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Editorial by Paul Holmes

The Asia-Pacific public relations business continues to grow in size and sophistication. Clearly, the region’s economies have been relatively resilient in the face of the global economic crisis, but even independent of larger economic factors, the PR business has reason for optimism: on a global level, there are signs that PR is taking market share from some traditional rivals, notably advertising; on the regional level, there is reason to believe that PR is becoming a more mature business, closing the gap in terms of quality on the more established markets of Europe and North America. 

Nevertheless, challenges remain. Some of them are beyond the control of even the largest agencies -- slower growth in China, for example -- but there are things the industry can do to improve its prospects. 

The first is to ensure a plentiful supply of talent. This is a challenge even in mature markets, but if our industry is take advantage of changes in the communications environment, it need to attract the best and the brightest young people available. That means working hard to ensure that journalism and marketing and business school graduates understand the modern PR industry and the role it plays in the corporate world and in society as a whole. It also means opening our doors to professionals from diverse backgrounds: not just former journalists, but former ad men, former financiers, former politicians, former academics. And in Asia, it also means ensuring that the next generation of agency leadership consists of local talent. 

The second is to ensure that we really understand the audiences we are looking to influence. It is no longer enough to bombard consumers (or employees, or investors, or communities) with the organization’s message. Today, PR people must engage with those audiences, listen at least as much as they talk, respond to their concerns with empathy. Authenticity is increasingly important, because a lack of authenticity will be discovered more swiftly than ever before and punished more severely. That kind of relationship-building requires immersion and intimacy. 

And the third is to ensure that what we do relates directly to real, tangible business objectives. It is no longer enough to measure the reach of PR messages, the size of our audience. We must measure the impact we have on attitudes and behaviors, on the strength of the organization’s relationships with its key stakeholders, on the number of brand ambassadors created and the number of brand critics appeased. 

These are exciting times for public relations around the world. Things are changing and nowhere is the pace of change more rapid than in the Asia-Pacific region, where the best firms- -the firms profiled in this book--are working the ensure that the region not only closes the gap with more developed PR markets, but takes the lead in many critical areas.