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).

Edelman CEO interview in Chosun Ilbo

December 17, 2007

Richard Edelman was interviewed extensively in Saturday’s Chosun Ilbo.  He had some interesting views on blogging (and how Korea can set an international standard), the influence of women in Korea, particularly the ‘Miss Gold’ group, and how companies need to be leveraging ‘inside-out’ communications (i.e. the role of employees in communicating corporate and brand messages).

For those who can read Korean here’s the main interview.  The blog post they refer to (and which is in English) is here on the 1st November.

Transparency and Trust

November 15, 2007

In The Strategic Benefits of Transparency on Harvard Business Online’s Conversation Starter, Dave Balter, founder and CEO of BzzAgent asks a question that should be top of mind for any business facing an issue – or even thinking that they might, one day, face one.

There’s a perception of risk that comes along with radical transparency. It’s the “what if” dilemma. Just before tearing open the corporate veil, most companies blush. Then blink. They think: What if we screw up? What if profits shrink? What if we have layoffs?

But what they should be asking is, “What if we never regain the public’s trust?”

At Edelman we call it the Paradox of Transparency.  Essentially, stakeholders are more likely to trust you if they get an accurate picture of what you are doing – warts and all.

It’s not always easy – our own firm has been burned for a mis-step in this area and we are certainly not alone.  However, the massive volume of public conversation today means that whatever your company is doing the truth will probably out.  Employees blog, or talk to friends that blog.

The Internet is a giant water cooler with millions of people standing around it and exchanging news and gossip.  Any company has a choice between being a credible voice in the conversation or being the opinionated loudmouth that skirts around the edge of the group trying to shout down everyone else.  Trust-based relationships will always win out over communications “campaigns” that put the emphasis on spin over substance.

Yes, it’s a tough decision to make, but companies have been doing it for years.  Look at Pepsi. Look at Tylenol.  Ultimately it happens when companies think “If I were a stakeholder in this company, how would I wish to be treated?”

One issue that I face all the time is the reluctance of clients to share information that is regarded as “confidential” with their communications team.  There seems to be a belief that anything you say to the PR folks is going to end up in tomorrow’s newspapers.  Of course, all companies have information that they need to keep confidential.  But that’s not the same as saying as saying that companies need to keep all information confidential.

Personally, I don’t like it when I beleive I’m being lied to and I don’t trust people who I beleive are less than honest with me.  I don’t know anyone who feels any differently.

So why to so many companies  seem to think that they can get away with it?