Interview: PR, cultural diversity and innovation in APAC

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IN September, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) announced the launch of PRCA Asia Pacific to reflect its rapid growth across the region, writes Orla Clancy. With members in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, it replaced the more narrowly-defined PRCA SEA. As part of the change, former PRCA SEA general manager Tara Munis (pictured) took on the role as the new head of PRCA Asia Pacific. I recently interviewed Munis to learn more.

As part of the broader PRCA Asia Pacific remit, Munis has recently relocated to Hong Kong. Her focus will continue to be collaborating with local associations and global PR practitioners to help shape a brighter, innovative industry in Asia. “We’re lucky to be working in a region rich with diverse culture and language,” she said. “Embracing what makes each APAC country different and joining together with other innovators will be key to fostering an even more vibrant and robust industry across APAC.”

“The last 18 months has been an incredibly challenging period for everyone, but amidst the adversity, we managed to grow considerably in Asia,” she said. “The pandemic was a lightbulb moment for us in the sense that it presented us with an opportunity to step back and reimagine our training and events models. Shifting to virtual made us more relevant to more PR and communications professionals regardless of location. Don’t get me wrong, nothing beats old-fashioned face-to-face interaction, but a hybrid model positions us as a more inclusive and accessible association.” 

Munis then shared her vision with me for PRCA Asia Pacific within the next five years. “We are proud of the critical support we have delivered to industry professionals, especially during the last 18 months. In many ways, our vision remains the same – we exist to unite and serve our professional global community. We are determined to provide authoritative research, world-class training and global networking opportunities for the entire APAC industry. In five years, we want to have PRCA employees in each APAC country. 

“We’re entering an exciting time for our industry. The talent has never been better. In fact, a team from Singapore beat 10 other teams from around the world to win ICCO’s Next-Gen PR World Cup back in October. The challenge for us now is to ensure every student or young PR pro feels supported as they navigate their professional journey. Expanding our International University Partnership programme will be key to this,” she said. 

When I asked Munis how her objectives for PRCA Asia Pacific are part of the overall PRCA mission and global plan, she replied, “Our objectives in APAC are aligned to our broader PRCA objective, which is to drive the highest ethical and professional standards in the global PR and communications industry. The pandemic has inflicted great disruption and suffering across the world, but it has also elevated the power of ethical PR. Whether it was government communications professionals relaying critical information to citizens or brands leading the charge in humanitarian support, our global industry stood up. Brands are now recognising PR practitioners’ true value. And this is where we come in. We want to empower professionals with the confidence to show the impact their work can have on both business and society.” 

The perception of PR among business leaders has changed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in relation to crisis management approaches. Munis said, “No doubt, the pandemic has been a case study for crisis management. Sometimes, it’s instructive to know what you don’t know. What’s your organisation’s track record on diversity? What do your employees really think about the workplace culture? One issue with social media is that it presents us with an abundance of sharing that draws us into a hyperconnected world. It makes the relationships we foster online – with customers, clients, competitors and peers – feel intimate. So, if you tweet a long thread about Black History Month or #NetZero ambitions, you need to make sure there’s real action behind those words. Otherwise, those same customers and clients that you worked hard to connect with, will see straight through the inauthenticity. 

“What the pandemic has taught business leaders is an organisation’s purpose and key messaging can’t just be drawn from a generic playbook. It needs a PR professional’s nuanced, creative touch. No one is better at discovering and then communicating an organisation’s truth than a PR professional.”

Disinformation has been a central concern of the communications industry throughout the pandemic. “We’re living in an era where every spark can ignite a misinformation flame,” said Munis. “An organisation’s reputation is its greatest asset and my conversations with APAC members suggest that PR is more than just a “nice to have” for businesses, but rather, an absolute essential.”

Munis and I agree the last 18 months have been a defining moment for our global industry and PR has emerged as fundamental to the future of an organisation’s growth.