5 reasons why Asian businesses have historically not ‘done PR’…and how the tide is turning

8 August 2011 By Northern Lights

5 reasons why Asian businesses have historically not ‘done PR’…and how the tide is turning image

by Kulbir Sandhu, Intern at Northern Lights PR

The first generation of Asian entrepreneurs were a unique bunch.

By and large, they were successful, worked incredibly hard and achieved the aims they had set out to achieve – namely to be self-sufficient and provide financial security for their families.

Many went on to achieve great wealth. Even though many of these early entrepreneurs had a head for business, many were pushed into self-employment, not necessarily out of choice, but as a result of a discriminatory labour market.

Despite their great success, PR has not been at the forefront of their minds because of:

1)      Cultural factors: For first generation Asian entrepreneurs, PR is not in their psyche – it is still largely an alien concept. As long as the first generation is in charge, PR will not be taken seriously – at best it will be paid lip service.

2)      Lack of awareness of PR: This applies to all businesses – not just Asian ones. Firms may manufacture goods, price them appropriately, and advertise them with great success– it is hard to see where public relations activity fits in with all this. Perhaps PR companies haven’t reached out to them as well as they would have liked. A case of the PR industry being bad at its own PR perhaps?

3)      Prudence: Asian entrepreneurs have historically saved a big chunk of their income – most of it for their children’s’ education. Generally speaking they have been risk averse – with any expansion projects being funded by pooling family funds.

4)      Over reliance on family networks: The first port of call for any business expertise has always been from the extended family network. Whether legal, advertising or HR there will almost certainly be a contact in the family who can help. The quality of the advice is often of secondary importance.

5)      Hierarchy: Often it is the eldest male who has the final say in all business decisions. It is largely an accident of birth as opposed to ability which forms the basis of important decisions. Younger members are overlooked and the business suffers – decision making at its worse!

It is clear then that the PR industry and Asian firms haven’t been natural bedfellows.

But as they mature and pass onto the next generation, PR will clearly have a bigger role to play in Asian businesses. The younger generation have been brought up in this country and have embraced western business methods, whilst retaining the best of the old ways – namely unwavering hard work and commitment to family.

We see it before our eyes – whereas for the first generation, important decisions were made by the oldest male (or son) in the family, the newer generation works more democratically. There are countless examples of Asian food manufacturers or retailers who have matured (and grown) with the new generation playing a larger role. They are more strategic in their outlook.

It is against this backdrop that the opportunities for PR firms to work with Asian businesses will increase. Do you agree?

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Written by Northern Lights


  • Great post Kulbir! An interesting insight into why PR hasn’t always been a natural partner for Asian businesses and their strategies. But you and your fellow interns at Northern Lights are proof that that’s all about to change! Looking forward to seeing you at Tinderbox HQ next week.

  • Spot on Kulbir, I’m a startup entrepreneur about to launch a travel operator and son of an immigrant. You’re right when you say that the PR industry has been bad at it’s own PR, my initial ideas re spending my initially very limited marketing budget have changed away from advertising towards PR, but this is down to what I’ve researched on my own, whereas travel magazines have been proactive in contacting me, PR agencies haven’t been seen.

    all the best for your internship
    Saqib Khan
    Founder, Bedouin Travel

  • Thanks for your nice words Natalie – looking forward to the Tinderbox the experience – hope Simon the Stationer is well!

    Interesting points Saqib – a case of the PR industry being poor at its own PR. I’m sure many people will have an opinion on that?

    Interesting you have gone down the PR route as opposed to banging out hundreds of leaflets – what motivated you to go down this route? It will almost certainly be fruitful for your company.

    I agree it’s a two way process – in fact a friend of mine who has recently set up a giftware business also bemoans the fact that he is always getting cold called by advertisers and the like – but he really wants to be build links with PR firms that can really add value and be long term in their thinking. Cold calling advertisers obviously won’t think like that?

  • Nice kulbir, I agree tht most of asians gets their pr from their elders and they also follows their business according to their religions also. Like in india if any gujrati(indian community) is doing job they calls them lazy man because they believes tht they can do better with business rather than job. And so they gets pr as royality from their elders and they encash it ina usefull ways. Good kulbir keep continue writing Sunil Behl

  • Kulbir, hats off to you for your straight-talking stance. I completely agree. Comments from Natalie, Saqib and Sunil are reassuring too. For far too long Asians have ignored PR or have ranked it very low in their list of priorities. Your blog is fantastic, I just hope more people are made aware of it and that your words are absorbed into at least a few people’s minds, as ultimately it will help them prosper in whatever sector they’re in.

  • I certainly do agree. I spoke to a group of Asian business men about 10 years ago but they didn’t really see how PR would be relevant to them. This perception is beginning to change and it is exciting to see more (although not enough) Asians entering the industry.

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