Bright future: a new generation of PR and Communications leaders in Asia

Posted by Prospect‘s Asia Pacific Team

A new profile of PR professional whose skills are in high demand is beginning to emerge. By Emma Dale.

David, Managing Director of a PR agency, looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. With two thirds of his staff gone in less than 12 months, he had struggled to find replacements for those who left. His latest hire just resigned to take another job and David couldn’t blame her considering that the team’s morale was at rock bottom.

David is not alone in this experience. Events of the last two years have caused a significant shift in the PR and communications recruitment landscape. Across Asia, there is a noticeable decrease in the availability of talent. In some markets this trend has been coined ‘The Great Resignation’, but in Asia it has manifested as ‘The Great Job Migration’ where loyalties no longer bind, and traditional organisational hierarchies are being questioned.

This environment is a result of a culmination of changing market realities and employee discontent that have been bubbling below the surface for years. The perception of the value of PR, demand for different PR disciplines, pay gaps based on race and gender, and inflexible workplaces have led to a situation in which half of PR and communications professionals in Asia Pacific are not actively seeking promotion and a third say they do not want to move into a leadership position.

To address this, the onus falls squarely on business leaders to retain and develop the next generation of high-potential talent not only in order to enable business success, but to ensure their very survival.

 

Changing market realities

Arguably, there has never been a better time to be a PR and communications professional.

The future of the global industry is rosy with estimates predicting a growth rate of 10.2% to $97 billion in 2021 from $88 billion in 2020. In Asia, there is unprecedented recognition of the value and importance of the communications function with one third of professionals experiencing a noticeable uptick in the inclusion of communications teams in broader business discussions and decision-making[i].

Yet scratch the surface and the reality is more sobering. With growing recognition of the value of PR, comes pressure to achieve escalating results oftentimes without budget to support the increased workload.

In stark contrast to decades-long trends, the current value of PR generalists trump sector specialists. While the demand for traditional media relations and events has cooled, internal communications, crisis management and digital are on an upward trajectory. At the same time that adaptable and agile generalists are thriving, veterans who have spent their careers honing their expertise in one sector have been left with diminishing opportunities for career progression and, in some cases, employment. Additionally, the need for bi- and tri-lingual capabilities is on the rise, not just among Chinese nationals but also multinational corporations expanding into China.

Against this backdrop, a new profile of PR professionals in-demand begins to emerge: people that have global and local mindsets, language capabilities, competency across all PR disciplines, and are digitally savvy. And for talent that meet this criteria, opportunities are plentiful.

 

Attracting and retaining talent

However, finding talent is just one part of the equation. Convincing people to remain in the PR and communications industry, persuading them to join a specific company rather than a competitor, and retaining high-potential talent has always been an uphill battle for employers, and never more so than during the last two years.

Revelations about pay discrepancies within PR and communications have cast a shadow on the reputation of the industry as a whole. Although issues of equality and diversity are not unique to PR, the situation in Asia is unfortunately reflective of other markets.

Research from PRovoke in Asia shows that roughly two-thirds of the industry are female, yet almost half of partner-level roles are held by men and while less than one in five industry members identify as white, white employees comprise more than a third of EVP and partner level position. While in some cases efforts have been made to achieve greater parity – most notably recent appointments of Asian female leaders in global agencies – this inequity can be demotivating for juniors and mid-level professionals.

Among those who decide to remain in the industry, the primary challenge facing companies is one of attraction and retention. Workplace culture has always been a compelling way for organisations to stand out from the pack in attracting top talent. Yet in the past two years, due to the necessity of people working from home and teams collaborating virtually, company culture has been diluted. Consequently, companies are scrambling to find meaningful points of differentiation.

Throughout the 19 years we have been providing specialist recruitment services for the PR and communications industry, we’ve seen that people are drawn to work at certain companies for the opportunity to advance their skills, develop new ones, and learn from their managers. Unfortunately, during tough times, staff training and development initiatives are amongst the first to be cut.

So, what about David? He knew it was time to make some changes and take a proactive approach to leadership development opportunities if he wanted the team to thrive. Prospect has been working with senior executives like David to address this need and fill the gap.

In 2020, Prospect launched two new offerings – mentoring and coaching – with the goal of developing potential talent into the industry leaders of tomorrow.

The inaugural Prospect Mentoring Scheme saw more than 50 industry leaders partnered with high potential talent over the course of six months. Due to demand from across the industry, the programme is continuing in 2021/2022, attracting participants from Singapore, Hong Kong, Mainland China and the U.K.

In addition to the one-on-one coaching provided by Prospect’s qualified coaches, in the past year Prospect has run a series of virtual workshops with the goal of boosting female confidence. The content of these workshops has been heralded as tangible and easy to implement. But the unexpected value-add for participants has been their entry into a community of supportive women who are facing similar challenges in the workforce.

Opportunities are shifting towards people with specific profiles and skill-sets. But we’re also bearing witness to a new generation of leaders who value community and are actively seeking to support others to navigate their paths with the PR and communications industry in Asia.

It’s exciting to see the transfer of leadership to this new generation who place a high value on learning and supporting their colleagues. In their hands, I’m confident that the future of the industry will be bright.

 

This post was originally published on IPRA.