Despite passing back into the hands of the Chinese in a fittingly symbolic ceremony that provoked a bout of public sobbing by Prince Charles, Hong Kong has continued to retain the air of an island of happy heterosexual capitalism amidst a becalmed sea of stoic, conservative socialism. But in the current economic climate, its bullish confidence is on the wane. You can see it in the posture of those who wander the Central district. They’ve stopped strutting. They pace, nervous and ill at ease.
It’s hardly surprising. The financial epicentre of Asia Pacific is smarting from the economic crisis like a punch drunk prizefighter unsure of where to swing next. Every day, The South Morning China Post reports of job losses with the solemn tone of national tragedy. A fortnight ago it was Citibank and HSBC. Next week it could be the journalists themselves.
These are strange times indeed. A couple of weeks ago I was in Hong Kong where (amongst other things) I attended the annual PR Awards extravaganza, an industry that is far from immune from the consequences of current market conditions. But in our particular world, the tension comes from an acute juxtaposition between the opportunity of a business revolution and the more immediate issue of commercial oblivion. The revolution is called digital adoption (rather than digital itself). Oblivion speaks for itself.
For a year or more now, some of the key players on Planet PR have been busy appointing digital gurus. These are the self-proclaimed experts whose remit is to wander, guru-like, across borders with a sublime confidence that stems from their ownership of a personalised lexicon of digi-terms and an apparent aversion to ties. Like your average GP, some are actually very good. Others are very good at confusing you.
Other firms understand that digital is in fact little more than another channel of communications, albeit an exciting one. Like the radio or the telephone or the television or the wireless or all the other communication devises that were amazing in their time, digital will contribute to the decision making journey. It won’t fundamentally change it. Which is why such firms are reluctant to guru-tise their digital offer and, instead, make it another thread to the increasing complex fabric of communications and advocacy creation into which they weave their efforts. Firms like mine.
The divide between digi-worship and channel-agnosticism was evident at the PRWeek Awards. New categories in which to celebrate online campaigns had been introduced and there was a hint of thou art sexier than I as the traditionalists looked on with the air of a veteran skier observing a snowboarder for the first time.
But of course there’s nothing particularly new about digital communication. Nor is this the time for those in the PR industry to be navel gazing about whose approach is better. It all matters now. In equal measure. It’s not about traditional or online communications. It is about inline communications. Getting, as one of my old bosses used to say, your proverbial ducks in a row.
Long the poorly dressed cousin to the curvaceous lust and powerhouse glamour that is (was) advertising, the PR industry has finally come of age. As client companies sniff out the means to maximise impact and exposure with a 30% budget reduction, PR firms are looking like a rather sexy alternative. It’s a surprise for some – a bit like the first time your best friend’s sister made you dribble rather than yawn. But it’s inevitable too.
The advent and adoption of digital has forced a rethink as to the influence and impact of those in the communications space. The public relations sector has as much claim on the outputs of the digital revolution as any other. It has forced the integration issue too, meaning the more progressive communications groups (to one of which, fortunately, I belong) have recognised that creativity is no longer king. The collective pursuit of evangelism is.
It is this industry reshuffle that has created a massive business opportunity for PR. Integrated or not, the PR sector has as good a reason to be at the forefront of the digital revolution as anyone else. If such PR firms are the vanguard of the revolution, then those that put creativity before advocacy will be the shocked troops of the bourgeoisie. Vive la révolution.