Wow, what a year 2020 has (or has not) been! The year kicked off with a change in government and was later defined by the Covid-19 pandemic and more. Suffice to say, 2020 wasn’t quite the Wawasan 2020 we’d all envisioned for our country.
In the midst of this turbulence, PRCA Malaysia also transformed from being the Public Relations Consultants Association of Malaysia to the Public Relations and Communications Association of Malaysia, a seemingly innocuous name change, but one that is perhaps telling of the transformation that’s challenging our industry as a whole.
What is the role of communications, and hence the communications consultants? (notice I didn’t say, PR consultants)
Often derided as hacks and spin-doctors, public relations and communications professionals of today are more important than ever, and, I believe, have the opportunity to make a bigger impact on the world than ever before. That’s you and me.
We live in a world where words are increasingly powerful. Communications can determine growth or stagnation, war and peace, mutual benefit or mutual destruction, and yes, even life and death.
Those that hold the microphone today have more reach and influence than ever before. Consider what a tweet from outgoing US President Donald Trump can do. Or that forwarded WhatsApp message that’s telling you the latest numbers of Covid-19 infections. Our Prime Minister now semi-regular Facebook livestreams where he tells you to #stayathome.
Amidst this, fake news still abounds. Intentionally provocative, fake news is deployed as a weapon by the cynical to evoke a reaction from specific communities for selfish ends. Innocent people caught in the crossfire can still get swept up in the far reaching effects fake news and inflammatory diatribe has on our communities.
The landscape of communications is a battleground of many levels. On one hand, fake news and cynically disinformation. On the other hand, I’m proud to see noble values coming through, with people rallying to support those in need and communities coming together to get through the pandemic.
Values are on the rise, and with that comes the demand for transparency that technology brings us: a lesson some of our hottest companies in Malaysia learnt. Who can blame the foreign worker who shot a video of appalling sleeping conditions in his dormitory which caused public outcry, an investigation and a mea culpa from the offending company? He had in his hands a humble tool (literally, his mobile phone) and the power to communicate his plight.
This is just one of many such stories where communications has sent ripples of impact to the world. There are many more. They are not always good stories. And that is where our responsibility lies.
If there’s ever a privilege that PR consultants and communicators enjoy, it is that many of us are entrusted with the responsibility of helping large corporations, brands and even political figures communicate. We have an opportunity to advise which stand a brand should take, or what someone of influence should say. Let’s use that for good.
If you’re a consultant, I urge you to counsel clients to do more good in the world; to do the right thing, even if it’s hard, and to be more generous to those in need. If you are a brand-owner or guardian, think about how your brand can contribute to society. We are not all world shakers, but if all do our bit with the “humble tools” we have in our hands, we can make the world a better place.
David Lian is the Managing Director, Asia, Growth & Innovation of Zeno Group. He is also a Committee Member of the Public Relations and Communications Association of Malaysia (PRCA Malaysia).