The changing face of PR in Malaysia
Raj Kumar Balamanickam
Master of Arts Communication Management 2003
Managing Partner and Senior Consultant at Impact Communications
Masters of Communication Management alumnus Raj Kumar Balamanickam is celebrating the success of his small public relations agency, Impact Communications, which recently won two Gold awards in the Malaysia Public Relations Awards. He talks about aspects of corporate communications in the Malaysian market.
The awards were for two campaigns developed for Unilever (Malaysia) Holdings Berhad: a Consumer Launch Award for a campaign to launch Comfort, a fabric softener, to the growing market of hijab wearers in Malaysia; the other was an Environmental Award for a campaign to encourage recycling among school children, for the Wall’s Paddle Pop ice cream brand.
“Winning the awards were a real boost for the team, especially since it was our first time submitting for an award, since being established 10 years ago. Time was never on our side to participate previously. As a small agency, we are humbled for being chosen over some top competition but at the same time the award is validation of the level of work that our agency is capable of,” says Raj Kumar.
The Environmental Award was for a Wall’s Corporate Social Responsibility campaign called the ‘Paddle Pop Young Builders Award 2016’ directed at primary school children.
“The initiative is Unilever’s global business strategy called the Sustainable Living Plan. With the endorsement of the Ministry of Education, the strategy by the team at Impact Communications saw the entries from schools quadruple from the previous year. The client was immensely happy with the result as it helped position the CSR-driven competition as a key national level competition promoting recycling through creativity and art,” says Raj Kumar.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is an important part of public relations (PR) in Malaysia in terms of reputation and brand management and the work that he does, but Raj Kumar says CSR is not done correctly most of the time.
“In fact, the term CSR is misused. Many businesses engage in a one-off charity event and call it CSR. We are happy to have the opportunity to work with clients who know that committing for the long term to create a better future makes better business sense.
“For our clients with a global presence, their CSR blue-print is crafted at HQ. Our role is to look at the pillars and see how we can help the company make an impact on localised issues that are aligned with the company’s CSR blue-print. We also help companies look for partners to work with such as social enterprises. We research and talk to them on behalf of the client and then chart a long-term plan to ensure that the collaboration is beneficial to the community and is managed well.”
Consumers are exercising more influence on brands via social media and Raj Kumar says this means that “the work has expanded to include more places where we need to land our client’s story. We have to always consider how we engage with the audience and how we can create a brand experience for them that is fresh and yet still keep to the brand’s key messages.”
“The unique or distinguishing factor in public relations in the Malaysian market is the rapid change towards digital campaigns. This strong growth is gradually changing the landscape of the PR industry in Malaysia. While there is still demand for traditional media, agencies are now focusing on aggressively building up their digital and social media offerings,” he says.
Raj Kumar has a background in fundraising, project management and communications and was attached to the National Cancer Council as a project manager when he decided to study for an offshore Master of Communication Management with UniSA. Upon graduating, he won the role of General Manager of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF), responsible for communications, administration and fundraising.
He and his wife Angie combined their event management and PR experience and established Impact Communications in 2007.
“We took on the challenge even through the tough times, but perseverance and tenacity paid off. In 2009 we had an opportunity to migrate to Canada but we decided to stay on and see this through,” says Raj Kumar.
Raj Kumar joined the University of South Australia Malaysia Alumni Chapter in 2004 and was President from 2008 to 2010. He believes that the most important role that alumni networks can play in developing careers is to act as a bridge for alumni to interact effectively, through networking activities like social gatherings and professional career talks by alumni, where alumni get an opportunity to be exposed to business opportunities.
“The respective Alumni Chapters should provide a platform for graduates to be able to perhaps have experience sharing, which may pave the way for good understanding of the respective professions, the industry and changing job landscape that can assist members in the current working and economic environment and will indeed help them in their career path,” he says.
“This year, Impact Communications celebrates its tenth anniversary, and we are proud of the work that has gone through, and thankful to friends and clients for their support, and we look forward to doing better. We have grown from a staff of just two to a strong force of thirteen,” says Raj Kumar.
“We regularly host student placements from various universities in Malaysia, and the students do their industrial training with us for public relations or event management.”
He advises new graduates looking to work in public relations to focus on core skills and build a credible reputation.
“Foundation is still key – good communication skills, good story-telling skills, drive, passion and commitment. Be a keen observer but also participate. Do take ownership of your own personal brand and your reputation too. If you are going to be a guardian to protect the reputation of the brand/company you are working for, you have to take the role seriously, especially in today’s media landscape where things can escalate. Don’t be shy to ask questions and learn from your team members. The older ones on the team will certainly value your input and your perspective, so do open up too. Be on top of current news from credible sources. If you can do all this, you will succeed.”