In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Jacky Cheng, MD, The Scott Partnership China and Chairman, Asia Business Communications Association (ABCA), talks about ABCA’s role in advancing the role of communications in Asia, its activities in India, and the unique challenges and opportunities of communicating in Asia.
Q. How does the ABCA advance the role of communications in Asia?
The ABCA has its unique position in China. While most of the local PR organizations are more like “agency clubs,” ABCA is trying to bring more in-house communicators into this industry. For the past two years, ABCA has seen major participation from renowned senior and international industry leaders.
As compared to other local associations, we also have different focus. The current Chinese organizations, CIPRA (China International Public Relations Association), for example, have more government background. At their conferences, the focus is on “bigger” topics. ABCA, on the other hand is trying to give its members practical skills. ABCA is finding its unique position, namely practical, international and “in-house” practice focused.
Since ABCA is nascent, the target in China in near future is to continue high-quality activities, growing member base and identifying a group of external trainers with various communication skills.
The newly formed India and Singapore Chapters represent an important step in ABCA’s development; it means ABCA is truly an international organization now. The involvement of India and Singapore will give ABCA fresh ideas for further development. I believe ABCA will grow fast henceforth.
Q. With regard to the founding of your India Chapter, what is the ABCA’s vision for its activities in India? What are some of the opportunities that you have identified in India?
India is definitely a country that any international organization can not miss. Like China, India has a big population and interesting culture. For most Asian Communicators, their daily work also needs to cover India. So with the new India Chapter, ABCA members can have access to the local expertise in India which will eventually benefit their knowledge about communication.
For ABCA’s Indian Chapter’s development, I share Director of ABCA India, Mr. Aman Gupta’s view. We pursue quality rather than quantity. We might not start from a high frequency, but we want to keep all activities to a high standard. Once the standard is set, we will then grow the frequency of our activities, grow the membership through word of mouth. The final goal will be same, we aim to build ABCA as a platform for business communicators to grow their skills, and set the common standard in this industry.
Q. How has the communications function evolved in China during your professional career? Is it now widely considered a board room function?
It has always been my goal to make communication a board room function. But to be honest, I don’t think communication in China has reached this goal yet. We still have a long way to go, especially for business communications. In business communication area, most companies still see sales department at the core. They still position communication function as a supporting function to sales departments’ work.
To change this, we need twin efforts. On one hand, we need to educate the business leaders about the power of communications, help them to understand how communications department can assist their success. On another, we need to educate communicators, to tell them how to communicate internally to change people’s perception. Communicators also need to be more strategic and try harder to be involved in strategic decision making. Gradually they will be treated as a core part of the management team. All these efforts take time and it is also ABCA’s vision to make this change happen.
Q. Do global firms now realize the unique challenges and opportunities of communicating in Asian markets? How do you counsel them against a “one-strategy-fits-all” approach?
Yes, global firms operating in Asia can quickly learn about the difference through their local team. Even the companies which don’t have local presence are quite open to listening to our advice.
I think it is because companies have been in the globalization process for quite a long time, they have understood the world is different.
Q. We are happy to have the ABCA on board as a partner for The PRestival, Asia’s Biggest PR Fest. What are you most looking forward to about the event?
We are quite excited to be partner for PRestival. We expect to meet more PR practitioners in Asia, and extend ABCA’s network. We also hope to invite more experts to be involved in ABCA’s development, to grow it together.
Interviewed by Kunal Pal for Image Management