The Left and Right Hand of the Korean Media

July 24, 2008

Papers with agendas: this is by no means a shock.   However, I thought this article would be a good introduction to those less familiar with how the media lines up in Korea.  And here from the Korea Times also.

Editorial standards in Korea evolved from state-controlled media where standards for givens in other newspapers like three sources were overlooked.  The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club published a great book for its 50th anniversary in 2006 called Korea Witness – it looks at how news has been reported in Korea over the last 100 or so years, written by various former and current members of the Club.  There’s some info here at SFCC legend Donald Kirk’s website.

The differing perspective of media, or perhaps what could be called ‘misreporting’, is illustrated by the recent MBC TV issue re: the misleading beef documentary that some believe sparked the beef protests.  I’ve experienced this distortion of factual information in the pursuit of the better headlines myself through work I’ve done with clients and how damaging it can be.  That said, I’ve experienced it first hand surrounding issues clients have faced in Ireland and England, so it’s nothing unique to Korea – journalist and the media are by no means infallible.   To be honest, it comes down to whose the most trusted source of information and is why organizations need to engage media in order to disengage.  A paradox that escapes some people!


Kick the Habit! World Environment Day

June 5, 2008

I’ve always enjoyed eating meat but have been consciously cutting down my intake not because of some ethical notion nor equally through fear of contracting CJD from imported US beef…  My reason for reducing my meat intake is partly health based but also loosely based on the environmental argument.

Likewise, I now turn off the water when showering as I put on shampoo or lather.  However, I started to do this not because of environmental concerns.  The shower room in my new apartment in Korea actually leaked into my living area.  So to avoid flooding, I avoid the water running too long.  This habit has changed the way I shower everywhere.

Today is “World Environment Day: Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy”.  What creates change; what is the incentive?  I previously worked with Repak, Ireland’s packaging recycling body, for three years and remember attending a breakfast seminar on social behavioural marketing with my former colleague who I worked with on the account.  Our client had informed us that only about 10% of people will ‘do good’ as they see it and recycle without any financial incentive.  With Ireland set targets of recycling 50%, our communications strategy quickly evolved into using social behavioural marketing techniques and articulating the personal financial incentives to encourage the general public to recycle more.  The focused campaign was successful and Ireland met and exceeded its tough targets a year ahead of schedule.

Germany is an acknowledge leader when it comes to the environment and propogating the movement over the last 20 years.  This is because of bottom-up people power.  This is less visible in Korea, and in other Asian countries according to my colleagues in Edelman’s Clean Tech practice.  I was warmed today to see entire pull-outs in both the Chosun Ilbo and Joongang Ilbo, two of Korea’s biggest newspapers who have also recently taken up environmental campaigns themselves, the Chosun focusing on ways to reduce packaging and sporting a new green logo on its front.  Conergy (disclosure: current client) is building Asia Pacific’s biggest solar power plant in SinAn, Korea and POSCO announced yesterday (see and search for POSCO Taps Solar Energy for the article) that it is using its roofs for generating solar power also.  This is all down to the feed-in-tariff structures the government has established and there is real momentum appearing to happen within industry, at least. 

The next trick, however, is to articulate the incentives to the Korean public in a language or in the terms that are relevant to them.  What’s their leaking shower moment!?!  That’s how to kick the habit.

Responsible Conduct is a Basic Expecation

May 30, 2008

Interesting article — Does Being Ethical Pay? — in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on corporate reputation, based on some simple but decent controlled research.  It concludes:

“Companies should segment their market and make a particular effort to reach out to buyers with high ethical standards, because those are the customers who can deliver the biggest potential profits on ethically produced goods.”

The article also points out what our global CSR lead, Chris Deri, would call an “Irresponsibility Discount.”  His view is that the research seems to identify a material discount and negative correlation between irresponsible company conduct and consumer consideration and purchase behaviour.  He would also point out that the research, however, doesn’t actually uncover a significant halo effect for products considered ‘ethically sound.’  This seems to imply that responsible conduct has merely become one of the basic expectations for products, like quality, price and consistency. 

The Power of Online Media in Korea

May 29, 2008

It comes as no surprise to read AP’s Kelly Olsen’s piece from yesterday which points out how the media in Korea has influenced the hostile public perception regarding the import of US beef.  In fact, trust in media from opinion leaders in Korea (60%) is at three-year high (length of study) according to Edelman’s 2008 Trust Barometer, more trusted than NGOs (59%), Religious Bodies (45%), Business (43%) and Government (40%).  Olsen wrote:

“Fears have been fanned largely by a sensational television report last month and Internet chatter about the meat, which both governments have repeatedly said poses no health risk.”

The influence of the Internet blogosphere should not be under-estimated in Korea.  You only need to look at how the ‘Group that Loves Roh’ web campaign (a longer explaination on this is featured in Edelman Korea’s CSR paper) critically leapfrogged the virtually unknown presidential candidate to a sensational victory in 2002 to understand that online influence is not just a new thing in Korea.  It’s a reality any organization communicating must try to manage and engage in.

It’s not about controlling the debate. By engaging, and often directing traffic and the debate to a forum that you have more control over, however, organizations can begin to see positive communciations outcomes.  Edelman in Korea has learnt that steering a debate back to an organization’s own online forum can help balance the communications, especially in time of crisis. 

I’d like to see this debate addressed in a more innovative way, as the facts on US beef’s safety are pretty clear in my opinion.

South-South Cooperation

May 28, 2008

I’ve just returned from visiting Ethiopia, and was lucky enough to mix in the circles of the foreign correspondents based there. 

There was a definite buzz in Addis Ababa about the level of investment flowing into the country.  I was surprised to see that an office block under construction was beeing developed by a fellow Irishman (the hoarding featured the flag!).  Last year investment into emerging markets reached an all time high but like everywhere, unsurprisingly, a slow down is predicated.  Speaking to some of the correspondents, however, they were curious to benchmark the huge growth in Addis versus developing Asian countries.  It’s hard to compare, and I’m by no means an expert. Although it seems to lag behind visible investment/development in Vietnam or Cambodia (which I also recently visited), it is remarkable. 

One famous Ethiopian journalist I spoke to remarked about the “unconditional” investment being poured in from China (it was visible to me without prompting) versus the conditions set by Western companies, and set by their own agenda.  He confidently predicted how Western countries were losing out long term on the increasing south-south cooperation.  With Indian and Chinese influence increasing, the question of global power shifting was debated long into the night over many glasses of tej

What is clear is that Western companies and countries are losing trust in Ethiopia and other Eastern Horn countries at least.  It reminded me of some of the basic trust building communication activities I advise clients to follow here in Korea, and how it really is more the case of how ‘foreign’ investors need to make strides in adapting and appreciating local cultures to be successful.  A lot of this is founded on the history and mistrust brewed between foreign companies and the Korean business environment as it grew or needed outside investment to stimulate its growth.

I guess the same mistakes are made in all parts of the world.  But by China?

Korea’s New President: Will NGOs Become Louder in Korea?

February 27, 2008

A colleague of mine brought up a very strong point when we were discussing the effect of the inauguration of President Lee on MondayThere’s been a lot of debate as to whether the new president will lead Korea to further bullish growth of the economy (which had been ticking along fairly well under the Roh administration between 4 and 5 percent).   In fact, like the way Tiger Woods would swing his way to boosting the US stock market, business confidence is back according to the just posted Korea Times article.

However, the real reason that I’m writing is this: what will be the new administration’s effect on the communications environment in Korea and in particular how that changing environment could effect big multinationals in Korea.  My colleague said:

“During President Roh’s administation NGOs were relatively quiet because they felt that Roh was their spokesperson.  With Lee in the Blue House, it’s more likely that those same voices will take on a different tone and manner.

“Rather than focusing all efforts on the relationship with an already-supportive Roh administration, it’s the ‘dark voices’ from their perspective that must be engaged.  A lot of mulitnational may be viewed and examined with closer scurtiny than they were during Roh’s administration by NGOs.  These NGOs need to be engaged in an open and transparent way and multinationals need to work out reciprocal and strategic benefits from this engagement.  NGOs and civil groups will play a greater role in our clients’ business during this new administration.”

Good points, well made.  In fact, we’ve noticed a decline in trust in NGOs in Korea over recent years through our annual Asia-Pacific Stakeholder Study.  When Korean opinion leaders were asked how much they trust a number of institutions, we’ve noted the trust in NGOs and civil groups has fallen by 5 points in 2007 alone from 30% to 25%.  Perhaps they’re due a comeback in 2008 and 2009? 

Social Networking

January 7, 2008

I’ve been part of an experiment in online PR networking since May last year and it’s beginning to gather pace with a few vocal people coming to the fore.  There’s still work defining what we’re trying to discuss or figure out the most optimum set-up but it seems to be taking shape as a place for PR pros to hang out.  There’s around 70 of us signed up to date.

The reason for posting about this now is that I came across what I think is a really useful tipfor Korean companies promoting themselves overseas, particularly considering the relative lack of awareness of Google’s attributes versus local search engines like Naver or Daum.   How many companies think about their text from a SEO point of view?