Southeast Asia has emerged as a global economic powerhouse in recent years, driving innovation and transforming industries. With this rapid evolution comes a changing landscape for public relations — one that demands new strategies and a keen understanding of the region’s unique cultural nuances and consumer market.
From the use of traditional media such as print and broadcast to generate publicity to the rise of digital platforms like Facebook and TikTok that gave way to another side of public relations — online reputation management — the industry has been repeatedly reformed by changing trends and an increasingly interconnected world.
How do PR firms ride the waves of these changes and stay afloat? And with the emergence of language AI tools like ChatGPT that’s clever enough to create a killer brand campaign, is the PR industry nearing extinction?
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PRecious Communications’ Founder and Managing Director Lars Voedisch and Vice President of Growth & Innovation Prayaank Gupta suggest that for PR firms, or any industry for that matter, the ability to keep up with the evolving needs and demands is crucial for achieving sustained success and maintaining relevance.
Established in 2012, PRecious Communications is an integrated communications agency that combines traditional and digital capabilities to provide holistic communications consultancy to its clients in the Asia Pacific region.
In this conversation with Vietcetera, Lars Voedisch and Prayaank Gupta delve into the evolution of the PR industry, the importance of keeping up with the latest developments, and the emerging trends shaping a new PR era.
How has Southeast Asia’s PR landscape evolved, and what new trends should we be on the lookout for?
Lars Voedisch: Southeast Asia has been a game-changer for public relations firms over the last decade. As one of the largest economies, with a young and skilled population that’s also very tech-savvy, the region is driving significant evolutions in business, finance, and education.
It’s also no wonder that we see an increasing number of multinationals moving parts of their production and assembly into the region, diversifying their supply chains and reducing dependence on China. Great opportunities usually lead to increased competition. Brands must work smarter and be more strategic as they seek widespread publicity.
Our work with global companies, unicorns, and fast-growing startups shows that a go-to-market strategy is most effective if supplemented by a well-thought-out communication plan. A press release, honestly, can only go so far. Our clients don’t see how we’re handling changes in the media landscape, including how we partner with editors and journalists. The strength of these relationships helps cut the clutter, and Southeast Asia is a region that is big on relationships.
Building a network of trust and driving community engagement beyond pure brand awareness will be vital in strengthening a company’s footprint — even more so in the B2B space — whether it’s winning over customers, regulators, and investors, gaining the heart and mindshare of consumers or generally just building an impact-focused employer brand.
What role does technology — like AI and machine learning — play in the PR and content creation process?
Prayaank Gupta: AI has made tremendous progress in natural language processing and handling human-like creative tasks. However, we still believe it will not entirely replace a good content creator, and our clients tell us they don’t want that either. It’s a creativity tool, but the outcomes are influenced by the questions you ask. You need to initiate original thought.
To create original thinking or thought leadership, brands must go beyond what summary and research algorithms can do. You are responsible for what is put out there, not an AI.
We are currently investing in skilling our teams to use AI tools to support our research, helping us to speed up the production process and making it more efficient, especially in analyzing large volumes of content and data. At the same time, we always have to question the outcomes as it has been shown that AI-generated content can easily be biased, or can replicate factually incorrect information, which is a significant risk for brand integrity.
Lars Voedisch: We’re still in the nascent stage of adopting new AI tools into our profession, but there might be a day when AI can produce thought leadership at a scale even better than humans. Currently, our focus is on the originality and ownership of these ideas as advocates of our clients.
AI can also better deal with other machines, such as search engines, when it comes to SEO, the analysis of relevant keywords and topics that can improve the visibility of content and improve its effectiveness. It can identify patterns and produce insights that can be used to inform content-creation strategies. This helps content creators understand what works and what doesn’t.
How has the significance of traditional media shifted in the era of social media and digital platforms?
Prayaank Gupta: They strive to adapt. They continue to be top of mind for our clients, and to some extent, these are similar discussions to when the radio appeared, then television, then online news, et cetera.
With digital media platforms, they’re proven to be the new “in thing” when it comes to reaching target audiences and consumers. Their emergence has spurred changes in consumer behavior. But there are doubts and issues clouding their credibility, with privacy concerns and fake news creating great challenges.
However, we’ve seen consumers and company decision-makers use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or TikTok to share insights and amplify thought leadership. Whether or not brands can optimize their media strategy depends on how they integrate the different channels into their marketing mix to reach their overall business objectives. Unfortunately, many brands remain siloed in their approach, viewing social media with tunnel vision without considering the rest of the elements in the mix.
How does the diverse cultural landscape in Southeast Asia impact PR and content strategies?
Lars Voedisch: What sets Southeast Asia apart from many other markets is its fragmented nature based on languages, cultures, traditions, and values. Brands cannot just employ a simple “spray and pray” approach in their communications strategy. To achieve relevance and connection, you need specialized local knowledge and insights into what their contacts in top-tier local publications are inclined to feature.
Different markets may need different approaches to penetrating local media platforms, but brands should not lose sight of the overall picture. After all, message consistency is still crucial to establishing a brand’s credibility. In this case, efforts should be made to ensure local teams align with the regional branding direction. Only then can they enhance their brand image holistically—improving their chances of winning customers, hooking investors, attracting talent, and building a partner network in the region.
What are some of the most promising innovations you have implemented at PRecious Communications to serve your clients in the region better?
Prayaank Gupta: We continuously strive to increase our offerings by helping clients in Southeast Asia and beyond and delivering a better, more measurable experience for our customers.
On the regional front, we have launched a ‘One Southeast Asia’ approach for brands to have flexible retainer models. With this, we are assisting regional and local support and servicing teams.
Clients also expect brand benchmarking, industry insights across different media and social channels, and advice on improving their share of voice and message penetration with relevant audiences.
We have launched several services recently to help our clients. These include ‘Content Strategy & Insights,’ where we look at content formats and engagements to help brands move from early funnel to mid-funnel.
We’ve doubled down in Investor Relations to help fast-growing Southeast Asian, and global brands attract investors and users. Some of these firms have listed on international exchanges, including NASDAQ via IPOs and SPACs. Employer Branding, Social Listening, Issues, and Crisis Monitoring, and KOL Management are other service innovations we have launched.
Lastly, we’re also expanding in some sectors, from government relations and public affairs to financial communications and fintech PR and sustainability. We plan to drive further into a play for more integrated offerings to help marketers control their narrative and understand how their stories are perceived across channels, along with their impact.
How do you ensure PRecious Communications stays ahead of the curve in an ever-changing industry?
Lars Voedisch: When we started PRecious, we were pretty much a boutique agency, providing mainly PR advice and strategy consulting to organizations.
Over the years, we progressively managed to pull in more homegrown and international talents, to make the agency what it is today—one of the top PR firms in the Asia Pacific with close to 100 communications experts across seven markets and counting.
Today, clients increasingly ask for services beyond the traditional media outreach approach as they need strategic advice from a trusted partner who understands their business.
PR’s primary function is to actively manage the relationships of brands with their key stakeholders, so it is just natural that there is a growing demand for thought leadership content and a need to support clients with their sales communications, investor relations, employer branding, and internal communications efforts, as well as public affairs and government relations.
What are your thoughts on the importance of sustainability and corporate social responsibility in PR and communication strategies?
Prayaank Gupta: In recent years, media has been packed with sustainability and CSR initiatives, from ads highlighting a brand’s eco-friendly ingredients to charitable activities and newsjacking campaigns on Earth Day. With more consumers and businesses inclined toward supporting organizations that champion ESG and purpose-driven initiatives, many organizations are steering marketing communications efforts in this direction.
It becomes a problem when vanity—rather than the greater good, public awareness, and stakeholder education—becomes the primary driver of such campaigns. Too many companies have started exaggerating and falsifying their sustainability credentials or hiding less-than-favorable results, hoping no one will notice.
Lars Voedisch: Practices such as greenwashing and greenhushing erode trust, the glue that holds business relationships together. The key lies in how to walk the fine line and become more strategic in communicating sustainability and CSR efforts to strengthen brand authenticity.
Modesty is a virtue, but driving sustainability in the dark won’t get organizations recognized for their efforts. Approaching initiatives with tact and sensitivity is the way to cultivate trust. Generating community impact should be at the core of all sustainability and CSR campaigns.
Can you share any success stories or learnings from PRecious Communications’ work with clients in Southeast Asia?
Prayaank Gupta: The successful execution of communications campaigns in a diverse region such as Southeast Asia hinges, first of all, on a brand’s ability to cultivate relationships with different stakeholders, including media, investors, business partners, and clients across markets.
Communication initiatives should be grounded in transparency and open communication while considering each market’s strengths and specific nuances.
From advising on strategic media platforms and content angles and formats that resonate with local audiences to developing market-specific branding strategies, a trusted PR partner can provide a realistic view of what can be done to achieve the different goals—first and foremost, supporting our client’s business objectives.
In terms of content, one cannot overemphasize the importance of localized and targeted stories. A generic pitch could appeal to regional publications but will likely miss out on the tier-one, widely-read publication in the local market if they can’t relate to the topic.
Lars Voedisch: How can PR strike the right balance between local and regional? In our experience, it all starts with having the right experts in each market and constantly evaluating how media consumption patterns change. And you also need the right strategy and company culture that brings all of these PR experts together as one team, being able to execute campaigns that work across the region, based on success in every single market, be it in Vietnam or Singapore, India or the Philippines.