How creative is Asia at PR?

Arun SudhamanPublic relations industry-watcher The Holmes Report recently published a creative index of the world’s top PR agencies and campaigns.

In this Q&A, The Holmes Report’s managing editor Arun Sudhaman tells Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks what the results reveal about the state of creativity in Asian PR.

What’s your view on Asia’s performance in the Holmes Report creative index campaign ranking?

The most interesting thing is that in the top seven campaigns in the world, three are from Asia, which all rate higher than anything from the UK.

Two are from Singapore – ‘From Conflict to Collaboration’ for Golden-Agri Resources by Pelham Bell Pottinger and The ‘+’ Project for Philips by OneVoice.

And there was one from China – Mr Bao: A Virtual Sales Champion for IBM by Ogilvy PR.

Which campaign stood out for you?

The work from Asia was all fairly diverse. But for me, the Golden-Agri Resources campaign stands out. The company [which is part of  Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas] began talking more to NGOs and looking for ways to improve its operations and supply chain. It wasn’t a classic stunt, which you see a lot of in PR. It was a strong corporate PR campaign that resulted in the company changing how it behaves. You rarely, if ever, see advertising have such an effect on a company.

The best PR campaigns in Asia tend to have a strong social component, and we see that with Golden-Agri. Campaigns that do well in the West tend to be classic consumer work, and less concerned with issues such as sustainability.

There is a danger that scam – work designed to win awards – could creep into media, as we saw at Spikes. Any danger of that happening in PR?

Scam culture doesn’t exist in PR, besides it’s harder to cheat. But that might change as awards become more important to agencies.

Are we seeing creative agencies swamping awards show, like we’re seeing in media?

At advertising shows like Cannes and Spikes, yes. We’re seeing a lot of repurposed advertising campaigns winning, which I don’t think showcases the full breadth of work that PR agencies are capable of.

Who is faring better in the creative stakes in Asia – networks or independents?

In our overall global rankings, the networks do well. But when we weighted the scores relative to the size of the agency, the rankings were topped by boutiques – which were all from either the UK, the US or Sweden.

In Asia, the top performers were still all from networks. Boutique culture hasn’t taken a hold in Asia yet, partly because clients are more risk averse, so they’re unwilling to take a chance of smaller, less well-known agencies.

But that’s starting to change. Good boutiques are emerging in Singapore and China, and there are already plenty of strong, smaller independent agencies in Australia.

So what’s your view on the state of creativity in PR in Asia right now?

You can’t always tell from awards, although the work has definitely improved in recent years.

But I still feel that PR agencies in Asia need to take more risks and challenge clients to invest more in creativity. Other than in Australia, most agencies do not have people dedicated to creativity. You don’t necessarily need a creative director, but you should be doing more to recognise the importance of creativity in your agency’s culture.


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