PR in Asia is relatively young compared to the U.S. and has distinctive characteristics that set it apart from other parts of the world. PRovoke Media CEO & editor-in-chief Arun Sudhaman, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, shares his insights about core challenges and opportunities in the fourth episode of the Comms in Asia podcast by C2 Media.
*Certain segments have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are the main challenges of the PR industry in the Asia Pacific?
Every market in the Asia Pacific is different, but a common challenge is finding the right people, both in-house and on the agency side. The first obstacle is attracting them to the industry. Not many people dream of a career in PR from a young age, partially because the industry is only about 40 years old.
The role of parents is still quite important in terms of determining their children's career paths, and sometimes that can steer them more towards traditional career paths. It's hard to find good people, whether that's at a graduate level or at a mid-level, or even at a senior level.
Later, companies struggle to retain the best professionals from going to competitors. Finally, many people decide to leave the industry because of its reputation for long hours.
What made you choose a career in PR and stay in the industry?
I started as a journalist for the South China Morning Post, one of Asia’s largest English-language newspapers, and then I had a chance to work for the PR agency Weber Shandwick, where I first gained some insight into the industry.
I was quite interested in the entire world of public relations, communications, advertising, and marketing. However, PR, in my view, has a stronger connection with the real world compared to advertising, which creates a dream. We deal with crises in business, organizational issues, and geopolitical risks - this is exciting!
Joining PRovoke Media, formerly known as the Holmes Report, gave me an opportunity to use my journalism skills with less pressure compared to a job in a big newsroom. It was a kind of leap of faith because this was a tiny company back then, the Holmes Report, and I've been with them now for 13 years.
We rebranded to PRovoke Media three years ago and have been growing steadily. I think it's because of our core focus on the global public relations industry and the fact that we have people around the world. Nowadays, our mission is to prove and improve the value of PR. We do it through our analysis, features, reports, and awards.
How do you see the future of the PR industry?
Many PR teams in Asia are understaffed. I recently talked to a communication head of one of the biggest companies in the world, and her team in Asia consists of only five people.
In the U.S., big companies have dozens or even hundreds of people in communication. It’s true that the U.S. is a major market, but when you consider the diversity of markets in Asia, it's hard to manage without an appropriate headcount.
Appropriate funding is another issue. Most companies in Asia spend only about 10% of their marketing budget on PR and the remaining 90% on advertising, media buying, and digital marketing. However, the situation has been improving, and we have observed some increase in communication budgets. The PR industry has become more valued, and we are further working on elevating its status.
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