Jon Wade, head of digital at Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific sat down recently with Korean trade publication The PR and spoke about the impact of digital on public relations. Republished with permission.
The PR field is facing radical changes due to the spread of social media. Could you give us your comments on this recent trend, based on decades of experience you accumulated in the digital field?
I find it quite fascinating. The emergence and spread of social media are converging different agency disciplines. So the boundary that divides PR, advertising and other agencies is becoming blurry. This kind of trend is becoming a new opportunity for PR agencies. PR agencies operate predominantly in the earned media sphere, so we are ready to operate in the social media sphere. Other PR agencies, in the past couple of years, have become more digitalised. For example, the area that digital agencies used to be responsible for is now handled by PR agencies. And PR agencies now engage not only with traditional forms of media but also with anyone who has an access to the internet. And as PR agencies communicate more directly with the customers, the works of advertising, marketing and other agencies are now being handled by PR agencies as well. So I believe that I could weave what I learned in the past into Weber Shandwick.
Companies’ perception about digital PR services has improved dramatically. But I believe that there is still room for improvement. What do you think needs to be improved so that digital PR can grow?
Many PR managers underestimate the amount of investment that needs to be made in social media and the ROI in social media. Digital is resource-intensive, but it does not mean that it is “cheaper” than existing PR services. It just means that online and offline approaches are different. If the clients cannot increase the overall PR budget, then we need to recommend that they increase the budget for digital PR at the expense of existing PR services. That is the only way we can lead this change to digital PR.
What, do you think, differentiates Weber Shandwick from other companies in terms of its digital communications services?
I think we’re differentiated in the scope and the quality of contents. We made a significant investment in developing an in-house studio. As such, unlike other global PR agencies that have to partner up with other companies or outsource computer graphics, animations and 3D productions, we can produce all of these in-house. And the fact that we are a subsidiary of marketing/communications company IPG is a huge advantage as it gives us a chance to work with other sister companies.
Could you tell me about the recent global trend for digital communications industry?
Many companies are moving toward a “brand journalism” model. In other words, the clients are moving towards a model wherein they create their own story and managing the contents through their own media. They are becoming increasingly interested in using new platforms like Pinterest that have very specific formats of content that they aggregate, publish and manage.
Do you see any country-specific characteristics or trends? If you compare Korea to other countries in the region, how would you rate our digital PR level?
I would say that the digital PR level in Asia-Pacific countries is similar. But unfortunately, many companies in the region lack understanding of managing crisis on social media. And it seems as if they are not deeply concerned about communicating with the clients through multimedia channels. The region’s understanding of how important digital communications is also lags far behind that of Europe and the US. But what’s interesting is that more Asians use mobile devices than their European and American counterparts. And several studies show that Asians spend more time on their smartphones and on social media. This means that the digital PR field has strong potential to grow in this region. It all depends on how bravely clients and PR professionals embrace digital PR.
When I talk to PR professionals, they say that the outcomes and possibility of success through SNS have reached a dead-end with the use of SNS becoming relatively widespread. What do you think will provide a breakthrough for SNS?
I completely agree with them. Now companies in Asia Pacific region are showing interest in following campaigns and events that companies in other countries are doing. In some aspect, the use of SNS campaigns has reached a stalemate. It’s not that there aren’t any innovative ideas, but rather that the companies are not ready to accept them yet. But if they don’t accept those innovative ideas, then they’ll fall behind. There are always risks to doing something new. So companies need to change the way they think about and approach SNS.
What do you think will be the digital PR trend for 2013?
Next year, digital campaigns using mobile devices will lead the digital PR trend. Mobile devices are not leveraged in many areas, particularly in PR. I think mobile PR will really take off this year. For example, there can be a mobile news productions application for reporters and application contents for pharmacists. Opportunities abound. And I think that tablet PC and other mobile devices will be used actively in corporate events as well.
Any last words for PR professionals in Korea?
I think it is important for PR professionals in Korea to understand that they are an important part of the global network. So whatever happens in Korea could affect the entire world and vice versa. In other words, a crisis that begins in Korea could spill over to other countries, and a global crisis could also affect Korea as well. One prime example of this is Psy’s Gangnam Style. As PR professionals, we need to be sensitive to global changes and trends. It’s of course important to thoroughly understand the Korean market, but it is equally important to understand what’s going on in other emerging and advanced countries that could affect Korea.