This article first appeared in Korean trade publication The PR
Weber Shandwick Korea has recently caused a stir in the Korean PR industry following its merger with a leading digital firm SocialLink. Weber Shandwick has 126 offices in 81 countries, with 2,400 PR consultants. What is the background of the recent merger? The PR recently interviewed Tyler Kim, managing director, (below left) and Juny Lee, the former managing director of SocialLink and the current vice-president of Weber Shandwick Korea, and asked them everything we wanted to know about the recent merger.
“There is a limit to public relations,” says Kim, referring the recent merger. “The public relations industry is doing well, and there is a strong customer base as well. But for PR firms to take a leap forward, expertise in social media is a must. Traditional media is still critical. However, the role of social media is gaining ground. So PR companies now have to help clients act as a media channel.”
Throughout the interview, Kim focuses on the importance of strengthening expertise in a number of fields. Based on his experience at both global and local PR firms, he says that one of the most pivotal elements that a PR firm must possess is deep expertise.
“We should not think of public relations as only a job for PR representatives or PR managers. We should think of it in a wider perspective. In other words, if we get involved in social media, then we need to think about getting involved in marketing as well. In that case, we need to compete with research firms as well, blurring the boundary between PR firms and other agencies. Only by strengthening our expertise can we overcome that blurry territory.”
Kim’s firm conviction in the need to strengthen PR firms’ expertise is in line with the recent merger. Juny Lee explains the background of the merger.
“The realm of social media is characterised by unlimited competition. So in this realm, differentiation becomes the key. Out of 2,400 PR consultants who are working for Weber Shandwick worldwide, 300 of them are digital experts. What I wanted to do is to understand the digital tools available in Weber Shandwick network and apply them so as to fit the Korean business environment.”
Kim continues with an analogy: “Weber Shandwick has many strong engines — social media products and services. But we don’t have the engineers to operate them. I am limited in my expertise to work those engines. Basically, the recent merger just brought in an engineer.”
Weber Shandwick Korea’s focus now is to expand the territory of PR with strong expertise as the foundation. And that also relates to how he, as managing director, could provide a vision for Weber Shandwick employees.
“The merger has greatly increased our digital capacity,”adds Kim. “There is no other PR firm with this high number of digital and social media experts. We can now work in the marketing field. And if we can work in the marketing field, then we can talk directly with the CEOs.”
Expanding the territory of PR
Lee points out that businesses are “socialising” and interacting with the consumers. Lee explains that improving a company’s business practice is deeply related to internal communication and change management. Companies usually have a crisis management manual, and they provide simulation training based on the manual. But not many of them provide similar type of training for crisis that happens on social media. Lee was immediately attracted by Weber Shandwick’s social media crisis management training programme. He wants to take that programme and apply it to fit the Korean business environment.
“Up until this year, I have studied social media channels,” he says. “I think now is the time to prove that social media PR is effective.”
Kim projects that the future of public relations will depend on content development: in other words, how to engage as many stakeholders as possible. And to that end, the key is knowing the kind of content to develop and how to deliver it. This also means that PR firms need to play a more creative role as a technical expert. Weber Shandwick is already playing that role, and Kim’s future plan to strengthen the firm’s content development capacity is the destination that Weber Shandwick, as a whole, is moving towards.
“The digital head of Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific is from an advertising agency,” notes Kim. “It is rather odd for a PR company to recruit someone from advertising agency, no? PR professionals lack the technical expertise necessary to make promotional materials even though we are experts in delivering already-made materials and promotional messages.”
The next step
So then, where is Kim headed in 2013?
“I don’t know yet. But there is one thing on our mind. People say that not much is known about Weber Shandwick Korea. We are not easily discoverable on the internet either. We don’t appear in interviews a lot, nor do we promote ourselves. In fact, I’m not very good at promoting us. And the past three years have been hectic for us, trying to get more clients and growing the company.
Adds Lee: “I think in the realm of social media next year, will be that the more you have, the more you will gain. There are many social media service providers as well as a strong demand for such services. So I think the key here would be service differentiation. SocialLink focuses on communication management. We are planning on fully utilising this strength, while at the same time, building our consulting/training and content development capacity.”
Kim and Lee used to work together at a global PR agency Edelman Korea, which was one of the reasons the recent merger was handled so smoothly. One of the problems that often rise after an M&A is the difference in corporate culture and the lack of trust between the two parties involved. However, this problem was nowhere to be found between the two.
“I think the merger was every efficient,” says Kim. “We didn’t have any difficulty in fusing the two corporate cultures. That part was long over; and from the very first day, we were thinking more about what we can do together.”
Kim says he wants to maintain close relationship with each member of Weber Shandwick Korea, both the existing employees and the newly-joined employees, and provide them a clear vision. He also talks about his ambition to turn Weber Shandwick Korea into a service provider that can satisfy the client’s every demand.
Kim hopes that the future of public relations will not only be limited to public relations activities, but also encompass a myriad of strategic business areas where people of different talents and expertise can come together to provide a comprehensive strategic consulting services to the clients. And he believes that the present provides such an opportunity. We will see what the future has in store for Weber Shandwick Korea.