The Pulse, a new study produced by VMA GROUP Asia, was designed to go beyond the average salary survey, delving more deeply into market trends and predictions and, where possible, sharing recommendations for both hiring managers and candidates. It gives us a holistic view of the corporate communications market in Asia right now, how each discipline is evolving in its own right, and relative levels of maturity compared to other more developed communications markets in which VMA GROUP operates. Each section reveals fascinating insights into the priorities for different disciplines, relationships with leaders, sought-after skills and changes on the horizon. Based on this data, we have summarised some of the most noteworthy trends and developments we believe will influence Corporate Communications in Asia over the next few years:
The Asian power base is shifting
A recent report from McKinsey on the shifting global business landscape, predicts that by 2025, almost 230 Fortune Global 500 companies will be based in the emerging world’s cities, up from 24 in 2000. We are already seeing the impact of this shift, with 24% of The Pulse respondents predicting team expansion in Indonesia, 21% in Malaysia and 19% in Thailand. It was in response to this shift that we launched VMA Direct, to enable our consultants to focus more specifically on South East Asia (with the exception of Singapore, which is covered by our Singapore office). Many organisations still consider Hong Kong and Singapore tough markets in which to find experienced communications professionals, and in emerging markets such as Indonesia, it’s fair to say the pressure is much greater, with an even smaller pool of talent available.
Singapore competes with Hong Kong
With the majority of global financial institutions managing Asian hubs from Hong Kong, the city has reigned supreme in the region for some time. But as McKinsey’s research points out, “thanks to the highly effective efforts of the Singapore economic-board, that country is far and away the location of choice for Western multinationals setting up operations in Asia’s emerging economies.” We are definitely seeing this shift, with an increased number of senior appointments that would have traditionally have been located in Hong Kong, now located in Singapore instead. At the moment, the FMCG and Technology industries tend to dominate in Singapore, while Hong Kong still has the largest market share of financial organisations. But gone are the days of lower salaries in Singapore – the talent shortage has driven up salaries to near, or on a par with, Hong Kong.
Centralised hubs favour Hong Kong or Singapore
While Singapore is clearly experiencing growth, 47% of The Pulse respondents still report Hong Kong as the central hub for their communication activities, compared with 24% with centralised operations in Singapore. For now, Hong Kong still dominates as the typical location for regional headquarters. Clearly in the minority, 18% report having a decentralised communications model, while 12% report a regional HQ outside Hong Kong or Singapore: in Shanghai, Japan, Thailand or Taiwan, which again illustrates a shift in regional dominance.
Lack of professional development fuels resignations
The data confirm what we already know – salary alone is not enough to drive engagement and retention. When asked to list the top three reasons why respondents had left their previous role, 60% said they moved for better future career development and new challenges, or because of the lack of training in their previous position. Comms professionals are well aware of the pressure on the industry to step up and support the business, and match the performance of functions in more evolved markets. But they look to their employers to invest time and money in providing them with the right career advancement and professional development opportunities. Individuals want a clearer path mapped out for them, with clearly defined roles and positions to work towards. Without these aspirations, talent is often lost with good people moving into other industries with a more clearly defined career trajectory.
Media Relations most mature function in Asia
Of all the corporate communications functions surveyed, Media Relations is the one that can be considered “mature” in Asia, in that its role is understood and valued at board level. This is reflected in reporting lines with 25% of respondents reporting directly to the CEO or MD of the business, which is significant when considering that, by comparison, only 6% of respondents working within Internal Communications have this direct reporting line. A function’s relationship with senior leaders will always have repercussions for its perceived value, and again, it was Media Relations that came out top when asked how the senior leadership team view Communications, with 68% describing them as “key advocates” of the function.
But Digital Communications is taking centre stage
Media Relations may be the more mature discipline, and we know that 2012 was a year of strong growth for Internal Communications in Asia in terms of recruitment activity and resource investment. But the data from this year’s survey set the scene for 2013 to become the year of Digital Communications. While a standalone Digital Communications function is still a fairly novel concept in Asia, with 67% of digital respondents predicting that social media will become the main platform used to communicate with their customers and stakeholders, experience in this area is fast becoming a highly sought-after skill in new recruits. All the signs suggest that recruitment and training activity in this area will continue to grow, to match this increased demand.