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?

What is popular may not always be best

January 4, 2008

According to today’s JoongAng Daily, the new administration may revive the practice of having press rooms in government agencies.

I certainly don’t want to use this space to discuss politics, but irrespective of how you feel about outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun, his proposal to close down the press rooms and replace them with regularly scheduled briefings, while not popular with the media, was in my opinion one of his smarter moves.

The press offices were, ironically, originally installed to help the Japanese colonial government control the Korean media. With the journalists literally under the noses of the government it was very simple to apply the requisite pressure to ensure that the ‘correct’ story made it to the media.

As Korean democracy developed, the press rooms became a way for reporters to have almost unlimited access to lawmakers. That may seem like a good thing on the surface, but it is at least a part of the pervasive problem that Korea faces in terms of confidentiality. Essentially, any individual lawmaker could go to a reporter and discuss government policy – real or imagined – irrespective of how far developed such policy was. The press rooms, far from being a resource for media to understand policy, bcame a tool through which individuals could leak information for their own political purposes. They also became comfortable and very lucrative postings for Korean reporters.

Roh Moo Hyun’s proposal that the press rooms should be replaced with official briefings was greeted with outrage by the media because it cut at the heart of this cozy relationship. However, the proposal makes a lot of sense. All organizations benefit from a single, unified voice when it comes to dealing with media. A company would be insane to allow reporters complete access to everything that goes on internally. Many of the conversations going on in within a company are confidential, speculative, exploratory or just plain dumb. No-one would expect to see those conversations in the media. When a formal position is reached, however, then the company needs to speak with one voice.

Why should government be different? I’m all in favor of a free press, and I’m not suggesting that governments call a press briefing, hand reporters a story and then leave while the reports tug their forelocks, say “Thank ‘ee sir” and print the government document word for word. A press briefing should be a forum for debate and governments should expect tough questions.

Holding a press briefing has the virtue that whatever is being discussed is an official government position. It may not be law, it may not be policy, but it is at least an on-the-record statement of the direction in which the government is leaning. A minor politician discussing internal government issues with a reporter in order to raise his own profile is little more than gossip.

I’ve discussed in the past the danger inherent in the lack of a firm press policy. The Korea tradition of un-named sources coupled with a general lack of discretion in talking to reporters causes problems for Korean and non-Korean organizations alike.

Other developed economies get along fine without press rooms and enjoy a healthy and widely respected free media. Lee Myung Bak’s proposal to go back to the press room system, while popular with the media, ensures that the general public will continue to be fed a diet of speculation and internal gossip rather than clear indications of what the government is actually doing with their tax money. In my opinion, that it is a step backward, not forward.

A Creative Christmas Idea

December 24, 2007

Since when did I care about Sweco?  And what does it have to do with Kyrgyzstan and Santa Claus?

This an example of a company using its intellectual property in a way to communciate its expertise in a fun, creative and original way.  What tickled me today and got me to post is that this idea has even influenced the Krygyzstan government to leverage it as a tourist attraction. 

When does a good idea turn into not a good idea?

P.S. I feel I have to confess that in my early days in PR I issued an ‘upside-down’ pint of Guinness for April Fools Day in the UK.  Bad creative idea.  Needless to say, it bombed and never appeared anywhere, although I did use the call around to ask journalists out for a pint and catch-up.   For ever Sweco, there’s lots and lots of rubbish!

Inside Out Communications

December 24, 2007

Here’s an interesting article from Harvard Business Online that builds and endorses the value of building your reputation through communicating with employees first (and not neglecting this communication).