A Dummy’s Guide To Working With An Agency

When it comes to agencies, you don’t really associate them with Greek philosophers.

But if we’re going to ask the question that you came here for, then we’re going to go back a couple of millennia. To Plato’s Republic to be specific. He said:

“Well then, how will our state supply these needs? It will need a farmer, a builder, and a weaver, and also, I think, a shoemaker and one or two others to provide for our bodily needs. So that the minimum state would consist of four or five men….”

It’s a bit of a weird way of saying it, but what our mate Plato states here is the basic idea of division of labour. That economies work best when people do what they are good at, rather than trying to do everything. 

So, when do you need an agency? 

Well, as the farmer or weaver specialise in farming or weaving, the modern-day agency is a specialist in communications – whether it’s PR, creative, design, social, or whatever. If you can’t feasibly do something internally, for whatever reason, then it’s time to look at hiring an agency. 

We know that this decision can be down to a few factors, so to make it easy, think about the SCOPE of what you’re wanting to do.

STANDARD: Could I do this job internally, and ensure it is of high quality?

The first and easiest question to ask yourself is whether you can actually do this job to the standard you need. Anyone can paint a picture, but to create a work of art you need a capable artist. 

COST: If I could do this in-house, will it actually save me money?

This is biggest hurdle to hiring an agency. Fun fact: every employee costs money to a business (including you) so when it comes to doing a project or ongoing work, whether it’s an external agency bill, or an internal salary bill, your company will be paying for the work.

Assuming that you have the same capability internally as the agency, and you’re weighing it up just on cost, there’s a simple test you can do. Quantify your hours, figure out the real cost of your salary (and the opportunity cost of you not working on other things), and compare that to what the agency has quoted you. 

EXTERNAL OPINION:

Everyone thinks their baby is the cutest, but as we know, it’s not always the case. Unlike a biased mother, when it comes to brand communications, you don’t want someone from inside the business to be the judge of how the brand is perceived externally. Having someone external work on your business is a great reality check and a good agency will be a great bullsh*t detector, taking the position of your audience when it comes to ideas and communication. 

PRODUCTION: 

This one is easy. Agencies are employed to not only come up with concepts, but actually execute them. Sometimes they can do this internally ( stuff like design, writing, etc), and sometimes (like in TV, photography, experiential) they employ production partners to do the job. This is a key element of an agency’s value. 

They do all the sourcing, vetting, quality control, third party payments, and negotiations – an enormous, time-consuming task. As the client, all you have to do is agree to the overall timeline and the cost, and the agency should take care of the everyday minutia. 

END RESULT:

One of the great advantages of employing an agency to do the job is that they are accountable. Because you’ve paid for the work and agreed to a scope, you should expect results. Being super clear on what you expect before the work starts is imperative, and will ensure you can see the real value of the agency and decide whether you want to use them again.

If after this process you’ve come to the decision that you need an agency, well, then you need to find a good one. Easier said than done, but lucky for you, we know a good one you might want to try. Talk to us at [email protected]

How to Build an Authentic, Purpose-Driven Brand

In the midst of the pandemic, brands that operate with the consumer and community in mind are the ones that stand out. Companies everywhere have pulled tone-deaf ads, while some have pivoted their business to develop essential products. 

An underlying purpose of what makes a brand relevant to its customers should be at the core of every brand’s vision and mission. This is particularly true in a crisis where consumers weigh their purchase decisions in this economic climate. 

Why? Because it makes business sense 

Profitability and purpose are not mutually exclusive. Kantar’s Purpose in Asia report found that “90% of consumers want brands to get involved in the issues they care about, meaning that an authentic brand purpose is now an expectation not a bonus”. 

But what’s the harm in not having a purpose? 

Well, according to Accenture, businesses lose up to half their customers, with 17% never coming back to brands that don’t serve a larger purpose. Earning brand loyalty is not as simple as giving away free products or making a one-time donation. 

5 steps to build a purpose-driven brand

Start from your brand DNA

Your brand purpose shouldn’t be disconnected from your core business. You should know how your products and expertise can create an impact on your consumers – and this should be a long-term strategy, rooted in a deep issue or opportunity that’s impactful (such as sustainability, education) or identifying specific communities to champion over the years. 

Pick issues that matter to your community

Listen to what’s being said on the ground. If a brand is not actively listening and refreshing how it’s helping the community, then its well-meaning activations could backfire. 

This is a good way to champion local causes and initiatives, particularly if you’re part of a global team where the broader corporate social responsibility goals may not directly impact your markets or region. Find a local nuance that makes sense for your community. 

Inspire your team

Start inspiring and engaging your own employees. If a brand is only seen as helping the larger community, while ignoring or mistreating their own, there is a huge disconnect. 

Your employees are your brand advocates, and being part of a purpose-driven brand attracts, motivates and retains employees. Outside of being proud of the impact they create, an engaged team could also lend their own creativity and ideas towards giving back to society and further driving your purpose. 

Take action 

Once your brand is ready to take action, don’t forget to continuously engage the benefactors and track your performance over time. 

Take a look at your user journey to see how you can activate your own consumers to drive awareness of the impact your contributions have made. Better yet, rope in your consumers so they also feel like they’re making a difference. 

As an example, Trouble Brewing, a local brewery in Singapore, launched an Adopt-A-Pub initiative that gives 10% of their proceeds to the consumers’ favourite bar, pub or restaurant at no additional cost. All it takes is a click at check-out for folks to give back to the Singapore F&B community. 

Communicate & learn

It’s important for brands to communicate with the right stakeholders on the right platform – and to avoid being called out as self-serving. Remember, you’re not doing good to drive publicity. Instead, when employees, customers and even benefactors spread the word, it’s a lot more impactful than sending out a press release. 

Companies also need to listen for feedback – and tweak their approach to remain relevant. 

At Mutant, we’re proud to help our clients engage and help our communities. Here is an example of how our team in Malaysia activated a much needed initiative within a record timespan.

How Kimberly-Clark Malaysia helped 16,000 families 

Kimberly-Clark, a brand that’s rooted in global social responsibility guidelines, wanted to make a meaningful contribution to help ease the burdens of Malaysians who have been affected by the pandemic. As residents were not allowed to venture past their neighbourhoods, they were reliant on donations for food and essential items. 

Mutant connected with the Federal Territories Ministry to identify communities that would most benefit from 1 million RM worth of essentials including diapers, feminine hygiene products and tissues. Kimberly-Clark was able to coordinate the delivery of the donations within a week, fulfilling the urgent need of the donations.

The Deputy Federal Territories Minister YB Dato’ Sri Dr Santhara Kumar shared a message of thanks to Kimberly-Clark, opening up doors to future collaboration.

If you’re keen on developing a brand purpose, or need help localising a global mandate, we’re here to help. 

Need help with messaging and connecting to the right stakeholders?  Drop us a line at [email protected] anytime – we’re here to help.

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]

Get It Right: Following Up With Journalists

It’s a cutthroat business pitching to journalists. If they like what you have to say, you might hear back from them immediately, but if all you receive is radio silence that lasts longer than a day or two… well, sorry. Your pitch probably didn’t make the cut, and you have some damage control to do.

Journalists are busy people – busier than ever these days as newsroom resources are squeezed – and simply don’t have the time to meticulously read every single email. So, what can you do to earn their attention?

Following up after sending a press release or pitch might feel a little awkward sometimes, but too bad! It’s a necessary step to ensuring you land your story, and if you approach your follow-up in the right way, you’ll pique the journalist’s interest:

Be original

The journalist in question might have ignored or deleted your email (don’t take it personally) so it’s important to follow-up with the all the relevant information at hand – including anything that might not have been present in your original pitch. Keep track of the reporter’s recent articles to find out what they are currently writing about, and come up with an original angle based off relevant and recent trends. This will make you stand out, and the journalist is more likely to appreciate the extra effort.

Be familiar with your client 

If you want your pitch to land, you have to understand your client’s business inside and out. The journalist will decide whether they’re worth covering or not, and you’ve got to make them look good by being able to answer all questions (within reason or limitations set by the client) in order to lock down that interview. While the details you share with the journalist will vary depending on the publication, having a solid idea of your client’s business model, revenue (if that’s public information), and top leadership will greatly help you.

Make it personal

One of the biggest reasons pitches get declined is the lack of personalisation and a lazy, sweeping approach that journos can spot a mile away. Journalists receive dozens of emails in a day from businesses who claim to be interesting – but how is your client really interesting to their readers and why should they care? Deliver stories that are new and relevant to their target audience. Understand what that particular journalist covers and is interested in, and consider a new angle that your client might slot nicely into.

Don’t call multiple times

While waiting for a response can be nerve-wracking, resist the urge to call multiple times, spam their inboxes, or hunt them down on social media. An initial follow-up soon after sending a pitch is fine to make sure they’ve received it, but then let some time pass (ideally 2-3 days) before chasing again. Don’t be clingy and desperate – no one likes that.

Find the right time

Journalists like to be pitched to in the morning (between 9am and 11am, or earlier) because that’s the best time for them to decide what they will be working on for the day, and present it to their editors during news meetings. Remember, you’re not the only one under pressure to create a story.

Need help crafting your next pitch? Drop us a line at [email protected]!

Myth BUSting: Get My Ad Off That Bus!

You have an ad on a bus – congratulations, that’s great stuff.

How much did it cost? More than $30,000 for three months? And that’s one bus only? Right.

Your brand awareness must be spiking. Oh, you’re not sure?

You must be getting some leads, though?

While I am sure your CEO is happy to see the brand flash past, it can be hard to tell whether your bus ad has actually made an impact. Bus ad starter-packages of around $30,000 is a big sum for small and midsize companies to spend, so you really need to consider how effective bus ads they actually are for your intended outcome, and what you could potentially do with that money instead. 

What does an ad on a bus do for you?

Many marketing departments (not all, though) are afraid to invest their budgets in testing new ways of reaching their target audiences. They are more comfortable with tried-and-tested campaigns that have worked for them in the past rather than branch out into new territories they are uncertain about paying off.

Now, we aren’t slamming transit ads altogether — they’re hugely effective for certain campaigns and brands. In fact, out-of-home advertising is the only offline media category to grow consistently, thanks in part to huge commuter volumes. Our contention is with brands taking a cookie-cutter approach, given the main argument for running ads on buses in Singapore is that it will generate mass awareness for your brand. 

But does it? Sure, you can get in front of people by riding around Singapore — but how impactful is it?

Here’s what you CAN know about your bus ads: What percentage of people from your target audience takes the bus (in general) and how often; which routes are more likely to be seen by a particular audience (i.e. students, tourists, office workers); and an estimation of how many people could potentially see the bus your ad is on.

But here’s what you CAN’T know about them: Your brand awareness lift as a result of your bus ad; how many people looked at your website or social pages after seeing the bus ad; how many people bought your products or requested your services as a result; cost per conversion and return on investment (ROI) or return on ad spend (ROAS).

For large, established brands, these concerns are minimal. But for small and mid-sized businesses looking to reach a wide audience, to generate mass brand awareness and to track their efforts accordingly, it should be an important consideration. 

So what should you do with $30,000 (if you don’t paste it on a bus)?

A quick bus ride would reveal that most people look at their phones both while commuting or at bus stops. While your ads will get in front of a lot of people, it’s hard to say whether there will be an impact on sales. Following the motto ‘a lot helps a lot’ is suitable here – i.e. the more buses carry your ad, the higher the chance your message will be heard. However, this comes at a significant cost. So, why not try to reach people where they are more responsive and can take immediate action?

Example: Let’s assume you are running a big-ticket event in Singapore for which you want to drive awareness and sell about 10,000 tickets at $70 each. 

Alternative #1 – Digital Reach

Opt for a digital advertising campaign that includes brand awareness and lead generation in the same campaign. Start by running video ads on social media or other digital channels. For a budget of $5,000, your ad can reach more 500,000 people in your target audiences.

Your next campaign can be built and optimised based on the results and data you have accumulated so far. If you run another bus ad campaign, you are starting from scratch because there is no data.

Alternative #2 – Digital retargeting 

Run a campaign retargeting people who have liked, interacted or fully watched your brand video. Choose ‘conversion’ (online sales) as your campaign objective to reach people who are more likely to make a purchase.

Find more people who are similar to those that have already bought a ticket. Create a custom audience based on the conversions in phase two, and then create a lookalike audience. This will find people who are very similar to those who made a purchase and who are more likely to purchase as well.

Alternative #3 – PR 

Define your story angles and pitch your event to lifestyle publications and general media. Typically, after impactful event coverage appears, you will be able to register a spike in ticket sales. Using e-ticketing service for your event, you can keep track of how effective the different media coverage is.

Alternative #4 – Influencer campaign

No matter what target audience your event may have, there will be a number of great influencers. Be sure to work closely with your PR team in selecting the right influencers and outlining the rules of the engagement. Just a simple post that talks about your event might not be enough. Links back to your website and ticket giveaways should be a given. Be innovative and use the influencers’ channels in a creative manner. 

What’s the outcome?

If we’re talking about bang for your buck and tangible outcomes – regardless of whether you want to sell tickets, drive awareness for your ecommerce store, or generate leads for your business – a digital campaign will get you quantifiable results for your  investment. 

And while this is a debatable topic and you might argue that out-of-home advertising is creative and ‘in your face’, until you can show us the data to prove your point…

Took the wrong route? It’s time to step off. If you want to talk about how you could spend your marketing budget more efficiently, send us a message to [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] 

 

We’ve Got a Problem: How to Communicate During Troublesome Times

Whether it’s your website’s technical malfunction, a customer service issue gone viral or the introduction of an unfriendly government regulation, there will come a time in every company’s life when something goes wrong

And in those moments, your customers, the press and the rest of your industry will be looking at how you respond.

You’ll definitely have a knee-jerk reaction – and in this era of immediacy, it’s all too easy to jump on your favorite social media platform and word vomit your personal position. But this is exactly what you should not do.

That said, immediacy is not a bad thing, especially because of social media, where news spreads around the globe in a matter of minutes. Working quickly to craft a statement or provide a solution will be paramount to success – but that does not mean you should be in such a rush that you sacrifice careful thoughtfulness.

They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going – and where you should get going is straight to your communications team and public relations agency to craft a plan. Here’s what you should keep in mind.

Don’t Panic (or, at least, don’t panic in public)

It’s not that you can’t panic at all – you can (and most likely will) panic. Internally. Not on social media, not in a press release, and absolutely not in front of reporters. When you respond, you’ll want to be calm, collected and measured – not having a meltdown in front of the world.

After you’ve taken a breath and had a glass of water (or something stronger than water, we won’t judge), you should activate your crisis team – executives, your communications department, your PR agency – and put out a holding statement until you have had time to craft a proper response.

Get Your Thoughts Together

Once the initial emotions of shock, anger, or sadness (perhaps all three?) have passed, you’ll need to sit down with your team and investigate what the facts of the incident are and what this means for your business. Go over every possibility, every point – you need to know all of it in order to work through it. Once you’ve considered exactly what this crisis means for your company, then you can begin to determine the company’s stance.

Understand What Your Customers Expect to Hear

But before you put a statement together, you’ll also need to consider what your customers are expecting. Depending on the situation, they may want refunds, a major discount or special code to be used in the future – but what they expect is a genuine apology and assurance that action is being taken so that this does not happen again in the future.

Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would feel if a business you loved made a mistake or was in a perilous situation similar to what your company is facing.

Find the Middle Ground

With both the business thinking and customer thinking in mind, work to find the middle ground. Consider what sort of solution is the appropriate course of action for your business. Once your positioning and solution have been determined, it’s time to start writing a statement in earnest.

Prepare Your Statement(s) – And Notify the Larger Team

Consider the types of statements you’ll need to confront this crisis and take control of the narrative. This could be a press conference, a press release, posts across social media channels, emails to your customers, app notifications – and it likely will be a mixture of some or even all of these options, depending on the situation. Once you know the channels through which you’re responding, then make sure to draft, edit and polish suitably.

Once these drafts are ready to go, be sure to brief the rest of the company before you blast the statements out. Your people will be dealing with customers or clients (or both!) getting in touch after your statement is out in the world, and they should be prepared for how to respond based on the company’s position.

Keep Monitoring

Once you’ve published your statement, use social and media monitoring tools to keep tabs on how your solutions are sitting with customers, and if they are working the way you hoped. Fingers crossed everything goes smoothly – but if the conversation turns negative, then you should work to address all concerns before attempting to move on from the issue.

Though no business ever wants to have a crisis on its hands, in the event that you walk into the office and find yourself in the middle of one, it’s important to have a plan for what happens in crisis mode. With enough deep breaths, facts and  level-headed thinking, your company can weather this and emerge from it stronger – and even in a way that may win you new customers. It is possible – so long as you don’t panic.

Concerned about stumbling instead of stepping forward? 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]