First we had Y2K fears, then the e-economy fizzled, and now Taiwan's manufacturing and even its IT sector is packing up for the mainland. Help for managers struggling to keep their operations on course despite the millennial winds of change may be available from an unexpected source: PR firms.
by Jeniffer K. Lin
With all the fast-paced changes sweeping Taiwan since the start of the new year, managers may be finding themselves swaying with uncertainty. Consequently, like a game of crack-the-whip, the staff behind the manager often gets flailed about the playground. Changing times mean changes in management style, and the solution du jour is ... PR? That's right. Hiring a public relations firm may be the 21-million-dollar answer to your 21st century transition woes. It could help you make some money, or at least survive the recession without major bumps or bruises. A heads-up for those of you not in the groove: Public relations agencies now do more than just build a company's image or promote a brand name. Corporations now look to PR firms to build their companies from the inside, too. To find out how the public relations business is expanding, and how Taiwan-based executives can benefit, TOPICS met last month with Matthew Anderson, president of Asia Pacific for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Here's what we learned.
Traditional PR: Handling Your Public Image in a Recession
One of the mantras of the PR industry is that sustained brand-building is the key to success. Matthew Anderson says this is especially important when times are tough. While most companies tend to cut their communications budget during a recession, Anderson advises the opposite. "[Studies show that] brands that maintain their communications 'spend' -- relative to competitors -- come out of recession with a much higher market share," he says. "There are great opportunities, actually, to reshape the market when times are tough." Most people believe that during an economic slowdown, budgets and purse strings tighten. Ogilvy reports that figures show this is just not so. "Total household spending actually tends to slowly increase during a recession," says Anderson. People will cut foreign vacations, car buying, and other large figure expenditures, but will instead buy more food, household items, and in-home entertainment. In addition, good PR during these times can keep your brand fresh in consumers' minds even when they may not be buying your product or service. One current trend in building consumer brand loyalty is to address a pressing social issue. Anderson says brands can differentiate themselves by associating their name with improving the environment or supporting education.
New PR: Intra-Company Relations
These days, creative entrepreneurs in the services field are making a business of doing things people used to do for themselves. You can hire event planners to organize your parties, or a personal trainer to set your workout regimen and make sure you follow it. If you are truly harried, you can even commission a personal shopper to brighten your wardrobe when the seasons change or a "space manager" to reorganize your apartment and cut the clutter. As the world becomes more specialized, PR companies are taking advantage of this trend and recognizing a need to offer new types of help for managers. One of the newest services offered by public relations companies is handling a client company's internal communications. This may sound like overkill, but as intra-company communication channels become more sophisticated -- internet, newsletters, bulletin boards, memos, meetings, and seminars across time zones and foreign languages -- relaying information efficiently can become infinitely more difficult. Matthew Anderson suggests hiring a PR firm to maximize productivity. Ogilvy PR teaches a methodology called "workplace performance" that coordinates employee incentive systems, human resources, CEO communications, and all materials providing employees information, from events to websites. Here are other tips for managing today's companies and ways in which PR firms are helping their clients to accomplish them:
- Focus All Work Around the Corporate Goals
- -- "When CEOs sit down and say, 'What are the major barriers to my company's success?' it's not natural resources or manufacturing capacity or access to capital," says Anderson. He says the biggest barrier is that employees are often unaware of the company's primary goals. He advises clarifying the company's mission and making certain that all projects work to reach that end result. "[CEOs] need to lay out their goals and plans and where they need to go," he says, "especially as companies survive the ups and downs of Asia's economy."
- Knowledge Share
- -- A company website can serve as a central communications hub if designed and implemented correctly. O-Village, Ogilvy's own website, features information on its employees, clients, company news, a newsletter, and brainstorming activities. The site also acts as a global filing cabinet, holding a database of research and reports that often take time and effort to compile and may be useful to many within the company. On the social front, the site serves as a type of "global company watercooler" with links to new employee profiles and job openings at other offices. To further motivate employee use, execs at Ogilvy hold contests on the website.
- Build and Maintain Relationships With Investors
- -- PR firms have long been used for priming brands to attract investors. But now, as more public relations companies become global in scope, they can also be used to introduce your company to potential investors located overseas. As another way to attract investors, Anderson again suggests boosting internal communication. A PR firm can tell key people in your firm which issues a potential investor is concerned with, can inform you of developments at the investor's end, and can help you choose which conferences and investor meetings are critical for your CEOs to attend. "We're finding increasingly that PR firms have a role in this process," says Anderson.
- Prepare Your Leadership
- -- To cut down on the awkward transition when a new exec takes the helm, PR agencies can provide a tailored acclimatization program. Media preparation sessions and government structure briefings can help incoming managers adapt to their new post far more quickly. Another key fortification point is your company's next tier of managers. A PR company can help ensure they are properly groomed to take the lead when the time comes. Anderson stresses that maintaining adept management teams is also important to consider when attracting investors. A strong management system shows potential for stability. Effective external and internal communications serve to stabilize a corporate structure. Management aids such as Ogilvy's workplace performance method and other such tools can help to hone a company's communications skills. "And this," Anderson says, "goes way beyond what the traditional sense of PR is."