Having worked in various international and local Public Relations (PR) agencies in Hong Kong, Singapore and London over the past 12 years, and now running my own PR agency in London, people often ask me how it is like to work across the PR industry in Asia, either in China or Singapore.
Here are my top 10 insights based on my on-the-ground working experience in Asia:
- The nature of PR is the same everywhere
The first question you might ask: I have never worked in Asia before. Is my PR skills transferrable to Asia? Here is the good news: the nature of PR in Asia and the UK is fundamentally the same. The principles and technical skills required to be a brilliant PR advisor, regardless of your location, are the same. In both Asia and the UK (and around the globe), PR is essentially about brand reputation, trust building and crisis management. Unlike law or accounting, PR skills are transferrable from the UK to Asia, and vice versa. So yes, do give it a go if you want to venture out to Asia.
Likewise, Asia is not one market. Singapore is vastly different from China or Japan.
- Asia is not one market
Is there a so-called Pan-Asian PR strategy or a Pan-European PR strategy? Europe is not one market. Germany is vastly different from the UK or Norway. Likewise, Asia is not one market. Singapore is vastly different from China or Japan. When you are planning a campaign, it is important that you localise the campaign idea and marketing materials based on that single market. Local understanding is critical to the ultimate success in the long run.
- Asia is arguably more multi-cultural
London is an international hub for many types of businesses, including PR. However, as a Chinese who has worked in both the UK and Asia over the past decade, I do feel that Asia is arguably more culturally diverse than London. For example, in my previous Singapore agency, we were 25 consultants from six different countries such as America, the UK, New Zealand, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. In London, the majority of people working in the PR industry are still local (British) with a couple from other countries such as Africa, Australia and America.
- Speaking local language is not a must but is definitely a bonus
English is still widely spoken and is the most common written language in most parts of Asia, including China. It is okay not to speak the local language in most circumstances. However, being able to speak the local language definitely helps accelerate your career and integrate with the local colleagues and society more easily. It’s recommended to take some language courses while you are working in a new country.
People may leave office only when their bosses have left office. This is quite different from that in the UK or the West where hierarchy in an agency is usually quite flat, and everyone, regardless of seniority, is encouraged to make decisions, take responsibility and initiate ideas.
- Hierarchy is more visible and still rooted in Asia
In Asia, people tend to pay more attention to one’s seniority and title. Generally, junior consultants often ask their bosses for permission to do something and let their bosses make decisions. People may leave office only when their bosses have left office. This is quite different from that in the UK or the West where hierarchy in an agency is usually quite flat, and everyone, regardless of seniority, is encouraged to make decisions, take responsibility and initiate ideas.
- Media in Asia are generally friendlier
Arguably, media in Asia are friendlier than that in the UK. In Asia, journalists seem to see the value of making friends with PR people more. They do make time to meet up with PR people for a coffee or a meal during or after their office hours (and sometimes even at weekends). However in the UK, journalists rarely make time to meet with PR people just for a coffee, unless you have a strong and appealing story for them.
Food is one of the best ways to establish relationship with colleagues, clients, partners and media in Asia. People do spend a full hour taking lunch with their colleagues almost everyday.
- Networking over food in Asia is a norm
In Asia, people socialise over meals, as opposed to drinks in a pub in the UK. Food is one of the best ways to establish relationship with colleagues, clients, partners and media in Asia. People do spend a full hour taking lunch with their colleagues almost everyday. Drinking is not big in Asia generally, especially in countries such as Malaysia and India where religions discourage drinking alcohols. Having said that, it is important that you accept drinks by your bosses and clients at dinners and social events.
- PR freelancing is not established in Asia
In Asia, the PR freelancing industry is premature or even non-existent. Culturally and historically, people like working for a big or well-known company and do not have the concept of “working from home” or “freelancing”, as opposed to that in the UK where people don’t mind so much about where you work as long as you get the jobs done. UK freelancers can even often ask for a higher hourly or daily rate and thus earn more than those working full time in an agency.
- Long working hours in Asia is inevitable
When I was working at a global agency (Weber Shandwick) in Hong Kong, my standard working hours were from 9am to 8pm. I remember I once stayed at office till midnight prior to a big event for a major client the next morning, and I was the first one to leave office! My boss stayed at office till 3am and was back to work, looking fresh, at 9.30am the next morning. Of course, this does not happen often, but be prepared that there will be days when you’re expected to stay to work at office till very odd hours.
- Embracing differences helps you enjoy the journey
Even though I am a Chinese, I still find it utterly fascinating when I moved to work in Singapore, an Asian country, between 2006 and 2010. I got the chance to travel to neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia, to meet clients and PR agency partners. Each country is so unique in terms of cultures, ways of communication, consumer behaviours and of course food. There is so much to learn and explore in Asia, and if you are willing to embrace those differences, I promise that you will only find your whole experience even more fulfilling, enriching and life-changing.