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] 

 

4 things Kim Kardashian can teach us about a solid social media strategy

Kim Kardashian – love her or hate her, you can’t deny that she’s created a massive empire and cult following. Having recently won the Council of Fashion Designers of America influencer award, Kim is truly one of the biggest influencers of our time. With 113 million Instagram followers (that’s the sixth most followed in the world) and 60.2 million followers on Twitter (that’s more than Donald Trump), she is truly the Queen of social media. What really catapulted Kim into fame? How does she maintain such a large following and influence despite an equally notorious reputation, and what can brands learn from her?

Know your audience

Kim brands herself around glam, beauty and luxury. In fact, all of her ventures now are centered around these themes. This is what her audience knows her for and it’s what they expect her to share with them and thus creates personalised content for them. Diverting from this may cause a scattered brand identity that people are unable to understand or follow and result in lower followership. This means keeping in mind integrated marketing communications – a single brand image across all platforms.

Also, always listen! People like to promote products, but Kim thinks it’s equally (if not more) important to listen as well. To engage with your audience makes them feel like you’ve taken their thoughts into consideration. For all you know, your audience just might be your inspiration for the next big campaign!

Capitalise on opportunities

Opportunities don’t always come in pretty packages. Kim once supported a morning sickness prevention brand once and got a lot of flak (even from the Food and Drug Administration!) for not posting the drug’s side effects. However, Kim managed to turn the situation around by taking ownership for her actions. This moment garnered a lot of publicity (negative or not) that made people more interested in Kim’s life.

It’s all about taking the opportunities that have the potential to help you build brand awareness. Kim’s #breaktheinternet moment with Paper magazine was unpaid but was something that created buzz about one of her most famous assets – her butt. If that’s not capitalising on opportunities, I don’t know what is!

Stay authentic

This is a sure way to prevent a PR disaster. When you’re that well known around the world, people will be watching your every step. Post something that’s not true to you and people will immediately catch wind of it. That’s why it’s important for you to endorse items and posts that are true to your brand identity to prevent backlash. Kim always promotes products that she herself loves and uses so that she knows she’s promoting a good product to her audience.

For example, the first product Kim launched from her beauty line was a contour kit. This was done with the vision that she wants to sell products she believes in and uses often. This works hand in hand with knowing her audience. Kim wanted to be able to sell her famous contour look to her audience, who look to her for beauty inspiration.

Use every platform

Different platforms have different strengths and Kim capitalises on that to maximise the use of different social media outlets. According to Kim, each platform has a purpose to serve.

Facebook is good for click-throughs, snapchat showcases more of your private side, Instagram is good for showing the actual product and twitter is good for having a conversation with people. Based on what you are trying to accomplish with your brand, it’s important to keep this in mind while curating social media posts and do what will work best with your audience and keep them engaged.

Still not sure how to create content for your brand? Check out some tips here on how to create digital marketing gold.

Want to break the Internet like Kim? Drop us a message at [email protected]

7 Typography tips to ace your designs

Everyone’s had an idea for a cool design at some point. But turning your idea into reality is an effort. When it comes to creating graphics, it’s a different game. The application of graphic design is versatile and allows you to play around with shapes, images, positioning and typography. It’s a game you can get lost in.

The art of arranging type, aka typography, is not only a crucial part of any design, but also key to getting people interested in your design (and what you have to offer). A bad typography layout affects the readability, causing people to lose interest after reading just a first few lines. With millennials giving you less than 5 seconds to catch their attention, your typography needs to be spot on.

(Source: Harper’s Bazaar Brazil)

Failing to realise your idea visually, doesn’t always mean your idea was no good. Don’t question your ideas, but work on improving your designs. Here are some of the things to take note of when working on your next design project:

1) Choosing the right font (personality)

Are you aware that fonts have distinct moods and personalities? Don’t disregard Arial and Helvetica straight away. Always look at what you want to achieve before picking the font. Choosing the wrong font can convey different feelings and might even screw up your entire design.

For example, working on the design and layout for a fashion magazine, you most likely want to suggest modern, elegant and sophisticated tones – visually. You want to stay away from using Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts for the magazine, as it makes the entire design look unprofessional. The font you select needs to suit the personality of the brand.


(Source: AdWeek)

Never pick fonts just because you are awe of the particular typeface, in fact, you should choose the typefaces that suit your desired outcome.

“With millennials giving you less than 5 seconds to catch their attention, your typography needs to be spot on.”

2) No more than 3!

Never be generous with the use of fonts. Try to stick with one or two fonts for your design. Too many fonts might over-complicate the entire design – distracting the reader from what’s really important.

Remember websites in the 90s?

If you really want to use two to three different fonts in a design layout, avoid using fonts that look similar to each other (e.g. Bodoni and Didot). Visually similar fonts can be quite problematic, as they make your design look too indistinctive. Make it a family affair and use fonts from the same family, as it will give your design a more cohesive look. You might think that only one font looks boring, but ‘less is more’.

Let’s not forget, you can always play with the weights, styles and the width of the font. So, forget about the 90s and don’t use more than three fonts for one and the same design.

3) Do not stretch or squeeze! 

Stretching and squeezing a font is definitely a big no in the world of design. Many people are tempted and love to stretch and squeeze a font just to make it fit a certain space. Stretching and squeezing a font does not only look odd, it also makes your design, brand and you look unprofessional. Instead, try to increase the size of the font to make it fit.

4) Don’t forget to kern it


Kerning refers to adjusting the spacing between letters – and is different from adding gaps by hitting space on your keyboard (don’t even think about it).

(Source: AdWeek)

This is extremely important as it can make your design look a whole lot different. A good and bad design can be easily recognised and differentiated by just looking at the kerning. Hence, always remember to check the kerning before sending your final design to the client or the printer.

Nice smile, but that’s how you shouldn’t kern your design. (Source: Pixie Simms)

Mastering the art of kerning is especially important when it comes to creating your own font from scratch. Check out typemethod and practice your kerning skills until you get the hang of how it works.

5) Wipe out all the widows and orphans

If you don’t know what that means, you definitely need to pay attention now. Not many people will notice and identify the typographical widows and orphans. But if you want to tighten up your graphic designs you better start taking notice.

In the design world, a widow is a word that is left dangling at the end or the bottom of a paragraph, separated from the rest of the paragraph. While an orphan is a short paragraph that appears at the beginning of a column or page. One of the easiest ways to eliminate them is to rewrite or change the line ending. Another alternative is to manually edit the text or bring the text down to the next line.

6) The ‘ideal’ line width

Easily overlooked, a design’s line width is of importance too, playing a crucial role in the readability of the text. Wide columns usually won’t do your design any good, as they break the flow of the reader’s eyes when they jump from one line to the next. On the other hand, a narrow column might annoy your reader. Finding the balance is key to making it easy for the reader’s eyes to get through the article or text. Remember – the reader should be fully taken in by the content and not be distracted by the layout.

Never try to fit in all the words onto one line, as it might screw up the readability of your article. The perfect solution to a balanced line width is to keep it short. About 8 to 10 words or 50 to 60 characters per line is ideal.

7) Create a visual hierarchy

Think of what you want your viewers to look at first – only then you can embark on a design project. Everyone wants to create a design that looks good and captures people’s attention at a glance – so, make sure you don’t distract them with unnecessary stuff. Hierarchy plays an important role in design. It creates a flow, directs your eyes and allows your brain to process it easily. Hierarchy makes it easier for the viewer to distinguish what content comes first.

(Source: Pinterest)

You can learn how to establish a visual hierarchy by reading newspapers and magazines. Alternatively, you can try to play with the size, weight and spacing to achieve a visual hierarchy in your design. The more you practice, the more you will train your eyes.

Want sharp designs? Need to visualise an idea? Drop a message to [email protected] 

The rise of digital: How an online strategy can complement traditional PR

Let’s face it, we’ve moved into the digital age. APAC is now home to more than half of the world’s internet users, where there are currently 1.83 billion Internet users and 1.43 billion social media users. Comparing this with 2014’s figures of 1.2 billion internet users and 9.6 million social media users, that’s a whopping 52.5% and 47.5% growth in each category.

With the shift to digital, comes a lot of change in the way we communicate and absorb information. Consumers are expecting different forms of interactions, which means the way we communicate with our audience should evolve too. Here’s a few things to consider:

1. Establish your online presence

A key component of PR is working with the media. But in today’s context, the media is not restricted to solely print media – it extends to bloggers, social media influencers, e-magazines and more. Firing off press releases to engage only traditional media is simply not enough anymore. These days, people are almost always online. Failing to be where your audience is could harm your business and you’ll get left behind. A digital strategy establishes your online presence, builds brand reputation, and engages your audience with relevant and useful content. This results in increased visibility on search engines and following count on social media platforms.

2. Apply personalised communication

A digital strategy creates two-way communication and brings the audience into the conversation with options to share their opinions and thoughts. It also offers a personal look into your organisation – afterall you are reaching out to real people.

3.  Grab their attention

Attention spans are dropping, and long-form content from print does not work in the digital landscape. Instead, a good digital strategy delivers bite-sized attention-grabbing information to readers, with links to longer content such as formal press releases, blogs, or media coverage.

Traditional PR no doubt still has a place, but a digital strategy can complement those efforts and elevate it further. A smart mixture of both extends the reach of a purely traditional PR approach, and ensures your business stays on top of its game.

If you need help seamlessly executing a comprehensive PR campaign, drop us a note a [email protected]