PR in Myanmar: ‘You cannot bully or pay journalists for coverage’

A communications specialist based in Myanmar has called out international companies for trying to bully or bribe their way into the country’s papers simply because it is an emerging market.

Anthony Larmon

Anthony Larmon, who founded the public relations agency Echo Myanmar nearly four years ago, said companies largely from China and Vietnam often try to offer journalists money to cover their brands due to a misconception that the media scene is “immature”.

Meanwhile, some agencies, who are not specialised in PR, risk “alienating” the country’s growing pool of young reporters by “bullying” them for column inches. Instead, brands should make an effort to open their doors to the media, he said.

Speaking to Mumbrella Asia about the PR opportunities for brands in the once closed-off South East Asian country, Larmon said: “Myanmar has captured the attention and investment of a lot of companies in Asia. We’re dealing with clients from China, Singapore, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia. Everyone comes with the expectation of what Myanmar should be like and what they expect from their own market when they were emerging – and they apply a lot of their own practices.

“A lot of companies – especially those from China and Vietnam – believe you can pay for coverage. But I came here because it was a free press: it is uncensored. A lot think the media is immature so they can pay for coverage, but they can actually get themselves in very hot water if they do. It’s a small market; word gets around and nobody wants to be known as company involved in corrupt, unethical practises.”

Until 2012, Myanmar’s media was controlled by the government under pre-publication censorship laws. However, after these were lifted in 2012, four privately owned daily newspapers – The Voice Daily, Golden Fresh Land, The Standard Time Daily, and The Union Daily – became available to the population.

Following this, Larmon said he witnessed a surge in creative agencies– both network and independent – offering PR as part of their services to an occasionally detrimental effect.

He said: “When PR first started emerging here, all of a sudden all the agencies started saying they were offering it, despite having little understanding of PR as a profession; especially when it comes to reputation control.

“For most, it was just a press release. And in those agencies that are not PR specialists, there has been some alienation of some journalists – almost a bullying to get their news covered. It’s upward pressure of course, but a lot of international brands do not understand that you do not control the press. But the brands that make an effort to open their doors to media, through interviews, roundtables and so on, that will be valued.”

However now, according to Bloomberg, around 90 percent of the country’s 54 million people have access to a phone with internet service, while 60 per cent of the population use Facebook or other social media to get news, 

Print media still remained a strong market in Myanmar but is starting to show signs of a contraction, Larmon added.

“Influencer marketing is becoming a huge tool in the box, but it’s not like they’re on Instagram and Twitter – we’re largely talking about Facebook. And then a handful of chats like Viber and Line. But thankfully, there is still a healthy print-reading culture, so communications is still very traditional. But the smartphone is forming a bigger role especially among the younger generation.”

On the current situation, whereby the Myanmar government has been accused of systematically persecuting the Muslim Rohingya population in the Rakhine state, Larmon said the effect remained largely unfelt in the business community.

“It does sadden me quite a bit; obviously the human suffering in the Rakhine state is appalling. But it is quite far removed from the commercial centres. So I think brands are quite removed from what’s happening.”


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