How Has PR Evolved Over The Years?

In a fast-paced, content-driven world, audiences are highly discerning and watch  brands’ actions and behaviour with an eagle eye. They sharply observe any and all discrepancies between what brands say and the policies they end up enacting, and are generally much harder to win over as loyal customers. 

With the rise of the digital age, PR has expanded beyond its traditional scope of building goodwill, trust and awareness, and ventured into lead generation and integrated campaigns. 

So what has changed and how should PR professionals be navigating this playing field?

Evolving media landscape

Major newsrooms have undergone several rounds of restructuring in recent years. By shifting the focus from print to digital, most operate on increasingly lean editorial teams. Some publications are folding entirely. For example, Questex Asia shuttered its regional operations, which resulted in the closure of a full suite of key enterprise titles, leaving brands with fewer channels for niche technology stories. Most recently, notable marketing trade publication Mumbrella Asia exited the market after struggling with profitability.

The shrinking media pool means that newsrooms must be extra selective when it comes to shortlisting media pitches – not just because they have to identify a highly curated content fit for readers, but also due to manpower and resource limitations.  

The good news is that readers are adapting to change and are willing to pay for digital subscriptions that are worth the fee. Tech in Asia’s comeback is testament that the implementation of paywalls and subscription models can work – but only if backed by differentiated, quality content, carving out previously under-tapped revenue streams for the digital publication.

Combating fake news

The wide reach of unmoderated channels like social media and messaging apps has brought with them the advent of fake news – articles, videos or posts that masquerade as “news” but are not substantiated by real sources, and are not published by real news sources. 

The good news about fake news is that consumers are increasingly cognizant of misinformation, what it looks like and how it spreads, and are aware of the role they could potentially play in perpetuating it. To assist with media literacy, the Straits Times even has a dedicated column for debunking fake news, which has been especially vital during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Combating fake news is not a fight for the media alone –  it is also the responsibility of PR practitioners to provide the journalists they liaise with with accurate and timely information from brands, and positioning key executives as thought leaders and reliable sources of truth. The onus also lies on PR professionals to counter misinformation proactively and to take a stand against the misrepresentation of facts.

The COVID-19 crisis has seen the proliferation of misinformation tear through frightened consumers and communities — using the right combination of PR and thought leadership during these troubling times is the key to emerging even stronger. Talk to us, we know how:

Embracing digital channels

APAC is one of the world’s most digitally active regions, and people here consume news in diverse ways as a direct consequence of the changing regional and local media landscape.

Digital content enables the easy sharing of media through a variety of channels such as e-newsletters, social media, and groups on messaging platforms. By using these avenues, publications can ensure news reaches their audience quickly and directly. What this means for PR is that brands now have more opportunities to get creative with integrated campaigns, which can amplify the reach of their earned media — publicity gained through sustained publicity efforts — via both paid and owned media channels.

Another popular digital format is the podcast, an audio format that has been steadily gaining momentum due to its packaged formula of convenience and bite-sized content that perfectly complements the busy lives of modern audiences. CNA, Straits Times, Business Times and Tech in Asia are just a few of the media publications that have been quick to leverage this tool to provide their audience with another way to access content.

The appetite for engaging, quality content is bigger than ever, despite smaller newsrooms and tighter editorial teams. This is why PR teams are embracing integrated campaigns that marry traditional public relations with content and digital marketing. If your brand has yet to test the efficacy of content, now is a great time to consider how both content and digital marketing can complement your broader communications strategy to maximise audience outreach efforts. 

Need help pivoting your PR strategy, or simply want to understand the modern PR landscape better? You’ve come to the right place — drop us a note at [email protected]

When Is It The Right Time To Hire a PR Firm?

So the brown stuff has officially hit the proverbial fan. The head office is in shambles, people are running through the office corridors, you’re pretty sure that weird smell is something on fire and, on top of everything, the snack cupboard is empty (*gasp*). Everyone is asking themselves how they can save the business when the management team comes up with a brilliant idea: 

“Let’s PR this! Call in the agencies for a pitch.”

Though turning to an agency may seem like a smart move during a crisis, the reality is that turning to PR professionals in the midst of a brown-stuff storm will likely be an extremely expensive solution, all things considered. Unfortunately, a company in the situation described above will likely turn into a case of “too little, too late”. 

But more than that, the question is this: is a crisis really the best time to start looking for a public relations firm for support?

So! When is the right time to hire a PR firm, you ask?

When you don’t need a PR agency

Business is good, revenue and profitability are up, the team is growing. With everything going so smoothly, what would you need a public relations agency for? This is, in fact, the most opportune time to start exploring public relations strategies to bolster the business, set up relationships with media, grow awareness and reputation in the market against competitors, as well as establish lead generation strategies with marketing. Why? When business is good, resources are available in terms of budget and time to build the foundational pillars that can help protect a business during times of reputational or operational crisis. 

When you have a clear business strategy

It is crucial that leadership within the business know precisely where the business needs to go to continue its momentum. With a clear strategy, each function has the ability to work towards a common goal, and, more importantly, work in unison with each other, as well as with an agency.

Even if the company is in a volatile period or undergoing dramatic changes, clear direction and communication from the leadership will help a communications team and the agency understand how best to provide support during tumultuous times. What’s more, engaging an agency during times of clarity will prevent them from being stuck working on last-minute, low-impact tactical projects, or, even worse, on initiatives that have been cancelled or are no longer in line with business priorities.

When the ENTIRE management team is on-board

The CEO may be walking in the right direction, but if the full leadership team isn’t walking in-step, some stumbles are inevitably going to occur. This doesn’t just mean sharing a vision and strategy for the business – it means open and clear lines of communication between department heads and the separate divisions, whether that be finance, marketing, operations or sales. When everyone is walking the same path, an incoming agency will be in a position to immediately hit the ground running with proper on-boarding sessions and the development of the right type of strategy to support the business.

When everything is in place and you’re asking, ‘…what now?’

The revelation that everything is in place for a public relations agency to come in can be an exciting one – but what should you actually look for in an agency? How do you start those conversations? How can you tell if that agency is the right agency? 

Luckily, if you have a clear business strategy that the entire management team has agreed upon and your company is doing well, that means your clear business strategy and direction can be communicated easily to the agency. Indeed, the right agency will be able to demonstrate measurable ROI, whether that be through supporting a brand with reputation development, building up the employer branding or developing lead generation strategies.

And if you don’t have everything in place? Well, the right agency will be the first to tell you so. So when the brown stuff hits the fan, your business will not only have a public relations agency that truly understands and fits into the business, media relationships have been developed, awareness and reputation have grown, allowing you to weather that storm with ease.

If you’re reading this article and think it’s the right time to hire a PR firm, talk to us maybe: [email protected]

Government and Public Relations: Why You Need It

No matter what business you’re in, government policies and regulations affect your business. That is why every company should have a government relations team that works to understand all government structures that may affect them.

Often times, public relations and government relations teams work hand-in-hand: public relations is essential for building a positive relationship with the public, and these professionals work closely with the media and other stakeholders in order to build a company’s public image. One of these stakeholders should be the government. 

However, many public relations strategies fail to take government relations into account even though the government can potentially play a massively important role in a company’s business. 

In fact, when a company has a good government and public relations strategy, it can possibly allow access to new key opinion leaders (KOLs), media coverage, strategic partnerships and business opportunities. When combined, public and government relations strategies can lead to more established and effective outcomes. It is certainly no small feat! 

But, how does a company accomplish this? We’ll tell you how it’s done.

So what is government relations?

A government relations professional is tasked with analysing policies, finding ways for governments and companies to work together, and developing strategies for providing input on public policies. 

Simply put, government relations is all about education and communication. While your company needs to know about legislation, policies and regulations that affect your business, the government, too, should know about what your company does, what your future plans are, and your company’s point of view.

To do this, you need to know how to navigate the local government system and policies – and it isn’t always easy. To be honest, there’s a possibility that when you try to establish this relationship, you’ll be given the run-around by government groups, or even be ignored. 

However, with a dedicated team to help with government relations, companies can get their foot in the door and then begin working toward partnering with governments and governmental groups to further their business goals. 

It’s all about relationships

For those of you with furrowed brows, we promise government relations is not (always) about fancy lunches, business suits and playing golf! Government relations (and also public relations!) is all about relationships and communication. 

Here are a few steps that companies can take to start building government relations:

Map out stakeholders

Your first step is to identify the key stakeholders. You need to know who the players are, what they do and how they can help with your campaign, project or business objective. It could be a Minister, your local MP (member of parliament), or a specific department head. 

Do your research

From there, it’s time to do your homework and deep-dive into the relevant policies and regulations, media reports and all the nitty-gritty details about the relevant people you need to work with. Know your stuff before you get in touch with officials! 

Make contact

Introduce yourself and your company, and state your business proposal. Do keep in mind that government officials are important for your business, and that you should do everything possible both impress and charm them. In addition to sending your business proposal, consider also inviting them to tour your office or taking them out for lunch. 

Follow up

“But what if they ignore me?” you may ask. Government officials are busy people, and they sometimes do not reply to your emails straight away – especially because your email could be buried under a mound of high-priority action items. 

If you don’t immediately hear back from them, it’s okay. Don’t give up. Continue to follow-up with them, or maybe go visit them at their office in person. If that fails, perhaps you can try another approach, like contacting their personal assistant to arrange a meeting, or pivoting to get in touch with another relevant official instead. 

Timing is also very important. Avoid contacting government officials during busy periods, such as ahead of the national Budget tabling, upcoming party elections or by-elections, or during long stretches of public holidays. By considering when may be the best time to reach out and being vigilant in following-up, you’ll eventually get a response.

Begin building a relationship

Your work doesn’t stop after you make contact with government officials. In fact, that’s where the work begins. The next step – and the hard part – is nurturing and sustaining that relationship. Always keep officials informed of your business progress so you remain top of mind. This can be easily done by  adding them to your newsletters or inviting them to attend your business functions.

Monitor news and issues

Keep an eye out for relevant news or issues involving your project or campaign. Always be on the ball! Cabinet reshuffles and internal management changes, for example, are major changes that can affect your business and campaign. You should also be on the lookout for news of Ministers supporting or condemning certain topics or issues. It’s good to know where officials stand in relation to current affairs and topics, and can help to inform how you approach them and build your relationship with them.

Looking for help building your company’s government relations? Contact us at [email protected], and we’ll get you sorted.

Pivoting Your PR Strategy In A Merger

Mergers and acquisitions are one of the trickier situations for PR folks to navigate. Change is never easy – but you can take control of the narrative. Time is of the essence, and it falls on the communication team to update the messaging, announce the deal and keep tabs on both internal and external sentiments. The key is to ensure trust and credibility in both brands don’t dip – while reassuring customers and other stakeholders that it’s business as usual and that this means better products and services – in the long run. 

If you are in this unique situation – take a deep breathe – and read on. 

Connect the dots 

Communications teams are often the first to the roped in just before the merger is legally inked. The first task is to connect with core team members including key executives and communications colleagues from both brands; choosing channels carefully to avoid any news leaks with strict non-disclosure agreements reinforced. The communications  team should identify if there has already been talks or rumours in the media – carefully mapping out key journalists and titles for the official announcement roll out. Needless to say, any ongoing campaigns or communications should be on pause. 

Map Out Messaging 

As two become one, the core team need to collaborate and map out a fresh narrative for the merger. The new direction needs to be clearly articulated with key messages need to address all potential stakeholder concerns. A press release, speech and holding statements together with extensive FAQs will form the foundation of the roll out plan. All spokespeople should be briefed with a media training session to help them navigate tough questions. 

Team First 

Just before rolling out the communications externally, coordinate with team leads to announce the merger internally. It’s important to check the tone and humanise the message – with sincere platforms such as a town hall with a senior executive, followed by smaller group sessions that would help open up conversations to address any questions. This announcement may bring up insecurities as employees fear a reorganisation – and if larger changes are in the works; change management specialists should be brought in to help. 

Roll Out

On top of sharing a press announcement, the communications team should pick a media outlet or two for key interviews. Here’s where the initial research comes in handy, as the team should pick a credible, neutral source that was not skewed in publishing initial speculations. The spokesperson representing the new merged brand will need to brace for incoming media queries – stick to the fresh messaging and help address any concerns. 

Listen & Reinforce

Once the news is out, the communications team will need to step up monitoring for new sentiments and message pick-up both in news sources as well as social media. This will help them reinforce or tweak the narrative to land better.  This is only the beginning – and it usually takes companies between six months to several years to complete a merger. In the meantime, the team needs to keep a pulse on the sentiments and roll out larger campaigns that will cement the new narrative. 

There’s no one size fits all plan – but these basic blocks would help put a PR plan in place.

We’re here for you – reach out to us by emailing [email protected] 

 

How Journalism Helped Me Navigate The World Of PR

I was a journalist for six years, until I decided to try something and switch to the “dark side” – public relations. 

I’m relatively new to the world of PR. Now, new worries fill my world – having to quickly draft press releases, organise media launches, and pray that journalists will be interested enough to cover the story. And the more I learned about the public relations industry, the more I realised that there are so many interchangeable skills which overlap between the two fields. 

Here are eight skills which I picked up as a journalist, and have proven to be extremely useful in the public relations world:

BE A STORYTELLER

Content is king – be it in journalism or public relations. If you do not craft a compelling or newsworthy press release, nobody is going to want to pick up the story. Come up with an engaging lead to act as a grip to hook your reader and make them want to read more. 

ALWAYS FACT-CHECK

Always fact-check details such as names, numbers, and dates, when doing your research. This goes for both journalism and PR. You must always present accurate information to the media and the public – after all, what could be worse than having to issue a correction when sending out a press release? 

BE A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY (WELL, SORT OF)

No, you don’t need to host summer soirees and become a social butterfly to network. Simply put yourself out there – attend events and seminars, talk to people and start a conversation. You never know what will come of it – if everything works out, you could have a new client on your hands. It never hurts to be well-connected. 

DEALING WITH DEADLINES

Every journalist, no matter how accomplished they are, hate this word – deadlines. Escaping to the PR world will not rid you of deadlines. In fact, you will be inundated with deadlines, be it for pitches or press releases. Luckily, having spent time as a journalist has polished my deadline-management skills. 

MAKING CALLS

Just like journalists chase for quotes or statements for a story, PR practitioners do the same – in fact, they go a step further and make calls to journalists about press releases or pitches they sent over. It’s two sides of the same coin, really.

ACTIVELY LISTEN 

Carefully listen to interviews so you can quickly grab onto sentences which can be used as a strong lead, or a juicy quote. That’s what I regularly did as a journalist – of course, it doesn’t mean that I switched off during the mundane bits of the interview. I learned to identify talking points which could be used to generate more storylines, or lead to a more robust conversation, but only if the right follow-up questions were asked. 

GET WHAT YOU WANT 

Seasoned journalists know how to masterfully steer an interview in their desired direction, to extract the quote they want for their story. This skill will help any PR practitioner prevent an unnecessary PR crisis.

KNOW WHEN TO LET LOOSE

Disconnecting from work may be hard, but it is beneficial to people in this line of work. Journalists certainly know how to have fun and let loose after a hard day in the newsroom. And the team at Mutant does exactly that – we work hard and play hard! That is one of the reasons why we have been awarded the Best Mid-Sized Agency To Work For APAC by Holmes Report (Woohoo!).

Come join the dark side at [email protected]!

The Role PR And Communications Plays In Building Responsible, Ethical Businesses

Digital advances are transforming how we live, learn, work, and play – and the media industry is, of course, no stranger to how digitalisation is altering its landscape. Changing consumer behaviour and an increased hunger for instant gratification has forever evolved the way we view and digest content, moving slowly away from linear offline publishing and steam-rolling ahead towards multi-platform distribution models. The general consensus is “anytime, anywhere”.  

In fact, annual growth of internet and active social media users in Asia Pacific (APAC) has increased by 10% and 12% respectively, according to the Digital In 2019 Report by We Are Social and Hootsuite. More consumers are constantly plugged in and being bombarded by information from virtually every platform possible. 

With this, it’s no surprise the public relations and communications industry has grown more complex as we adapt to new forms of communications. As the go-between for the brand, media, consumer, and the wider community, PR professionals have to work closer than ever with their brands and clients to identify new storytelling opportunities that provide value to the audience, on the right platform, with the right approach.  

The key connecting factor here is trust, which is imperative to building a good relationship between a brand and its audience – and this only becomes even more necessary during times of digital disruption. Yes, our job is to take a brand objective and create a palatable story that aligns with the broader business goals, but it’s also to provide guidance and counsel around sharing the right messages in an ethical and responsible manner.  

As transparency comes under scrutiny and consumers slowly recognise the impact of #fakenews, PR professionals need to lead the way in un-blurring the line between fact and fiction.

PR should proactively combat fake news

Sensational news will always travel faster than the truth. In Singapore, according to a 2018 survey by Ipsos, four in five consumers were confident in their ability to spot fake news – but 90% were actually unable to distinguish the fake headlines from the real ones. With social media being a hotbed for misinformation – paired with APAC consumers’ high social penetration rate – users are vulnerable to being exposed to unverified sources of information all the time. 

The good news is that consumers are aware of this threat. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found 71% of Singaporeans rely on traditional media as a credible source of information – a five-year high – and 73% were worried about false information or fake news being weaponised. It’s great that the rising threat of fake news elevates trust in traditional media; the fact that The Straits Times has dedicated an entire section to debunking it is testament to how intrusive it is.   

Better reporting is the way forward in the fight against fake news, and the pressure is on for media publications. Journalists have their work cut out for them in identifying credible sources and information as they implement improved fact-checking and research processes to ensure what is published is accurate. This presents a real opportunity for PR professionals to work collaboratively with journalists by providing accurate and timely information from our clients, building them up as thought leaders, which in turn helps journalists gain access to credible sources. Similarly, PR practitioners have the responsibility to proactively counter misinformation and take a stand whenever we spot something amiss. 

Take last year’s Trump-Kim summit as an example, where we saw speculations from unverified sources on the earned media value. Our team at Mutant Communications saw the opportunity to reach out, armed with verified statistics through a client’s media intelligence platform to correct the statement in subsequent news syndications. PR professionals have an obligation to help journalists and the public identify facts, and in doing so foster a transparent relationship that builds trust organically. 

Ethical concerns around paid influencer promotion

APAC is one of the most digitally active regions, and this has led to an increase in consumers who trust in influencers, vloggers, and social media celebrities for purchasing decisions, the latest report by Meltwater found. In fact, a report by Celebrity Intelligence shows 80% of respondents in SEA said influencers are pivotal in shaping their opinions and buying decisions. With this amount of clout, it’s no surprise there’s a growth in paying key opinion leaders (KOLs) to create content promoting a brand. 

As PR practitioners, we have taken product-centric briefs from clients who want to engage KOLs, with the main objective being to sell as many items as possible. While KOLs do have a role to play, PR professionals have a duty to guide clients in making smart choices when working with them. It’s not enough for clients to simply pay a bunch of KOLs to spread their message – the onus falls on PR professionals to educate clients on how they can pick the right people, platform and timeline to run with their message. 

Similarly, consumers are savvy, and can easily identify when someone is being paid to sing praises. However, it’s not always clear if a post is organic, or if it’s a masked, sponsored ad – and consumers should be given enough context to know immediately if the post’s objective is to spark a specific purchasing behaviour.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” if it means doing what’s right 

Numerous agencies will probably disagree with our approach here, but we believe it’s okay to take a stand and voice disagreements when it comes to servicing clients that go against the company’s values, or if there is a disagreement on what is ethical and what isn’t – even if it means losing the business. 

For example, we have walked away from a potential client who wanted to front-foot an anti-LGBTQ agenda across Singapore, and we’ve also said no to clients who were willing to pay us to set up fake profiles and write fake reviews for a product. We also regularly speak up if clients ask us to “fudge the numbers” or want us to play a part in spreading a mistruth as part of a media pitch (thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often!) We are not and should not act as mouthpieces for clients. So, rather than acquiescing to the demands, PR professionals should educate clients on how they can drum up thought leadership the right way.

For instance, I worked with a company that sells child passenger safety products – a huge issue where Singapore is lagging behind its OECD counterparts. We created a comprehensive PR and content strategy around the importance of using age and weight-appropriate child restraints, and by building a steady pipeline of educational content, we converted many of their customers into huge advocates for children’s ride safety. These advocates then championed our client’s messages unprompted across various parenting forums in Singapore, resulting in a direct uptick in sales.

At the end of the day, nothing erodes trust faster than being lied to. As PR professionals we are the messengers between all stakeholders, and it’s our job to safeguard the transparency between them. 

Truth is our greatest currency, and we have a great responsibility to communicate with honesty. Let us play a part in shaping ethical brands and businesses by making truth and transparency their core values.

This essay is the winning entry for the inaugural PRCA SEA Future Leader Award, where PR and communications practitioners aged 25 and under were invited to submit essays focused on the role played by the PR and communications industry in building trustworthy businesses in a digitally disruptive age. 

The essay can also be read here. 

Need help forging trusting relations with your customers? We can certainly help, if you write to us at [email protected] 

 

Are you a fresh grad looking for a PR gig? An agency is the place to be

Can we take a moment to acknowledge just how pressuring it is for a prospective tertiary student to decide on a major that might define their professional career forever? As a tourism student-turned PR practitioner, the transition into the world of public relations comes with a steep learning curve. But it pays off massively if you have an eye for current affairs and an excellent command of one or more languages.

 After a couple of internships later, I realised a whole world lay beyond the familiarity of working for a brand. There was a mystery to these elusive agencies which hardly basked in the spotlight themselves, yet worked laboriously to ensure that their clients shone the brightest.

As a humorous nod to the hit comic series which our agency is affectionately named after, we think that the dynamic between agencies and in-house brands mirrors that of the one shared between mutants and humans in the X-Men universe. Being in an agency is like being a part of the X-Men, there are always more experienced practitioners that you can learn from and when the going gets tough, it truly helps to know that your team understands exactly what you’re going through.

With the exception of crisis prone industries, in-house PR and comms teams tend to be very lean. A small, tight-knit team comprising of a few experienced individuals are usually  responsible for overseeing and managing entire marketing campaigns. Does this sound appealing to you? While you will enjoy the autonomy of being able to call the shots, you might feel weighed down by the sheer size of the responsibilities which lie solely on your shoulders. 

So, how do you ascertain which working environment would be most conducive to your professional and personal growth? If you’re a fresh graduate exploring the possibility of a career in PR and communications, here are some reasons why we think agencies are the best place to work in – especially if you’re still on the fence.

Developing expertise across different verticals

As agencies evolve to stay ahead of the curve, many now offer a wider range of complementary services. From PR and content marketing to digital and social media management, agencies are usually filled with folks who bring diverse skill sets to the table. Depending on the client’s business objectives, people from different teams come together to get the job done. 

For example, Mutant’s portfolio of clients spans across the consumer, lifestyle, technology and corporate verticals. Having the chance to explore a myriad of sectors and industries is ideal for those who are undecided about the industry they eventually want to carve out a career in. Focus first on mastering the fundamentals of the trade, before jumping into a specific field. 

Learning from a team of experienced practitioners

With a shrinking media pool and mercurial audience habits, it takes more than just a seasoned practitioner to be a good mentor. From the undeniable force that is influencer marketing to the rising adoption of messaging apps, good mentorship comes from the ability to guide, while also adapting quickly to the changing times.

In an agency environment, the matrix-style organisational structure which requires you to sit across multiple practices will expose you to a plethora of unique perspectives and ideas. The great thing about working in an agency is that no two days will be the same, due to the nature of the client work involved. 

Character development

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that extensive relationship-building, be it with the media, clients or other stakeholders is a part and parcel of agency life. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a social butterfly to flourish in a client-facing role – as long as you have the ability to empathise with people and forge sincere, genuine relationships, you will succeed. 

While having to juggle the expectations of multiple parties might seem a tad challenging at the start, you will find yourself easing into it as you spend more time in your role. Sometimes, you will feel like the cards are stacked against you. However, the pain is short-lived, and you will find yourself emerging relatively unscathed, having grown more confident and eloquent. 

We could always spend time wondering if an agency function or in-house PR and comms role would suit us better, but the truth is we’ll never know for sure without experiencing a job firsthand. So if you’re still looking for something to nudge you into taking that leap of faith – take a deep breath, get your résumé in order, and apply away!

Well, what are you waiting for? If you’re on the hunt for a PR gig, you ought to write in to us at : [email protected]

Copy That: How to Protect Your Agency from Ideas Theft

So, you were invited to pitch for some business. You spent hours – weeks, or months – coming up with a creative direction, a strategy, and an execution plan that you then shared with the potential client in a formal environment. Your pitch was well-received. You nailed it. You leave the meeting, go and have a drink and hope all your hard work pays off.

And it does! Only, not for you. Instead, you discover, the client loved your ideas – but not your (reasonable and justifiable) retainer. So they took your plans and your creative concept and passed it along to a smaller, cheaper agency to execute your vision under the guise of “going in a different direction” or some other excuse. But you soon see your vision – your exact vision– come to life, and you just about burst a blood vessel over the unethical practices of some businesses. How dare they be so bold as to steal your creativity while another agency reaps all the glory? Maybe they even win awards for it. You bitch and moan with your team, but you grit your teeth when it comes to actually doing anything about it. What can you do, really? What’s done is done, right?

Yes, idea theft happens – we all know this. In fact, almost half of all PR agencies have experienced it, according to a new report by PRCA.

We’ve experienced variations of this at Mutant over the years. Some have been a shock, while others have given off a bad smell from the outset. We’ve even had a potential client demand several time consuming rounds of comprehensive proposals, only to take it all in-house while simultaneously trying to poach our staff to run the show.  Thankfully, we’ve got a loyal team and a strong culture, and this was flagged by our people pretty quickly.

To be fair to clients, some crossovers may have been unintentional. Creative PR strategies are often closely tied to the clients’ business goals – and several agencies may have pitched ideas that are similar. But while I try to believe all clients have the best intentions, sometimes things are just way too coincidental.

So, instead of sitting there clenching your fists, I believe we all need to do more to combat these poor practices and hold clients accountable for their lack of ethics and blatant theft. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Call them out

This is probably less popular solution here in Asia where saving face is a big deal, and confrontation can be difficult. But if there are no consequences for these actions, then the practice will never stop and the industry won’t change. Keep things civil, but know you’re well within your rights to at least ask what the hell happened and why they are running with your exact idea with another agency. At the very least, you might get an apology and stop them from doing it again – at most, you might end up winning additional work with the client in the future (if you still want to work with them).

Protect yourself

So many clients ask the agency to sign an NDA ahead of sharing business information with you, so why can’t we do the same? Unfortunately, we have seen some unethical pitch demands and briefs that specify how all ideas submitted at the proposal stage will remain the property of the client, with no legal recourse given to agencies.

But our creative ideas are intellectual property. We know our value and that our top quality services cost money. Our ideas and approaches to briefs are not magicked out of thin air, and it’s fair to expect the parties you are sharing them with to acknowledge this if they want to hear them. We all need to stop underselling ourselves and placing a higher value on the great results we know we will achieve.

Qualify, qualify, qualify

Receiving a clear, concise brief with an indication of how agencies will be evaluated as well as a shortlist of other players we are up against is a breath of fresh air. Agencies give as much as we get – and this helps us to focus on showcasing our approach and share an idea alongside several case studies with proven results. If required, agencies are always happy to work closely with clients to help shape their briefs to truly nail their business objectives.

What doesn’t pass the sniff test is a topline brief with no clear indications of budget, timelines or evaluation metrics.

Pay for pitches

Sounds like a dream, but it makes sense when a client needs to evaluate actual work by an agency before a longer term commitment. We have experienced this firsthand when a client handed us a clear content brief and compensated us for the articles we wrote. Two weeks later, we realised it was a test they conducted amongst two agencies – and we were handed over the other half of the scope as they were satisfied with the results. It was a smart move by a client who’s still with us four years later.

While getting paid for pitches will never be commonplace, it does help a client who need a stronger justification for a content or integrated marketing retainer investment. Plus, it’s just good manners, honestly.

Industry regulators

The PRCA have created the Ideas Bank as an option for agencies to store their creative ideas, intended to serve as an independent body that can help mediate suspected IP infringement. This is a great start as transparency is key – and we need to work together as an industry to move ahead.

The bottom line is: if something smells fishy, it’s probably gone bad. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information or walk away. As agencies, we are allowed to make money, too – so reserve your time and best ideas for fair clients who are looking for partners, not vendors.

Need a partner who can formulate compelling, original pitches? Drop us a text at [email protected]

Expectations and Realities of working in a PR agency (from an intern’s POV)

It was daunting, entering an industry that I had next to zero knowledge about. I was a sociology graduate, you see, fresh out of university and looking to explore opportunities. A friend recommended Mutant ‘I’ll try,’ I told her. Three weeks later, I found myself on my first day of work at the communications agency, exchanging pleasantries with my new co-workers. I had so many questions. How will I fare? What will it be like? Most of all, will I enjoy my time there? 

As my internship at Mutant draws to a close, I thought I’ll break down my initial expectations and compare them to what I actually experienced. Hopefully, it’ll reassure and help encourage some of you to take a step outside of your comfort zone. 

Expectation: My co-workers will be too busy to guide me or provide feedback. 

Reality: Just because I’m an intern, doesn’t mean I’m not important to the team or my ideas are not valued I learned PR thrives on creativity and that fresh perspectives are always welcomed. With every task I completed, I was given feedback and constructive criticism – this allowed me to better understand my weaknesses and how to transform them into strengths. As the PR industry is extremely detail-oriented, it was great to have a group of individuals willing to share recommendations and give pointers, not only with me, but with one another, too. 

Working in a PR agency is akin to working on one huge project, everyone is extremely collaborative and communicative to get deliverables out the door. 

Expectation: I’ll have to work long hours and will have little to no work-life balance. 

Reality: While I did stay late occasionally, I was never burning the midnight oil – ‘late’ meant staying about an hour later than usual. I could always finish checking my to-do list for the day as we had a system of collaboration anyone could sound off if they felt that they needed help in a particular task or meeting a deadline.

At Mutant, there’s an emphasis on work-life balance; we work hard, but play harder. For the past two months I’ve been here, we’ve had a BBQ night, a games night, countless of doughnut and panipuri parties and even a mahjong night! I still remember during one of my first days with Mutant, Matt, our director, shoo-ed me off at 6pm and told me to and I quote “go have a life!”

Expectation: I’ll spend my days doing the same menial work.

Reality: Initially, I did spend my time on simpler tasks like tracking media coverage and creating media lists. But as I became more comfortable with how Mutant works, I was slowly introduced to crafting reports and social content, researching influencers and pitching to local media. In the midst of all that, I learnt the PR industry is constantly changing – it became evident when no two work days were the same. Clients often have differing expectations and I had to be ready to embrace change and willing to try new projects that I had no prior experience in doing. 

Expectation: The learning curve will be steep. 

Reality: I mean, duh. It was and still is, there’s still so much more that I look forward to learning. Initially, it took me awhile to adjust to the line of thinking required for PR work you have to be extremely meticulous and focus on minute details in order to be an effective communicator. What took someone an hour to do often took two hours of my time, but practice makes perfect, right?.  I’ll get there – slowly, but surely. 

I’m so incredibly glad I accepted my friend’s suggestion to apply to Mutant and grateful they extended me the opportunity to intern. I’ve never been surrounded by a more hardworking and fun-loving group of individuals (including the resident office dog, Muffin). I’ve gained so much with Mutant, from experience and skills to knowledge about popular games in New Zealand (shout-out to my table buddy, Evaan, who constantly engages me in discussions about our cultures). Mutant, I’m glad you didn’t meet my expectations! 

Don’t we sound like a dream to work for? Join the gang at [email protected]

Why You Can’t Camouflage a Rotten Company Culture

Infinite snacks, sleep pods and an unrestricted flow of bottled wine on Friday afternoons do not a company culture make.

As nice as it is to boast to your friends about how you have unlimited leave, a never-ending supply of saccharine treats, and virtually no dress code (rather, one that is liberal for the most part), none of these perks really answer the question,. “So, what’s your company culture like?”

There is a general practice of describing company culture in terms of the perks and benefits available. After all, it is the existence (or absence) of these comforts which help people form an impression of what a workplace might be like to work in. And stereotypes help: a workplace where people can absentmindedly munch on snacks while downing carbonated drinks in a hoodie and sweatpants screams liberal and laidback, with virtually no hierarchy. Having to wear formals to work, or any other prescribed outfit, coupled with minimal perks may signal a rigid and stuffy work environment, where micromanagement is the norm.

However, company culture – an integral part of a company’s core identity – is a complex thing to understand and explain. Company culture is an intangible concept, which permeates across all facets of a company – from the way the bosses guide and mentor their subordinates on a daily basis, to the types of corporate partnerships secured.

All the perks and bonuses in the world will not be an adequate camouflage for a company culture that is rotten to its core. A company that doesn’t possess a culture which influences all of its myriad aspects would, simply, collapse. Without a firmly cemented culture, it would not be possible for a company to achieve whatever higher goals it wishes to pursue.

Company culture and organisational behaviour

Claiming that a company has an “open and supportive” company culture means little unless it is put into action. In order to build a concrete culture, firms should draw up actionable, measurable steps in order to achieve it. Culture is an integral part of a corporation’s personality – remove it and you’d be left with a husk of a structure, at best.

Rather than racking their brains trying to put together catchy phrases and quotable slogans, higher executives should set an example for everyone else to follow, and conduct themselves in a way which would act as a gold standard for everyone else to follow. Take Netflix for instance: while their company culture(which is available in the public domain for all to read) has drawn mixed reviews from onlookers, it is unmistakably set in stone, practiced by employees at all levels, and reinforced by senior management.

Company culture and employee satisfaction

A robust company culture sets the blueprints for day-to-day functioning in an office. A healthy company culture will nurture and celebrate all of its talents, provide them with ample opportunities to grow and prove their worth, and harbour a healthy and inclusive working environment for one and to thrive. There is no room for toxic office-related politics and unhealthy workplace rivalries which may end catastrophically for everyone involved.

Being a part of a team would actually mean something, as opposed to company cultures where people treat each other as mere desk-mates. As a result, employees can realise their full potential and be more productive. It creates satisfied and engaged employees who are happy to sing praises about the highly supportive company they have the privilege of working for.

However, cease to take care of the people who work for you, and you will find yourself looking at high levels of burnout, employee turnover and attrition rates, and most crucially, employee dissatisfaction and resentment.

Company culture and external business nature

Piggybacking off of the previous point – if your company’s working “culture” generates more drama than seven seasons of a badly-written soap, you can rest assured they’ll be telling everyone about the thoroughly riveting (code for “harrowing”) time they experienced. And sometimes, disgruntled people don’t just “spill the tea” to their inner circle – if they suffered enough, they will make sure that everyone, from old internship mentors to university professors get to know. So don’t be surprised when people might not want to do business with your company.

Who you choose to do business with, which products you decide to endorse, and which clients you represent – are all an extension of your company culture. Ideally, the businesses you choose to associate your company with should share some of your own corporate culture and values, and represent a stepping stone towards achieving your overall organisational goals. To this end, Mutant follows its own advice – and we have turned down potential clients due to moral misalignments and dodgy tactics.

Work with entities who can reinforce the narrative you choose to create. If you boast of a diverse and inclusive company culture, yet consistently work with people or organisations who are either racist, or support racist ideals, you will just come off as inconsistent or hypocritical.

Mutant’s (awesome) company culture

Here at Mutant, we do have plenty of office perks. I can come to work in an iridescent off-shoulder gown, and no one will bat an eyelid because productivity and capability trumps dress codes. One of our directors bring his dog to the office, so we allow ourselves a little break by taking Instagram stories of Muffin in a hypebeast jacket specially designed for dogs.

The real “perk” however, is Mutant’s wholesome and robust company culture. Given that we’re a mid-sized, tight-knit team, we have ample opportunities to collaborate, and produce great results for all of our clients. While there is a hierarchy in terms of titles, everyone’s ideas are given equal weights, and everyone’s voices are treated as important. Activities such as client brainstorms and kick-off meetings frequently see the younger employees carry their weight, even with senior executives around.

If there is a problem, we work together to solve it. Micromanaging people isn’t a thing here because everyone is trusted with their respective responsibilities – though we are not averse to giving each other a gentle push if work is not done.

Don’t we sound like an awesome place to work? Join the Mutant family by saying ‘hi’ at [email protected]

 

 

 

4 PR Trends to Look Out For in 2019

It’s that time of year where companies take stock of their performance in the first quarter of 2019 and make plans on how best to move into their new fiscal year. If your numbers aren’t what you hoped, or it’s clear you need a new strategy, now is the time to pivot. To help get you on your way, here are four PR trends you should watch out for in 2019:

1) Content marketing will be better aligned with PR

PR teams are often the best advisors to lead the content marketing narrative, as they own the brand narrative and are great at storytelling. As marketing teams see an increase in engagement and quality leads driven by strong content strategies, PR folks will move from just amplifying content to being more involved with assisting in the initial stages of crafting it.

2) PR pros will prove their worth with savvy measurements

Moving beyond vanity metrics, PR teams will be under pressure to prove how they have impacted the bottom line. PR firms that don’t do this well will get left behind. By showcasing how earned media ties into building awareness, engagement, trust and even leads, 2019 will be a year of absolute accountability. Using tools to measure share of voice, sentiments and lead generation is the way forward.

3) PR tech stack will drive more efficiencies 

Gone are the days where an entire morning is spent media monitoring (thank goodness!). With news alerts pushed 24/7, there’s simply no reason to do this any longer.

From data-driven newsjacking to spotting a crisis before it escalates through real-time social listening, the right tech tools can help a team focus on what’s important by automating tasks – such as reporting and upkeeping an ever-changing media database. PR teams should invest in the right tech stack in 2019 to become more efficient and agile.

4) More journalists will join the “dark side”

The “dark side” is an old trope, but it ain’t so “dark” anymore. As the need for great content-driven by storytelling increases, more writers – including experienced journalists and editors – will find great opportunities in communications. At Mutant, we have built a team of senior editors and writers who are essential to creating smart content that’s amplified through PR.

At the end of the day, storytelling is at the core of what we do as PR professionals, and that won’t change. But how brand stories are told and the ways in which PR and marketing teams operate are changing – and those companies that need to breathe new life into their strategies should consider jumping in on these four trends in order to have a great 2019.

If you want your brand to keep up in 2019 and beyond, give us a shout at [email protected]

How to be a Mindful Communicator

When I worked for a government organisation, I was tasked with drafting an internal document that would help outline a new project. After a month, it was a multi-chaptered, highly detailed and cross-indexed behemoth – the kind of document you complain about putting together, but are secretly proud of when you send it “upstairs” for approval.

Unfortunately, “upstairs” was not as in love as I was, and what followed was a week of vague feedback about “alignment” and “strategic integration”. Frustrated and dejected, I eventually went to a more senior colleague who, after a quick read, said “Aiyah! No wonder they said no. Don’t have the buzzwords they wanted!” He then proceeded to give me a list of “key terms” that needed to be added to the document. These phrases did not add much meaning, they did not communicate anything new, and, in some cases, had to be shoehorned in to fit. But you can guess how this story ends: magically, the document was now perfectly aligned and strategically integrated.

Most people laugh at this story because it’s relatable –  everyone in the working world has come up against this type of corporate speak at least once. But to me, it’s both a humorous anecdote and a cautionary tale: because I sometimes catch myself automatically lapsing into buzzwords and corporate speak.

So in 2019, let’s Marie Kondo our habits and aim to be a more mindful communicator.

The importance of mindful communication

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, he introduced the idea of “Newspeak” – a totalitarian government’s attempt at stripping language down to its bare essentials to eliminate “undesired thoughts”. Within the novel, Orwell theorised that if people had restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, it would limit freedom of thought.

Though the world hasn’t completely reduced the value of discourse (okay, maybe a little), I’ve seen many instances where people opt for the shorthand of corporate speak instead of taking the time to explain fully what they mean. Though the use of corporate buzzwords can be essential at times, the danger lies in when it comes time to think about new things or to improve on existing models.

To help us break out of the spin cycle and practise mindful communication, I’m sharing a few lessons I’ve learned  over the years and that I, too, am using on the daily.

1. Communicate with intent

There’s a misconception that many people in the PR industry talk for talking’s sake. I believe the opposite is true. Most of my peers are hyper-aware of everything they say, and if it’s a choice between saying nothing or risk saying something that doesn’t have value, they tend to err on the side of caution. Before starting on any type of correspondence, ask yourself if there’s a clear intention behind it. If there really isn’t – and you’d be surprised how often this happens – then not communicating might even be a better choice. If there is a clear intention, though, then let that be your starting point. For example, if your email is to request information from a client, then start your email with that request upfront and gear the rest of the email towards helping your client fulfil that request.

2. Think beyond words

Communication is closely tied to words and language, but it’s about so much more than locution. There are studies that indicate using mind maps helps with the ability to recall that information. This makes practical sense, as the bias toward visuals is probably why YouTube has become the world’s second most used search engine (consider the last time you needed a “how-to” guide).

A mindful communicator should be prepared to explore other means of communication, such as illustrations, videos or charts, in order to make a point. Even with text-heavy documents something as simple as inserting bullet points and tables can be immensely helpful when discussing dense information.

3. More than just buzzwords

Jargon, buzzwords and industry slang can be great in certain situations, but you’ve got to be mindful of how you use these terms.

Take, for example, the phrase “end-to-end solution”. Technically it means a product or service that encompasses an entire process, but this term has become overused (and misused, in some cases) within the tech industry. Not only has it lost its meaning and impact, those outside the tech likely will not fully understand what it means. This happens often with buzzwords (e.g. “sustainability”, “holistic” “360-degree-approach”), and thus the challenge is to find new ways to phrase concepts that are both accurate and succinct.

So, the next time you find yourself slipping into a buzzword fugue state, take a cleansing breath and try to bring a little more awareness and mindfulness into how you communicate – hopefully you’ll find a new way of breaking through an already noisy world.