As a general rule office openings aren’t great media pullers. Anyone in the industry will tell you that in most cases they fly quietly below the radar as an FYI to reporters on the state of play and nothing more.
Unless, of course, that office is opening now in Myanmar.
Journalists are comparing Myanmar’s new dawn to China in 1979, and the economic reforms Deng Xiaoping launched to transform it into the world’s second-largest economy. As the previously isolated Southeast Asian nation continues its rapid opening up broadcasters, banks and payments providers have lined up to make big announcements on the ground to raise their profile in the country.
Mediacorp’s Channel News Asia recently announced it would be extending its distribution in Myanmar through pay-TV operator, Sky Net. General Electric, the US behemoth joined a host of companies quick to seize the initiative, alongside Japanese car manufacturers Honda and Mitsubishi, and Coca Cola — which made its first product delivery to Myanmar in 60 years. Meanwhile, MasterCard announced last week that it had issued a licence to one of Myanmar’s largest banks, Co-Operative Bank Ltd, to pave the way for its cards to be issued and accepted in the country for the first time.
Alongside its democratic ambition, Myanmar’s double edged sword — its huge opportunities but lack of basic infrastructure — makes for a compelling news story. The challenges for the IT sector, for example, are covered nicely in this Reuters piece, which touches on the impact of competition, but also on the chronic lack of services. Inside the country the speed and implementation of reform for global businesses keen to move into Myanmar will bear an ultimate cost on local businesses.
Maung Maung Win, the deputy governor of Myanmar’s central bank, told the WSJ last month that the rush to let large international banks into Myanmar would not be at the expense of local branches. The threat of increased competition for local companies is a reality that cuts across all parts of the Myanmar economy. Another moot point is the broader implications of its opening up for ASEAN nations, which all stood firm during its turbulent years in isolation.
That’s not for us as communication professionals to debate, but a cautionary footnote should be added to all clients looking to make good from Myanmar’s evolution — editors will gradually tire of the office openings and look for substantial stories of change, investment and real benefits to people and local businesses on the ground.
Regional journalists have indicated that Myanmar, for now, is the pre-eminent global story in the Asia/Pacific region. Of that, there can be no doubt, but that can change just as quickly as the speed at which it opened up.
Rob O’Brien is a media specialist, Singapore, at Weber Shandwick
(Disclosure: MasterCard is a client of Weber Shandwick)