30 Dec 2014

Korean lessons: PR pioneer talks about crisis management and the evolution of Public Relations

This post is a continuation of the series of interviews with bright PR professionals from around the world for this blog, “global public relations”, in-cooperation with the World Communication Forum – #WCFDavos. This time we went to the East, to interview an authority in the arena of crisis communication management and a pioneer in PR & destination marketing within the Korean territory.

Downtown Seoul, Korea - Photo by Lim, Chung-Eui

      I proudly introduce you to Mr. Kim Kyong-Hae, APR, Founder and President of Communications Korea, one of the first PR consultancy groups in Korea and the exclusive partner of the World Communication Forum – #WCFDavos in that country. He is often referred to as the "pioneer of Korea’s PR industry" or as the "Father of Public Relations" in Korea. Mr. Kim has a vast experience within PR, destination marketing and crisis management. 
Mr. Kim Kyong-Hae
Communications Korea was founded back in 1987 as the nation's first public relations agency and Mr. Kim is also the key founding member of the Korea Public Relations Association (KPRA). Previously, he had worked as the Seoul correspondent of Reuters News Agency and the economic editor of the Korea Herald. In 1983, he founded Korea’s first English-language business magazine entitled Business Korea. In his professional career, he was involved with journalism for over 20 years, having graduated with a degree in English literature. 
His extensive background in journalism played a major role in shaping him as one of the key figures to develop Korea’s public relations industry. Not only did he establish the first local PR agency, but he also served as the chairman of KPRA from 1991 to 1992 and was pronounced as the "PR Man of the Year" in 1994. Mr. Kim has obtained his Accredited-in-Public-Relations (APR) certificate from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). He has authored the in-depth PR book "Live on-site PR story" from a veteran’s perspective. In 1999, the Korean Government awarded him with a presidential citation for his contributions in publicizing governmental policies. 
On top of that, Mr. Kim is also known as Korea's pioneer of destination marketing. As a journalist-turned marketing expert, Kim is well known for his illustrious PR career within the region. His travel-industry expertise is reflected not only in his 18 years long service as a marketing representative for Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB), but also for Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). His destination marketing for these three separate tourism hot spots is truly remarkable, now being benchmarked by new destinations. Mr. Kim is also a PR lecturer for graduate students and has written four books on crisis management and marketing, including the popular "Companies that overcome crisis, companies that crumble with it." 
Mr. Kim Kyong-Hae will be speaking at the World Communication Forum on 10-11 March 2015, check out the full agenda at www.forumdavos.com.

1.       In your opinion, how much communication & PR differs in different regions? I mean, do you see much difference in the successful PR efforts done in Asia from the ones in the Western world – e.g. USA, Europe?

Mr. Kim:  Nowadays, communication and PR is regarded in Korea as a vital business element. Companies are well aware of the importance in MPR, crisis management, reputation management, and so forth. High quality communication, reputation management and PR have been applied in Korea and around APAC. Thus communications and PR are seen as an important aspect of the marketing toolbox in this global era. As one scholar has said, PR is rising while advertising is declining and, as such, most companies in Korea are strengthening their PR and communication activities as they are much more cost-effective than advertising. You cannot discuss business management without PR and communication.

Seoul By Night, Korea - Photo by Lim, Chung-Eui

2.       Is there a big difference between communication behaviours in Korea when comparing to other countries you are experienced with? Could you give some sort of examples?

Mr. Kim: In the initial period in Korea, it was media focused. Many cared about how to expose their messages to target audience through the media. Nowadays, it became sophisticated and reached international level. One unique PR market in Korea is that large conglomerates have their own big in-house PR teams. We call this “defensive PR”. In the course of being conglomerates, they were closely inter-related with politics and this sometimes can result in malpractice or corruption. They worry that those issues may be exposed to the public if they employ PR agencies. But now, they are, gradually, seeking advice from external PR professionals.

3.      About crisis management, you mentioned in one of your articles that the most important thing to consider is the crisis management manual. Would you say that the same should be applied to crisis communication management? A manual should be the start and end of the crisis communication administration?

Mr. Kim: A manual is like a bible in crisis management and crisis communications and many companies now produce them. However, you should not make a “manual for the sake of a manual.” Companies have to practice what is in the manuals.  Without practice, a manual will get dusty and out-dated. By constantly practicing, a manual can be fixed and updated to meet the current status and situation. Meanwhile, the “3 P's” of crisis management—“practice”, “proactive” and “prepared”— become all the more important.
4.       What are the most important points to consider when preparing such manual?

Mr. Kim: The strong determination of the CEO (Head manager, etc) to make a living manual. With his/her strong determination to produce a manual to save the company from catastrophe, all resources within the company including experts and budgets should be mobilized to be fully prepared for “known unknowns”. Especially for foreign multinationals operating in Korea, they should take note of a number of local factors.

First of all, the media environment and the customs of media relations here are different from those in other nations. When reporting on a crisis situation, the Korean media are not always objective in presenting both sides of the matter. At times, they are overly nationalistic. Sometimes there may be inaccuracy in quotations. Some reporters get upset when foreign businesses refuse to respond beyond a “no comment”. So it is highly advantageous to develop allies among reporters during normal times. Also, many TV stations have investigative programs to portray negative business aspects of multinationals, causing a big damage to their reputation.

Secondly, there are also some special characteristics associated with Korean nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. The influence and political orientation of NGOs, including civic groups, has gotten noticeably stronger of late. NGOs exercise their influence in various ways when crises arise, and their nature is different from that of the general non-political NGOs of other countries.

A third fact to consider is that the groups shaping public opinion in Korea are not the same as those in other countries. Here, opinion leaders who influence public sentiment are those who are central to political circles, certain media outlets and NGOs. And there are some who are known to be strongly biased against foreign businesses.

A fourth factor to consider is that a new chapter in the distribution of rumor and public opinion is under way in Korea. This is happening in concert with the high-speed capabilities of digital media, including mobile phones and the internet. The unique nature of Korea’s internet culture has become an increasingly instrumental in the formation of public opinion.

In Korea, the corporate culture and the labor-management relations are nothing like they are in the West. This is particularly true when it comes to labor-management relations. In Korea, corporate culture and labor-management relations are critical variables when a crisis emerges. In Korea, businesses’ crisis management strategies must be developed only after considering all the unique elements of the Korean environment. The following are some useful guidelines for businesses that I refer to as the “Ten Commandments for Effective Crisis Management”. This was developed by my company, Communications Korea, for foreign multinationals operating in Korea.

The “Ten Commandments for Effective Crisis Management” are:

1)    Make the public’s interest a priority.
2)    Build up a positive reputation during normal times.
3)    THE CEO must actively intervene and present feasible solutions. The CEO’s one strategic key message will save the firm from the crisis.
4)    Undergo media training and designate a corporate spokesperson in advance.
5)  Thoroughly scrutinize direct media quotations. Most Korean media are not exact in their quotations
6)  Learn the lessons of crises experienced by competitors and relevant case studies
7)  Develop relations with third-party opinion leaders during normal times, and positively use these resources during a crisis.
8)    Undergo simulated crisis training.
9)    In the case of an unfounded report, promptly take corrective action.
10) Try to lead the media, not to be led by the media.

5.       When it comes to crisis communication, what is essential to consider?

Mr. Kim: In crisis communication, it is important to have one-voice system. From CEO to entry-level employee, all should have and maintain one-voice when they communicate with media or other organizations that they have to face during crisis. When the U.S President Lyndon B.Johnson visited NASA after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he met a janitor and asked him what he is doing at NASA. The janitor, without hesitation, said “I am here to send man to moon”. From the top to the bottom, a unity was prevailing at NASA.

6.       If a multinational operating in many different countries produced such a crisis communication manual, it should be the same to all divisions/subsidiaries, or should take the cultural variable into account?

Mr. Kim: It should differ by each region and its culture. Each region has different media environment, company culture, society norm, government policy etc. However, all manuals should have similar skeletons, but different skins to accommodate different cultural, social, and political aspects.

7.       How important is “intercultural awareness” or Intercultural Communication framework in the field of crisis communication?

Mr. Kim: Sometimes, a crisis caused by poor intercultural communication is more serious than a traditional crisis. In that cause, a manual with no special emphasis on culture is useless and will not work. Intercultural awareness is a very important aspect not only in crisis communication but also in general communication as well.

We are accustomed to our own value system called “ethnocentrism”. A value which is highly respected in Korea might be rejected in another country. Patting a boy or girl’s head softly is regarded as fine in some places but strongly rejected in Thailand. There are so many such cases. 

   Large corporations such as Samsung and LG are paying much attention to intercultural communication. High-level executives who are dispatched to foreign countries are trained not to cause any culture-related crisis in the country where they are posted. 

8.       Have scholars or practitioners approached the theme of Intercultural Crisis Communication? How do you feel about its relevance in today’s globalised world

Mr. Kim: Nowadays, culture is also one important element of crisis in our globalised business environment. When a multinational corporation does not pay enough attention to intercultural communication in a country where it operates, it will be exposed to a serious crisis caused by poor intercultural communication. 

           There are many scholars who study intercultural communication and publish on the matter. Many major Korean companies try to study and learn about other countries and their cultures. They want to find out the do’s and don’ts to guide their behaviour in their global business operations.

9.       What does “Public Relations” mean to you? How would you define the term?

10. How the Korean PR industry was when you first started to be a PR practitioner? How has it evolved since then? (Could you please mention in your answer the year you started your PR career?
 Mr. Kim: In the early 1980s, major international media including Newsweek, New York Times, Fortune, and Time had their Asian headquarters either in Tokyo or Hong Kong. When something major transpired in Korea, their correspondents would fly in to cover it. Most of them contacted me when they come to Korea as I was closely following political, economic and often major news as the publisher of Business Korea, a monthly English-language business magazine and the economic editor of the Korea Herald, one of the two English-language dailies in Korea. The correspondents, in return for my full support for their reportorial activities, asked me to open a PR firm as the first of its kind in Korea, as I knew the business scene, government official and media.

In 1987, I founded Communications Korea as the first PR firm in Korea and we became Hill and Knowlton associate in Korea in 1988, the year of Seoul Olympics. Then I established the Korea Public Relations Association and we opened a “PR Class” to provide a learning environment for PR practitioners. We followed PR practices in the Western world. We also then established the Korea Public Relations Consultancy Association for PR firms. In this way, the PR industry came to take root in Korea. That is why PR people in Korea call me “the pioneer of the PR industry in Korea”.

11.    What are the most important factors when considering destination marketing? What should be on the top of the check list when drafting a destination marketing strategy?

 Mr. Kim: Identifying the unique selling point (USP), I think, is most important in destination marketing. In Korea, there are more than 50 national tourists office (NTOs) now competing to induce Koreans to visit their respective countries. To win in this cut-throat competition, exposing the USP to the consumers most effectively is a short-cut for successful destination marketing. The USP can be culture, food, adventure, entertainment, cosy atmosphere, sports, etc. Our company was the first destination marketing company in Korea for Guam in South Pacific. It was a small fishing ground but we positioned it as a honeymoon paradise. Honeymooners are also high spenders. Then we supported Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Australia. I am now very pleased to see that the three destination of Guam, Thailand and Australia became Korea’s representative overseas destinations. 

Warm thanks to Mr. Kim Hyong-Hae and Wendy for all their cooperation. Your time & kind attention were highly appreciated!

Keep an eye here for future interviews with C-level PR executives from around the globe.

Join us in Davos on 10-11 March 2015 for the VI World Communication Forum - #WCFDavos - www.forumdavos.com.

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