I don’t need an excuse to walk around Singapore’s bars and cafes chatting to people, but last week I had one. I hit the streets to find out how the region’s leading journalists could be better supported by PR.
Turning the tables on them for an hour or so I asked a series of questions: how their job has changed, how editors are treating Asia as a story, how news writing has changed, what makes a decent spokesperson and how they’re coping with the pressure to do more in less time and faster than ever before.
On the whole and no surprise, most of the journalists either explicitly referenced obstructionist PR bods as a bugbear, or politely acknowledged that they were doing their job well.
All of the journalists I spoke to said that the interest in Asia, and particularly growth markets, had risen significantly in 2012. Spurred on perhaps by the opening up of markets like Myanmar, editors were keen to hear about these new markets. But despite — and perhaps because of — the huge volumes of news and commentary being produced online, journalists said that good, insightful information and data was difficult to come by.
It is worth noting here the job that journalists in the region are doing. Many of them are being required to cover multiple markets — in one case at least five: Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
As well as having to understand the landscape of each market, quickly, they are required to turn around stories faster, so they enjoy hearing from people who have genuine insights into what is going on on the ground. One of them stressed the need for ‘honest analysis’ of these markets, even if ‘you’ve not got a dog in the fight’.
If I were to summarise what they want from PR agencies it would be an understanding of the need for exclusivity and stronger analysis of Asia’s story. A better understanding, too, of the pressure they are under.
“We have to cover and read so much stuff when a story comes around, it’s very hard to give it context and weight—we know that we know this stuff, but we’re drowning in information,” one senior writer told me.
“Our biggest fear is that we end up writing something that is essentially a blog story. How we differentiate ourselves is by writing a story that draws in other insights — your clients may dream of stories about them, but if we do that, we’re not doing our job properly… although that is not to say that there isn’t a place for them in our story.”
It’s worth bearing that in mind before you pick up the phone.
Rob O’Brien is media specialist, Singapore, at Weber Shandwick