Changes in Media – And in The Practice of Communications

March 17, 2009


Li Hong, Senior Partner and President of Fleishman-Hillard, China, offers his views on the changing media environment in Asia and around the world, and how communications professionals are adjusting to those changes.

If there were one single defining word to describe what the communication consulting industry experienced the most over the past 10 years, it would have to be the word change, change as in “content of communications” and change as in “channels of communications”.

Changing Content. In the new era of communications, media bombardment of new “concepts” and “ideas” as well as challenges to numerous traditional values have dominated the contents and symbols of communications that a company must comprehend and make good use of. “Commercialism” has challenged the basis of evaluation system of philosophy and aesthetics so much that the content of communications is fraught with superlatives and catchy phrases that evoke many emotions but yield little result. There is no doubt that the more extensive the content of communications has become, the more imperative a company must define and refine its messages. Rather than “follow the herd”, a company must stand out and differentiate itself from the pack.

Corporations, brands and even opinion leaders as issuers of the content of communications are monitoring the feedbacks and emotions of recipients of such content with unprecedented level of attention. “Think global and act local” has become the mission and basis of growth strategy at more and more corporations which are doing business globally. Among the Fortune 500 companies, 79 are currently headquartered in emerging markets such as China, Russia and Brazil. It is inconceivable that these multinationals are not creating and disseminating their content of communications aligned with their strategic positions of “think global and act local”.

Far from that. These multinationals create and refine their own content of communications and turn those contents along with the feedbacks from target audiences into something of commercial values for product development and brand building. Increasingly, multinationals are tapping into their knowledge on the local markets and their strength in global resource management to create globally successful brands on markets other than their own home markets. Relying on its global R&D capabilities and resource management strength, P&G, the global consumer goods juggernaut, has employed a connect + develop innovation program to collaborate with trusted outside partners. With such a program, P&G stayed at the front of innovation and identified, on different markets, successful products for rapid commercialization which went on to become globally-recognized brands.

Among Fleishman-Hillard’s Chinese clients, many corporations like Lenovo, Huawei and TCL are embarked on ambitious going-global programs. With the support of Fleishman-Hillard worldwide communications professionals who are intimately knowledgeable of the local markets and expertly insightful in the ever-changing nature of the media and consumers, these companies honed their content of communications tailored to the local markets. In other words, they have managed successfully the issue of “what to say”.

New Channels. The past decade has witnessed an exploration of Internet technology which has brought about tremendous transformation in the channels of communication. These transformations are not only reflected in the change of forms of media, but also affected the strategy and business model of the media.

Traditional media are under all-around attacks from its brethren in the online media and the odds do not appear to be in traditional media’s favor. It is estimated that from 2000 to the end of 2007, a total of 72,000 traditional media positions in U.S. no longer exist. In the US, readers, advertisers and advertising company have all relentlessly selected the worldwide web as their preferred communication channels. Although such transformation in China is still relatively slow in pace, it is generally believed that it will eventually come to haunt the Chinese traditional media space.

Changes in channels of communications also require companies and communications consulting firms to plan and conduct brand communications in a larger context. Contrary to the pure market environment in the past when market communications strategy and planning only looked at competitors, suppliers, customers, alternative products and internal factors, companies today must also take into consideration government macroeconomic policies, legal environment, corporate social responsibility along with various aspects of communication contents and channels. Appropriate channels that are used effectively will directly impact return on investment in market communications. In the face of such complexity and diversity in channels, any company or brand cannot afford to divorce itself from this practice and act subjectively. Unlike 20 years ago, when each marketing functional department had its own communications service provider, a growing number of companies and brands have started hiring integrated communications services suppliers, in terms of both organization and finances. Redundant labor costs will be reduced, thus lowering management costs.

New Roles for Communication Professionals. Along with the changes in the content and channels of communications, communications consulting firms have to transform themselves accordingly. Media relations-centric firms have to branch out so that their communications services will be multi-disciplinary, focusing on brand management as the core and yet covering all aspects and stakeholders related to a brand like corporate brand, product services, internal communications, crisis management, government relations, public policy, investor relations, and consumer communications.

New market environment and new communications content and channels have set higher demand for communications professionals. When looking for communications service providers, clients are actually selecting your teams. In the past six years, Fleishman-Hillard spared no efforts in strengthening its teams overall capability in formulating strategy and planning.

To enhance our consulting capabilities in customer services, the firm launched a number of powerful tools which improves measurability and traceability, including corporate reputation management, information extraction and development, crisis early warning management and brand restoration, so as to make decisions more scientific and goals more manageable. These innovative tools for strategic thinking have had a great impact on both the acquisition and execution of projects.