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Public Relations in Asia

Over the past 20 years, the continent of Asia has achieved more than its fair share of economic success and any business, international or regional, would do well to expand its roots across Asia. Yet, even in Asian companies, expanding across the territory remains an exciting challenge.

The reasons for this are almost immediately apparent to anybody: every territory of Asia comes with a different language and a unique culture – which is something hoping to do business in Asia has to take note of.

These differences in culture between different regions of Asia can seem daunting, but this is where effective public relations has to come in. Good PR is an important keystone to any business anywhere around the world, but it becomes especially important when a business is expanded to an area as heterogeneous as Asia.

Let us take Malaysia and Singapore as an example. The two nations are literally a small bridge apart, but the differences in managing perceptions in both countries may surprise you. Here are 3 things to take note of when expanding to Asia, with a closer look into Singapore and Malaysia:

 

1. Language Diversity

Let us tackle the most readily obvious issue at hand first: diversity in language.

Take a look at this sign:

PR in Asia

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

 

As you would be able to guess, it’s the usual ‘Caution: Slippery Surface’ warning sign. The Mandarin words do say so accurately, but the English translation speaks of a landslide instead of a slippery surface. Why so?

This is an example of the effects of language diversity within a country, where perhaps one language is more dominant than another. Such an issue is especially applicable to Singapore and Malaysia where both nations are diverse in terms of language. English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil are spoken in both nations, but the emphasis on individual languages differs in both Singapore and Malaysia. In other words, take note of the dominant language(s) in each country, so as to enhance the readers’ understanding and increase coverage.

In Singapore, English is readily accepted. A PR agency in Singapore can have a press release delivered to almost all members of the media in the language without many problems. The same is true, to a certain extent, for Malaysia, although it would be prudent to take note that Malay is the de facto official language of Malaysia. Submitting a press release only in English to a Malay newspaper or magazine may be considered culturally insensitive.

For PR agencies in Singapore sending press releases to members of the Malaysian media, it is crucial to translate the release in English, Bahasa Malaysia, and Chinese. Paying attention to the audience you are attempting to communicate with is also key, and it is best to send press releases in the respective audience’s spoken language for increased exposure. For example, if you were to send a press release to a member of the Chinese media, have it translated into Chinese before sending it out.

 

2. Social/Religious Practices

Aside from language, one should also be wary of differences in culture. This is, again, an observable factor in both Singapore and Malaysia. As a whole, the Malaysian media tends to be much more conservative than the Singaporean media. To use an example, the Singaporean editions of women’s lifestyle magazines such as Cosmopolitan frequently address and make references to sex in their content, whereas such content is hardly seen in the Malaysian editions. This is attributed, in part, to the fact that around 60% of the population in Malaysia practices Islam, and many things in Malaysia cater to that majority demographic.

Here’s another example of what works in Singapore, but not in Malaysia. Take a look at these pictures. They’re both posters of the popular Chinese folklore based movie ‘Journey to the West’.

PR in Asia

Source: http://thecoverage.my

 

PR_in_Asia

Source: https://www.malaysiakini.com

 

Now, why is one of the characters gone? Putting it simply, it’s a pig. Technically, half pig, half human. But pig-ish, nonetheless. And in Malaysia, the pig is seen as an unclean animal in accordance with Muslim practices. If they don’t even eat it, surely it wouldn’t be wise to have it featured on big billboard signs, right? Even though removing such a major character seems odd to people in Singapore and other parts of Asia who know the story, Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed saw fit that the censorship board will make a decision “in the best interest of the country not the movie producer”.

These examples are especially applicable for PR firms in Singapore dealing with Fashion PR and Lifestyle PR to be cautious about when reaching out to the Malaysian media and readers. In short, observing the religious demographics of the region you are doing business in is essential to avoid embarrassment or fracas of any sort.

It also pays to take note of important religious practices in the region. For example, in both Singapore and Malaysia, it is customary for Muslims to go to a mosque for prayers every Friday. Hence, avoiding scheduling meetings on Friday afternoons when dealing with a Muslim client shows attentiveness on to their needs on your part.

 

3. Political Backdrop

Last, but definitely not least, pay attention to the news and conduct research for insights into the political backdrops of each Asian region.

Hey, even looking at comics might help you. Here’s one, from satire cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, illustrating the power relationship between Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razakand his wife, Rosmah Mansor:

PR in Asia

Source: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/

 

Of course, on a heavier note, there may be certain topics best not to breach regarding the governing bodies of each region. A notable example would be the sensitivity regarding Taiwan’s independence from China.

Sensitive issues regarding bi-lateral relations are not the only issues to look out for. Singapore and Malaysia have been ranked 150 and 147 on the 2015 World Press Freedom index respectively, as both nations practice heavy censorship.

To use an example, healthcare PR and advertising in Singapore is heavily regulated. Health-care institutions can state only factual information in ads – hence phrases such as ‘Best Clinic in Singapore’, ‘Asia’s No. 1 provider of Healthcare’ are banned from healthcare advertisements. These ads also cannot provide information in ways that amount to ‘soliciting or encouraging the use of services’.

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