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S3 E12: PR Trends for 2024 with Andy See Teong Leng of Perspective Strategies
Episode 1214th December 2023 • PRGN Presents: News & Views from the Public Relations Global Network • Public Relations Global Network
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Andy See, President of the Public Relations Global Network and Managing Director of Perspective Strategies, shares his observations on the past year in public relations. He discusses the excitement surrounding technology, particularly generative AI, and its impact on the industry. He also acknowledges the challenges posed by slow global economic growth and geopolitical issues.

Looking ahead to 2024, Andy predicts that AI will continue to shape the industry, and he emphasizes the importance of humanizing communications in the face of technological advancements. He highlights the growing significance of sustainability and ESG communications, urging PR and communications professionals to advise their clients on genuine and authentic approaches to social responsibility.

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About the Guest

Andy See Teong Leng is the President of PRGN. He is the first Asian and Malaysian to be entrusted with the leadership role for the global network of more than 55 independently owned firms. In 2006, Andy founded Perspective Strategies, a strategic communications and issues management firm in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after working with multinational and local consultancies including The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Edelman for more than a decade. Perspective Strategies has built a solid reputation for quality strategic counsel and is one of the leading PR and Strategic Communications consultancies in Malaysia. Andy adopts a hands-on approach to his work and the business. Besides managing the firm, he leads strategic client relationships and coach corporate spokespersons in their media and stakeholder engagements. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Media and Communication, Taylor’s University and a past president of the Public Relations and Communications Association of Malaysia (PRCA Malaysia). He speaks regularly at industry events and contributes thought leadership articles on PR, Leadership, Strategy, Sustainability and Communications.

About the Host

Abbie Fink is president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, crisis communications, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

PRGN Presents is brought to you by Public Relations Global Network, the world’s local public relations agency. Our executive producer is Adrian McIntyre.

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Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

From the Public Relations Global Network, this is PRGN Presents. I'm Adrian McIntyre.

Abbie Fink:

And I'm Abbie Fink, president of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, Arizona and a founding member of PRGN. With public relations leaders embedded into the fabric of the communities we serve, clients hire our agencies for the local knowledge, expertise, and connections in markets spanning six continents across the world.

Adrian McIntyre:

Our guests on this biweekly podcast series are all members of the Public Relations Global Network. They discuss such topics as the importance of sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance programs, crisis communications, content marketing, reputation management, and outside of the box thinking for growing your business.

Abbie Fink:

For more information about PRGN and our members, please visit prgn.com. And now, let's meet our guest for this episode.

Andy See Teong Leng:

Hi, I'm Andy See, President of the Public Relations Global Network or PRGN. I'm also the Managing Director of Perspective Strategies from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Abbie Fink:

Andy, I've really been looking forward to this conversation as we come to the end of the year and thinking about where we've been and where we're going. And you've had a fantastic seat to see all the things that are happening around the world really, when it comes to communications agencies, the strategies and programs that we've put in place.

So, before we get into what lies ahead, what have been some of your observations over the past year as you've been, you know, meeting and having conversations with our members around the country, around the world, and what are you seeing from your own perspective as it relates to, you know, public relations, integrated marketing and such? How does the year look?

Andy See Teong Leng:

I think Twenty Twenty-Three has been a mix of excitement, you know, I think particularly in the area of technology where a lot of PR professionals are looking at how technology, for example, generative AI, will make an impact on the industry. I think that's going to spill over to next year, and consistently we can see the excitement when we speak to our agency partners in the US, in Europe or even in Asia.

But from a business perspective, it has also been challenging. I think the global economic growth that we all hoped to see post-pandemic is not as fast paced as we would like it to be. There are pockets where we think the growth would be much faster. It's not happening, for example, in the Asia-Pacific region, where growth relies heavily on China. I think the economic growth has not been as large or as impactful as we expect it to be. So I think that’s one. Secondly, as we all know, there are a lot of geopolitical challenges that we faced in Twenty Twenty-Three. Obviously, that has an impact on brands and corporations as well as agencies who serve large corporations and clients that have international businesses across the world. I think that's going to spill over to Twenty Twenty-Four as well. That brings us to next topic that we're talking about, looking into Twenty Twenty-Four. Actually, there's a lot of things that's happening in Twenty Twenty-Three I think are going to spill over to Twenty Twenty-Four. Generative AI, technology, these topics will not go away. It's going to spill over to Twenty Twenty-Four. The challenges that we're facing from a geopolitical perspective, that's going to impact Twenty Twenty-Four as well. And of course, as well as the global macroeconomic changes and growth that we expect or hope, that's going to have a huge impact for Twenty Twenty-Four as well.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and that kind of a perspective is as much about the decisions that we make as agency owners and how we are going to run our businesses and looking for growth opportunities ourselves, but also the way that we are counseling our clients as, you know, we like to have those conversations be more than just what we can do from a communications perspective, but really how we impact their business, their business decisions and their growth.

And technology, for years we've talked about technology and the impact that it has on communications, but I don't know that we've seen something quite as powerful or prolific as what AI has been. And interestingly enough, it's not just communications professionals that are discussing artificial intelligence and other things, right? All industries are talking about it and the impact that it will have.

So, as I'm thinking about it more and not only as a tool that we can use, but really how do we advise those other, our clients and others, that how this can impact their business. So it's not just something that we have to pay attention to as communicators, but really how it's going to change the dynamic of the workplace and how others deliver the work that they're doing as well. And we're seeing that I think across all of our, you know, all of our countries are all dealing with it in a slightly different way.

So, if we think about technology and what it's doing, what are you seeing from our members and discussions about, you know, how is our industry changing as a result of it? You know, we've talked a lot about, you know, the change in the media landscape. We've talked about, you know, how we are working with and incorporating digital strategies into the work that we're doing. So what are you seeing in terms of our work and how that's changing from again, your perspective as the president of the network, but also what our membership has been talking about?

Andy See Teong Leng:

Yeah, it's really interesting. For example, when our members gathered in San Francisco recently, there's a lot of conversations about how technology is going to change. I think the change goes in both aspects from a positive point of view, as well as there are issues or challenges that may impact how we do business as well. I think from a talent perspective as well, how work is going to speed up because of generative AI as a tool, and how that would impact how our talent is going to support our clients.

But if you look down, there's actually deeper concerns or issues, or it could be even opportunities as well, to even re-look at how PR agencies or consultancies look at how we charge our clients, for example. It's gone down to the level that it impacts business. Our clients are impacted because it has fundamentally changed the way they do business. I think we, as agencies, will probably face the same thing as well. We charge on man-hours, and generative AI has obviously transformed man-hours in terms of how we spend time doing work. So. Basically, agency owners need to go back to the drawing board to rethink how we look at how we charge our clients, how we add value to the entire process and how that would impact the way we do business.

I think this is a very interesting conversation that I've heard our partner agencies even talking about among ourselves because that fundamentally relooks at how we do business as consultancies. This is also a spillover from the conversations we've had with our clients about how technology has changed their business and how they look at how they do business with their customers. So I think this is quite impactful and I think this will spill over to Twenty Twenty-Four.

Another interesting thing that I've also seen in the conversations, which I think is one important aspect that we need to look at in Twenty Twenty-Four is also how humanizing our strategies would be important as technology becomes more involved in the work we do. So I think how we humanize communications, for example, to ensure that that human factor remains, I think that also links back to what I shared with Abbie when we first had our conversation about Twenty Twenty-Three. We talked about PR 4.0. We talk about PR 4.0 as an element to build trust with stakeholders, co-creation of content, and so forth. That requires a lot of human touch, a lot of humanization in which we communicate because it's about relationships and about trust. There are a whole lot of changes that we're going to see that will spill over to Twenty Twenty-Four and beyond. I conversations I've heard from our members talking very intensely about.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and that the humanization part is critical. I had a conversation recently with a prospective client that in all honesty wanted to know, could he use AI instead of me to do some of the work? And he could have, certainly, there's things he could be doing. But what we really dug in a little bit deeper was the nuances that need to happen in that. Yes, it can do things, but it can't replace the strategic thinking or the critical analysis of the information and make it work for you.

That's where the humanization part has to come in. And it is definitely a powerful tool that we have to pay attention to, but I think those of us that are going to adapt it and learn it and be successful with it will be better at what we do, but it will never truly be able to replace because it isn't there isn't a human connection in it and that's so critically important.

Shifting gears just a little bit because you did address you know the geopolitical and other sort of global issues that are impacting what we're doing and we've talked quite a bit on this podcast over time regarding ESG and the importance of, you know, really being a socially responsible business, both in the types of things that we're discussing here as well as, you know, being good stewards of the communication that we're doing. I don't see that changing. I think it continues into the new year and probably as part of, you know, this will become a conversation that's not. So unusual anymore. It's not going to be unique in that this is going to be part of our corporate culture and needs to be part of our corporate culture moving forward. Are you seeing that as well?

Andy See Teong Leng:

Yes. I mean, in my conversations particularly with our partners in Europe and in the Asia Pacific, there's still a lot of excitement about what's to come in terms of the areas of sustainability and ESG communications. There's still a lot of work going on there and there's a lot of need for greater talent to be involved as well because of the evolving practice within ESG communications and sustainability issues. So that's going to be big.

Interestingly, you can see that besides Europe, a lot of the Asia-Pacific members are, investing a lot more resources into this area, even in large markets like China and the rest of East Asia. So that's still going on. We can see very clearly that the purpose-driven narratives, the purpose-driven communications and the way we do business, part of the elements I spoke about, about PR 4.0, that's going on still very, very strong. Of course, it's become more a part of the conversation. It's not something that we predict is going to happen. We say it's going to happen in Twenty Twenty-Three.

We think Twenty Twenty-Four, there'll be even more uptake and more excitement. But obviously, that will be an area that you're going to see more and more of our partners around the world doing much more work in this area.

Abbie Fink:

Well, and our responsibility in bringing up those conversations and sort of helping our clients large and small, you know, this is not necessarily only impacting, you know, large corporations, but really anyone who needs to be paying attention to being a responsible member of our business community and working towards that and really, you know, shifting, if that's the right word, but shifting the conversations about what is social responsibility, what does it mean to stand in that space and kind of live your principles and be prepared for what that looks like. And those are difficult conversations to have, but it's important and incumbent upon us to drive those conversations for our clients.

Andy See Teong Leng:

Yeah, interestingly, Abbie, here is where we as communication counsellors, we also need to advise our clients. Over-communicating in the area of sustainability, for example, in ESG without real work, that's greenwashing. So I think it's also very important for us to actually have those tough conversations with our clients. If they have not invested enough, if they've not done enough real work, it's not about promotion here. So it's got to be genuine, is going to be authentic. That's where, as communication counsellors, we need to explain that journey for our clients. In order to build that trust, overcommunication is also an issue if you have not actually done work to being responsible in the first place.

Abbie Fink:

We asked some of our members to share some information and it's one of the bullet points someone said was find your voice. And I think that aligns with what you had just said, right? It's not just saying it you have to live it and stand there in that space to talk about it. Our consumers, the people that interact with us, are expecting that kind of voice from the businesses and brands that we interact with. We have an expectation, and that's a difficult place to be, you're not going to please everybody with how you come out, but you have to definitely, and we're expecting it and demanding it of the businesses we do interactions with, that they are being actively engaged and participating and taking a stand. And being, you know, challenging the status quo by being forward thinkers in that particular space, whatever it is, whatever they choose as their place to go.

So the other, you know, if anything that this last handful of years has taught us is that the best laid plans aren't necessarily what ends up coming together. None of us could have predicted what happened to us in Twenty Twenty and Twenty Twenty-One. Certainly what's happening worldwide now has caused all of us to, you know, really be comfortable with pivoting, planning to, you know, planning and then changing our plan and then changing the plan again. So you know, what are we doing and how are we helping, you know, kind of understand that And planning and contingency planning is going to be a critical part of what communications looks like moving forward.

Andy See Teong Leng:

I think just like in the past, no doubt that change is that constant that's going to take us to Twenty Twenty-Four and beyond as well. I think what we need to realize is that as the world globalizes, it's now presented with a new challenge of how the world is also de-globalized in a lot of aspects. For example, cultural, religious, political issues. It's showing how the world it's becoming smaller, but yet also becoming more different.

That is something that as communication professionals practicing across the world, we need to be able to, on one hand, see how we can maintain that cohesive global narrative, but yet, on the other hand, look at how we can address these local challenges that we're going to face as an organization that sells our goods and services around the world. So that's one aspect that I think is going to really differentiate between a winning brand and a brand that will not be able to scale up to capitalize on the global business. I think the other aspect would be, for example, even technology.

I think adopting or embracing generative AI and other digital technologies is a given, But how do we, as professionals, humanize and create that value added into that technology, so that communication does not become robotic? That's going to be the differentiator. Again, if we were to predict the future, that's what's going to happen. Technology is coming regardless.

Generative AI is coming in all aspects of business regardless. But the winning strategy would be how we differentiate ourselves. That's just business 101 if you think about it. It's because everyone's doing X. How do we do X plus one that's going to really make a difference? So I think Twenty Twenty-Four is no different. But of course, whoever finds that plus one or plus two, that's going to be the game changer or the winner in the fall back on the old practices that we've been doing.

Earned media is never going to be the same anymore. It's how do we push that to the next level of co-creating content, for example. But AI is not going to make people co-create. It's how we build relationships with our stakeholders that's going to make that co-creation happen. So I think this is where I see the prediction or what we should forecast, or what we want to do in Twenty Twenty-Four and beyond. It's about how do we find that plus one, plus two, plus three into what's happening right now.

Adrian McIntyre:

Thanks for listening to this episode of PRGN Presents, brought to you by the Public Relations Global Network.

Abbie Fink:

We publish new episodes every other week, so follow PRGN Presents in your favorite podcast app. Episodes are also available on our website—along with more information about PRGN and our members—at prgn.com.