having a mix of regional and local PR strategies. It’s all about thinking regional, but acting local after all. Regional, because the overarching message has to be consistent across markets. Local, because it is only through having a thorough understanding of, and familiarity with, endemic cultural nuances, relevant issues affecting local industries and the local media landscape that PR practitioners can truly be compelling and engaging with the local media they wish to target. After all, PR tactics that work effectively in Singapore might not see substantial results in emerging markets such as Indonesia or the Philippines. The importance of repackaging content cannot be overemphasised: A generic pitch could perhaps land you the regional publications, but you will miss out on tier one publications in local markets (which have a substantial readership) if you don’t try to at least spice up the pitch with some local flavour. 

But how can PR teams strike the right balance between local and regional? It all starts with having the right PR experts in each Southeast Asian market — and having the right strategy that brings all of the PR experts together in one team. 

Balancing control with freedom: Employing the hub-and-spoke approach

One model that has been used across different industries is the hub-and-spoke model. Put simply, a hub-and-spoke approach means that there’s a company with headquarters that serves as a central agency or hub, while there are distributed offices, which serve as spokes, across markets. In the context of PR, employing a hub-and-spoke model means having a centralised communications team that develops definite messaging guidelines, and local teams that execute more targeted, localised campaigns which align with the general messaging. 

The key idea behind the model is to be able to have a significant level of control over the remote teams, but still giving the same teams the flexibility to use their own specialised local expertise to tailor the campaign accordingly, such that the messaging would resonate more with the local markets. The right foundation is essential to the success of the hub-and-spoke model. And at the core, as PR really is a people business, it starts with having the right people who have the same mindset, and forming regional account teams with strong leads who help drive a culture of collaboration with local teams.

Lars Voedisch, Managing Director, PRecious Communications (topmost left), together with Dr. Kiranjit Kaur, Public Relations professor at Universiti Teknologi MARA (second column, second row), impart PR insights at a webinar specifically tailored to the Institute Of Public Relations Malaysia Student Association (Universiti Sains Malaysia Chapter) and the greater Malaysian community. 

Celebrating a culture of multicultural collaboration

Having a company culture grounded on cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect is a key element in making the whole spoke-and-hub model work. Transparency and open communication are vital ingredients that can spell out success for PR campaigns: Local teams should share as much details as they can on the local media landscape, including demographics, local PR trends and practices, and cultural norms. Meanwhile, the regional teams should share as much resources as they can to help empower local teams. These resources include pitches, byline articles (that local teams may repurpose for their own market), the brand messaging toolkit, and perhaps even notes or recordings following the regional team’s call with the client. Sometimes, getting local teams on calls with clients could prove to be also beneficial, if there’s a major project in the local market. 

Having a thriving multicultural team, however, boils down to building a solid company culture that thrives on cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect. It is the only way that such a team dynamic would work. An essential success factor behind multicultural collaboration is the ability of local and regional teams to overcome challenges around communication barriers and racial attitudes. And fostering a culturally inclusive team environment starts with having good leaders who constantly educate team members to resolve cultural biases and promote practices that support cultural diversity. 

Cultural diversity is at the core of our DNA. We take pride in creating a growth-oriented culture that thrives on multiculturalism and respect. Multiculturalism, after all, plays to our strength as a regional agency as we continue to seize opportunities in a fragmented PR space such as Southeast Asia. Join PRecious Communications and be part of our growing multicultural team.

This article originally appeared in Forbes on 23 April 2021, with slight modifications. 

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