Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pickard sees rapid changes in PR

Bob Pickard, President and CEO of Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific, has been the co-founder and leader of successful award-winning PR consultancies in the US, Japan, Korea and Canada in his PR career spanning over two decades. He has provided consultancy to clients like AstraZeneca, British Airways, De Beers, EMC, GlaxoSmithKline, ING, Johnson & Johnson, Kia Motors, Merck, Microsoft, Nissan, Nomura and Pfizer.

In an exclusive interview with exchange4media’s Preeti Hoon, Pickard speaks about the rapid changes in the communications industry in view of the changing needs of companies. “Clients are now looking to PR agencies for ‘big brain’ consulting in a way that I’ve never seen before,” he says. “As the digital media revolution gathers momentum, PR firms have earned a seat at the table and we are being given every opportunity to showcase an agility and nimble nature that is perfectly suited to mastering the relationship imperative on social networks. Clients are also looking for more tangible proof of PR’s contribution to business success, and that’s good news for us, because digital is by its very nature so measurable. Now, we can showcase the value that PR adds as never before.”

According to Pickard, PR is no longer about “communicating key messages top-down along a vertical axis from corporations to a mass consumer audience by earning editorial coverage. Now, PR is also about stimulating conversations between stakeholders on a peer-to-peer basis, where brands are co-created horizontally. PR these days really stands for ‘Public Relationships’, where we apply our traditional skills with journalists to many more communities of interest. These days, we are increasingly becoming ‘digital storytellers’, where we are becoming content providers, programming information for news streams that scroll on people’s computer and mobile screens.”

As for the biggest challenge facing the PR industry in Asia, Pickard says, “There is a rising tide of expectations for compensation among PR agency workforces, which client budgets are not currently increasing rapidly enough to support. Therefore, to avoid the kind of staff turnover that such a problem presents, PR firms need to focus on the quality of their training and the quality of their service to earn higher demand for professional time that is worth more because clients come to agree that it has a higher value. At the same time, PR firms need to reduce the gigantic generation gaps between digital generation newcomers and analogue generation veterans so that clients benefit from the best blend of traditional and emerging consulting skills.”

Consumer firms ahead in US reputation race

Johnson & Johnson is the most reputable company in the USA, followed by Kraft Foods, Kellogg, The Walt Disney Company, PepsiCo and Sara Lee. Johnson & Johnson is winning the laurel for the second consecutive year in a study conducted among by Reputation Institute.

The study is based on 24,977 online interviews about the respondents’ perceptions of the USA's top (by annual revenue) 150 companies' products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance and leadership.

All the toppers are in the consumer space. According to Laurie Burkitt of Forbes, “Warm-and-fuzzy household names are most loved in tough times. Consumers are still critical of financial service giants. With big names like Tiger Woods and Toyota Motor stepping into the spotlight of public scrutiny this year, reputation is a hot topic in the media and in corporate boardrooms. No company wants its public image to be the reason it has a hard time rebounding from the recession.”

Burkitt continues, “The secret to Johnson & Johnson's success rings true for all of this year's top reputable companies: Each has direct connections to their consumers and their families.”