Looking beyond geographies is the mantra and rapid change is the only constant in today's world for public relations firms.
When I started my public relations career in one of India’s largest public relations firms, I was taught it is all about ‘localisation’. I was told “to know and understand local media well”. Well, that was almost 18 years ago in Bengaluru. In those days the city was undoubtedly making pathways as the ‘IT capital’ of India and being part of the IT practice of that PR firm was just probably the best job for a junior associate.
The media landscape were so traditional that ways of doing PR were also antique (those were the days of personally dropping off press releases and faxing them to the media). The magnitude of media in India also made one realise that every region, and every city needed a dedicated approach.
Eighteen years later and I'm now running a fast-growing public relations shop that specialises in drawing communication strategies for technology startups in Southeast Asia has been an ongoing learning journey. I have been stuck with technology, but today I work closely with companies to build their brand from scratch and not promote a company that has a reputation that needs to be managed. We work with founders who are full of passion and vision and they who motivate us to work like a startup ourselves, innovating the way we do public relations for them.
The Southeast Asia story
We often meet startups that are well-established in India and their next pit stops are in Southeast Asia. As Southeast Asia's various startup ecosystems converge to fuel economic growth, Indian entrepreneurs are increasingly drawn to the region for its sizeable collective market, greater ease of doing business, and large unmet demand for IT – because of a huge opportunity in technical expertise to satisfy the growing demand for high-tech products and services.
Singapore, with an immensely business-friendly environment and access to venture capital, is today Southeast Asia's core nervous system for startups. Companies, after launching in the island nation, usually then test their products in markets like Malaysia before scaling up to reach Indonesia and the Philippines, the latter also a prime destination for setting up service and delivery centres. Regional governments have been swift to encourage startup activity.
Southeast Asian metropolises are now home to newborn accelerators and prestigious startup launch programmes such as Founders Institute and several supportive government programmes.
So, it’s natural for such firms to activate their public relations machinery as they expand into the region. Based in Singapore, it becomes a pivotal starting point to garner publicity but being a startup just focusing on Singapore does not sustain them. The region needs to be looked at as a whole. But this can happen only as the business grows.
There needs to be a sound belief that media behaves differently in each country. The cultures, habits, pace of growth all set the tone for any public relations campaign. For instance, taking on media in Indonesia versus Thailand requires completely different approaches. The region is highly fragmented and looking at each country individually becomes vital.
A few days back, I had a casual chat with a founder based in India who is looking enter the Southeast Asia market. Our discussion went deep into how media behaves in each country and what kind of media is taken seriously in each country. It was surprising to learn that in some of the Southeast Asian countries, even social media groups are considered media and taken more seriously than traditional print media.
Localisation, budgets and reach
It’s important to not just localise your content, but also adapt to local practices, local media culture, and tackle issues that matter to the locals. The main enterprise and B2B tech publications in the region tend to focus a lot on startups, new technologies, and innovation.
The media in the region is great for startups looking to reach a new customer base, brand their business as an industry leader, and reach an investor community. But as the approach moves from macro to micro, only a deep-dive approach work assures a campaign’s success.
As mentioned previously, working with startups has made us realise, there are always two main constraints that come along: budgets and reach.
Startups, depending on the stage of growth, more often than not are bound by limited budgets but with their fast pace of growth require a wider reach. Hence taking on a wider but focused approach becomes vital at our end. We are often zeroing in on markets that matter to them within the region and then taking on a targeted approach.
A good example is of a mature fast growing fintech player we work within the region. Its pace of growth has been phenomenal. They are entering into a new market within the region almost every quarter. The public relations campaign works with the client team in these markets. We address local market challenges, spend time educating the local media on regional issues disrupting the cashless industry and how companies like them are bridging the gap in the fast growing fintech industry.
It’s a constant process. As startups grow, companies like us grow with them. We work hard to keep pace with their growth and manage all the communication challenges they are likely to face in any new market. Like any startup, partners like us also need to share the same vision and be open to entering new territories and taking on new challenges. Looking beyond geographies is the mantra and rapid change is the only constant in today's world even for public relations firms.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)