Where Next for Global PR Companies?

SA managing director of global PR agency Fleishman-Hillard, Kevin Welman, recently presented to PRISA on global trends in public relations. As local MD of one of the few truly global PR companies present in SA he brought some fresh international insights and food for thought into the PR mix for local communication clients and PR companies to consider.

I recently attended a meeting of the global PR heads of Fleishman-Hillard which combined groups of thought from around the world regarding the future market trends and direction of global PR and I would like to share these insights with you.

Trends in the USA

There can be little argument that these are indeed tough times to be conducting business within the US.
Most of the leading PR agencies in the world are American and with a current and projected recession of upwards of ten years, it is imperative that these companies diversify and seek revenues outside the country if they want to thrive in and indeed survive the US recessionary business environment.

Any global PR firm that isn’t looking to diversify geographically and economically- if not already moving into- rapidly growing emerging markets will definitely have a bleak financial outlook moving into the future.

Global Footprint Vital

A global footprint then is vital for PR companies within developed countries, especially the US, as the emerging economies are showing an overall faster growth rate. This especially applies to the BRIC countries as they have become to be known, namely Brazil, Russia, India and of course China.

China especially is accelerating at a rapid rate and is now the biggest market in the world. Recent statistics reveal the country’s economy needs to grow by eight percent annually just to keep up with ongoing urbanisation within the country itself as China’s massive rural population increasingly migrate into the cities.

In rapidly expanding India the buying power of its emergent middle class is increasing by the incredible rate of 50 million people per annum. Looking to Brazil I predict she will be the next global darling, after South Africa of course, in light of the fact the country will be hosting the next FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Global PR firms need to service these emerging markets in order to grow, especially by recruiting and training local talent and of course learning from the people on the ground. Local staff have useful insights to offer into the custom communication and cultural etiquette requirements of each emerging market, which works well in tandem with the international best business practice approach of a global PR agency.

This approach is vital not only for agencies looking to operate in the BRIC countries but also for the vigorous markets of Asia, the rest of South America and of course our home ground here in Africa.

The African Boom

Africa has become a producer continent of note and PR agency’s ability to service these countries and develop talent is becoming increasingly important. The old ‘one size fits all’ approach of the past certainly does not work in Africa and the continent’s emerging markets in fifty three different countries.

The digital age has ushered in new ways of working and is helping to mobilize the continent’s vast workforce while spurring growth in African economies across the region.

China is adding to this development and feeding its own growing economy by building infrastructure in Africa in exchange for raw materials, especially in East Africa and Angola.

South Africa of course is a standout within the continent here as we recently hosted a very successful World Cup and in doing so forever changed the global perceptions of Africa for the better. The success of the World Cup sent out a strong message that Africa is a continent that can ‘get things done’.

Locally agencies need to be ready to help their clients move into the continent with clear understanding of the continent’s media and appropriate messaging. FH has spent five years deeply investing time and effort to ensure we are able to help our clients move north into Africa.

Religion-Based Purchasing Power

Also key for global PR agencies is the need to communicate to consumers of different and growing religious faiths, especially regarding the spread of Islam across the world.

For example the Halaal food market is now a massive 2.3 trillion dollar industry. In addition if consultants in the financial services arena do not understand the rules of Shariah financial law they will be five steps behind in growing into and servicing rapidly expanding Islamic markets.

Digital Integration

Digital integration has become increasingly relevant for emerging markets, especially because many of these markets including Africa for example, have skipped right over old, outdated technologies like copper wire fixed line and installed wireless communication or optical fiber from the outset.

The Seacom cable locally is making a difference to our bandwidth and speed and we expect the cost of connectivity to start reducing soon as well.

To give you an indication of how markets are changing though I recall when I was in Nigeria, in mid 2009, experiencing the fastest internet connectivity I have been exposed to because YouTube videos buffered faster than they played.

The word digital integration has actually itself become outdated now as we are seeing new media and old merging at a rapid rate.

Any communications company that does not have an internet strategy to complement traditional media like print, radio and TV will also be left out in the cold because clients are now expecting an integrated, holistic communication strategy that embraces all these platforms in one.

Sustainable Development and Green Awareness

The rapid rise in global awareness of the negative effects of global warming, the need to reduce carbon footprints and generally just reduce pollution of our planet and find alternative energy solutions is undergoing a massive spread across the planet.

More and more clients are expecting green messages and awareness to permeate all of their communication content across all media platforms. Much like BEE credentials, companies locally will soon need to show their ‘green credentials’ to markets like eco strategies to reduce carbon footprints, recycling and carbon offset credits in order to operate optimally in ‘eco-aware’ markets.

Censorship of the Internet

We are seeing an increase of censorship of the internet in different countries around the world. Especially in the areas of online gaming and porn where websites are monitored and if engaged in illegal activity closed down by governments.

Closer to home in SA we are seeing a resurgence of media censorship with the possible introduction of the Protection of Information Act which though strongly opposed by media could also possibly have a powerful impact on communications and journalism in the country.


We are seeing a profusion of new global trends developing in the global PR business which also means we are seeing a growth of many new opportunities as we experience a definite shift away from the traditional ‘big’ markets to rapidly expanding emerging markets.

Companies that wish to do well in the current economic environment need to develop both a wider and deeper spread of global clients and staff talent across diverse geographical regions and markets and develop relevant new content opportunities and messaging in order to prosper.

The Chinese ideogram or symbol for “crisis” also has another meaning entirely, namely “opportunity” because with the correct strategy in place the one often leads into the other.