Veteran shows the way forward for PR agencies
The changing landscape in media channels has given public relations agencies that are strategy-oriented an additional premium in partnering with their clients, according to public relations guru Hasan Basar, managing director of Bangkok Public Relations who has 35 years of experience in this service industry.
Trusted media will be in greater demand by consumers in the future with the increasingly blurred lines between real and fake news, especially in social media, he said, noting also that PR consultants need to layer on top of their public relations skills the ability to understand the real business dynamics of their clients.
Basar said that he co-established the consultancy in 1995, only two years before Thailand sank into a financial crisis that quickly spread throughout the region.
“In a way, we were fortunate to be hit by the crisis so early in the company’s life. It forced us to set up a business system and structure that is very flexible and lean, and an organisation that is flat and focused on quality,” he said. “These are all the things essential for survival today, some 25 years later, and they helped us weather the multiple political and natural crises that we all suffered, especially in the last ten years.”
Basar said that every staff member at Bangkok PR has cross-functional capability, from decision making, to execution and consultancy services.
“Our flat organisation keeps our staff numbers low, helping us work better and faster,” he noted, adding that in today’s business environment, quality and speed is critical to success.
“From the beginning, we were committed to working for a limited number of clients, doing a lot for them, and staying with them a long-time. We’ve served some clients for 25 and 22 years. It allows us to emphasise higher-end services such as strategy and the execution of plans that require sensitivity and good judgment,” Basar said, adding that when Bangkok PR first started, it almost exclusively served multinational companies.
Basar said that Bangkok PR currently has around 18 staff, which is similar to 24 years ago when he set up the company. However, the company has posted annual revenue five times higher.
“That has been possible because we’ve moved up the value chain and after 24 years of experience, all our staff are still hands on with clients and share the benefit of that long experience with them on a day-to-day basis and at every level, handling the most challenging tasks. Almost half them have worked with me for 20 years, or more.”
“Our organization culture is ‘boundaryless’, whether between responsibility or seniority,” said Basar, however, noting that confidentiality of client information is as strict as in a legal practice.
“When we recruit new staff, we don’t test their public relations knowledge, but rather their ability to think clearly, and analyse and solve problems that have multiple parametres,” said Basar.
“Our staff retention is built on taking care of our people emotionally – fulfilment of important assignments, physically – working in a good, spacious office, and financially. Of course, salary and bonuses are important, but, in the consultancy business, the ability to be exposed to big challenges and to work with experienced people is the best way to learn and increase one’s own capabilities and earning capacity,” he said.
Basar said PR consultancies need to understand media channels, their particular behaviours, mixing and matching their content and their style to suit the particular requirements of each channel, and also still maintaining a relationship of trust with those channels that are moderated, or curated, such as traditional news channels.
“The birth of social media allows consumers access to a huge volume of information, disinformation, and non-information, which we have to accept in the context of ‘enriching’ what traditional media such as television and newspapers provide, through digital and other platforms. Far from weakening traditional media, I personally believe social media has made the trusted editor a far more important player,” he said.
Companies serving only as brokers for accessing media will decline as a service, while the ability to correctly anticipate public mood as well as formulate effective messaging will gain in importance.
“At Bangkok PR, we allocate around half of our efforts to the creation of strategic PR plans for our clients and the other half to executing them effectively on their behalf,” said Basar. He said that, today, almost 100 per cent of the company’s clients are Thai firms, which have grown to regional and global scale in their public relations.