Pondering the Future of PR in the Coming ASEAN Integration

Flags of ASEAN Member States

Flags of ASEAN Member States

On December 31, 2015, the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are scheduled to form a common market, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). This aims to establish a single market and production base to increase competitiveness, promote economic development, and facilitate integration with the global community. If achieved, the AEC can create the world’s seventh largest economy and evolve into the fourth largest by 2050.

As the deadline nears, it would not be surprising to learn that numerous organizations throughout the region are already wondering, if not planning, how to embrace the coming reality. Once the AEC comes into effect, organizations can expect not only opportunities but also efficiencies as select operations may have to undergo restructuring to maximize performance in the new economic regime.

One operation that is a good candidate for consolidation is PR. In today’s global market, brand value has been an effective driver of awareness and sales. However, brand perception fluctuates wildly from country to country because of localization and positioning.

Weighing the Advantages

Consolidating PR into a single operation can help ensure brand integrity across the ASEAN region. A single PR agency for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the rest of Southeast Asia can unite messaging in one direction and minimize fluctuations better than a novella’s worth of brand guidelines. It also promotes efficiency; an organization only needs to connect with one agency instead of a multitude for their regional communications.

On the other hand, there is diversity to consider. The ASEAN region contains three major religions and four linguistic families that divide into countless branches. Each state, locality, and city is unique. Consumer behavior in the Philippines is markedly different from Singapore’s, and so is the practice of PR. PR agencies in each ASEAN state offer in-depth perspectives into local conditions and cultural attitudes for effective campaigns.

However, an organization’s PR messaging does not have to be reliant on a nuanced understanding of cultural and ethnic mores. This is particularly the case for organizations that target professionals who adopt a regional or global standard. For example, discussing health issues with either a Malaysian or Filipino doctor won’t be so different since both refer to the same medical concepts and body of knowledge.

Forming an Opinion

In the end, the decision to consolidate or not lies within the organization. It’s impossible to recommend a course of action without considering its unique situation.

But if it does decide on settling with a single PR agency for the entire ASEAN, it still needs to choose a company that is rooted deeply in the region’s culture and traditions for effective communication. A Southeast Asian agency can understand the situation in the region far better than those coming from outside. Some of these have also joined regional and global PR networks, such as the PROI, which has experience in arranging campaigns throughout Southeast Asia.

The December 31 AEC deadline may or may not push through. Regardless, the ASEAN will still continue with integration, which will inevitably change the market—and PR—in the region. Organizations must stand ready so they can grab the huge opportunities that come with it.

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