SINTRA, PORTUGAL--The PR industry needs to embrace the rise of Asia and address itself to solving global problems if it hopes to ‘grow up’ over the next decade, according to Huntsworth CEO Lord Chadlington.
Chadlington made the remarks during a provocative keynote speech at the ICCO Summit today in Sintra, Portugal, in front of 150 agency leaders from around the world.
The Huntsworth boss, whose company includes Grayling, Citigate and Huntsworth Health, pointed out that PR consultancies must start using their skills to “solve some of the world’s greatest problems.” In particular Chadlington pointed to the inability of Western democratically-elected governments to make the kind of long-term decisions that are required to ensure continued economic growth.
“We in the West are falling further and further behind, faster and faster,” said Chadlington, contrasting the situation to the rise of Asian countries such as China and India.
He noted that PR people should try and use their comms skills to help governments make tougher decisions, rather than simply stay in power. The scenario, he said, is made more difficult because of the pressure brought by the lobbying industry in America, Europe and the UK.
The industry also needs to embrace the rise of Asia if it hopes to prosper amid sustained economic turbulence in Western markets, added Chadlington. “In one lifetime the world has completely turned around,” said Chadlington. “Growth is not an option for [people in Asia]. It is a necessity.”
He pointed out that organisational changes, such as talent moving East, would be necessary for consultancies to capitalise on growth in China and India and other fast-growing emerging economies such as Brazil and Russia. “We are a stick in the mud industry and we never ever take risks.”
“We are losing ground so fast in the educational race that a new model is emerging,” said Chadlington. “Everything is moving far East faster and faster as the West suffers under a debt burden after years of excessive borrowing. Make no mistake, this will holds us back not for a year or two, but for years and years and years.”
Chadlington offered a number of ‘touchstones’ to help guide both individuals and consultancies. Some may prove controversial. For example, he said that the PR industry is “not good at digital”. He also noted that “PR people do not understand the environmental industry.”
He also exhorted PR consultants to remember that the discipline is “more effective than anybody actually believes,” and “can also be good,” but cautioned that “we can also be an enormous power for harm if used for the wrong purposes.” He pointed out that he asks himself every week whether he has “worked on products or services in which I really believe,” and “have I done work of which I’m really proud.”
“The third question I ask is ‘have I made any money’,” he said. “I’m very happy to make money but I don’t want to make it unless I can answer yes to the first two questions.”
Lord Chadlington’s ‘touchstones’ for individuals
1. If you’re under 25, learn Mandarin Chinese.
2. Go to China, Brazil, India and Russia and spend time learning their cultures. You cannot begin to understand this phenomenon unless you have been there.
3. If you do enjoy it, go work there. There are wonderful PR companies, particularly in China and Brazil.
4. Try to view every client issue through Asian eyes.
5. Follow your clients as they move east. The reason that B-M grew so well was because it had international American clients that took them overseas with them. Exactly the same thing happened with Hill & Knowlton.
6. Build relationships in your part of the world with the Chinese and Asian communities.
7. Read the English version of Asian newspapers.
8. Get to know their political structures. When I started Shandwick in Beijing in 1979/80, I was amazed I could ring up secretaries of Chinese ministries and say can I come along and see the ministers. It’s amazing how easy it is to get to see officials in these countries, particularly if you have a story to tell them.
9. Get to know the small PR companies in each of these countries. They are intrigued to meet visitors from the West.
10. Get to know the chief information officer in as many large Asian companies as you can on their own ground.
Lord Chadlington’s ‘touchstones’ for consultancies
1. Make sure that a significant percentage of your staff are Chinese or Chinese-speaking.
2. Build specialist skills to service in these regions.
3. If you can afford it, build a presence, either through affiliates or wholly-owned subsidiaries in Asia.
4. Build a proper, real, environmental practice. Staffed by people who have worked in the environmental industry. Not PR people. PR people do not understand. You want people who understand what is happening to the natural resources in the world.
5. Digital is booming in Asia-Pacific. We are not good at digital. Digital is something we have added on to our life, rather than making it central to our life.
6. We think about inter-governmental relations in the wrong way, we think about it nationally. The reason why we have a problem is there is no leadership in the world. There is no Margaret Thatcher and no Ronald Reagan. We have got to find a way to enable governments through comms skills to realise there are decisions they need to make.