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The rise of Singapore and Malaysia as a PR base in Asia

The rise of Singapore and Malaysia as a PR base in Asia
18.03.2022

As Singapore rapidly continues to emerge as the Silicon Valley of Asia, the country and its close neighbor – and once motherland – Malaysia are rapidly gaining gravity as an Asian base for Public Relations (PR). The Southeast Asia (SEA) region, which sets it apart from the rest of Asia with its young population (of the 650 million people, more than half is younger than 30), the rapidly growing middle class, the digitally adaptive netizens and the eager public incentives, is becoming the next international tech hub. This is also confirmed by the findings of the e-Conomy SEA 2021 report by Google, Temasek, and Bain & Company which projects the internet economy of the SEA region to reach $1 trillion gross merchandise value by 2030. The potential is attracting foreign investments from everywhere around the globe. The Venture Capital (VC) investments in the region grew by more than fivefold between 2015 and 2020, and continued their strong growth despite the pandemic. The digital remains robust in 2021, with growth across services ranging from e-commerce to food delivery and finance to media. The staggering digital growth and the outstanding increase in the number of new businesses both as start-ups and as an influx of prominent tech companies in the region is also presenting remarkable opportunities for PR service providers. Here is a brief overview and outlook on Malaysia and Singapore that stand out as the best base for PR among their peers in the region.

Malaysia and Singapore as the two key players of the SEA internet economy 

The SEA region recorded an M&A activity that hit an all-time high of almost $125bn in the first half of 2021 and the number of VC investments into regional tech start-ups rose by 20% year-on-year in the same period. The lure of the area mainly stems from the rapidly growing middle class, the lack of big box retail, the government incentives for the tech companies and the young and very tech-adaptive population. The region added 40 million new internet users in 2021, on top of the 40 million people who came online in 2020. Following the pandemic 60 million people started using a digital service for the first time, and one-third of them only started doing so in 2021. This is a strong indication of the rapid adoption of digital services by the people in the region which does not surprise since more than half of them are under 30. As of 2022, the median age in Singapore is 43 while it is 31 for Malaysia. Hence, Malaysia has a slightly younger population. 78.2% of Malaysia’s population live in urban centers.

The urbanization rate for Singapore is not surprisingly 100%.  

Although all the countries within the region is on a fast-pace digital growth path and attract investments we’ll be focusing on the more developed and neighbor economies of Malaysia and Singapore by making a brief introduction on each and following with their general media outlooks, the state of the PR in the region with some clues on digital PR opportunities. Don’t forget, working with an online PR service like B2Press, you can reach your target audience in these two countries.

A brief introduction of Malaysia and Singapore  

Malaysia

Renowned for its Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Kek Lok Si Temple, Batu Caves or most importantly as the “food capital of the world” (who can say no to Mee goreng mamak or Nasi lemak) Malaysia was also a British colony like Singapore until August 31, 1957 when the Federation of Malaya gained full autonomy (which is celebrated as Hari Merdeka in Malaysia). Then, in 1963 Malaysia was formed by the merger of the Federation of Malaya with the former British colonies of North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. Unlike the city state of Singapore, Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy consisting of thirteen states and three federal territories. Of these states and territories; Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Sarawak, Pulau Pinang and Sabah together contributed to 72% of Malaysia's GDP in 2020. For administrative reasons indigenous peoples (including Malays), are collectively called bumiputera. Kuala Lumpur, George Town, Ipoh, Johor Bahru are some of the most important cities of Malaysia which has a population nearly 33 million as of 2022. 

Singapore

Singapore, the tiny maritime island nation which is renowned for its landmarks like Marina Sands Bay, Supertree Grove, Chimes or ArtScience Museum was actually part of Malaysia for a brief time between 1963 to 1965. The city state has a population of nearly 6 million. Although, the landmarks afore mentioned or the Orchard Road with its world-class malls or luxury hotels are all a must see, the Merlion is the most recognized icon of the city regarded as the pride of Singapore. While the lion head of the statue represents Singapore's original name —Singapura— meaning "lion city" or "kota singa" the fishtail signifies the country’s origins as a fishing village. But Singapore has come a long way from being a tiny fishing village to one of the world’s most important global trade hubs. Moreover, it is expected to become the Silicon Valley of Asia not too long now. It is one of the world’s wealthiest nations in terms of GDP per capita that stands at $60 thousand as of 2020. In fact, Singapore is an Asian miracle as much as – if not more than – China holding the second place in the World Bank’s GDP Per Capita ranking in terms of constant Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms, way ahead of USA (12th), Germany (19th). 

General Media Outlook in Malaysia and Singapore

Use of internet and social media is higher for both countries compared to the SEA average.

While the internet adoption is 72% for the SEA region in 2022, it is 90% for Malaysia and 92% for Singapore. The internet penetration increased significantly for both countries in recent years, but it was more remarkable for Malaysia.

Internet adoption in Malaysia and Singapore

Essential digital headlines - Malaysia

Essential digital headlines - Singapore

The average share of social media users compared to total population is again 72% for the SEA region. The same number is much higher with 92% for Malaysia (share of active social media users) and 90% for Singapore.

Most preferred, trusted and used channels as news sources

According to The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021 the top five TV, radio and print channels in demand in Malaysia are TV3 News, Astro Awani, Harian Metro, Berita Harian, Radio Televisyen Malaysia and The Star, while the most visited online sites are Malaysiakini and the websites of Astro Awani, Berita Harian, Harian Metro and The Star respectively. The 24-hour news channel Astro Awani is the leading media brand in terms of trust with innovative, often critical, news and current affairs programs, followed by The Star.

Weekly reach offline and online - Malaysia

For Singapore, the most trusted media sources remain the same, with MediaCorp’s round-the-clock news network Channel News Asia (CNA) sitting at the top (79%) followed by the newspaper The Straits Times (77%) published by the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). SPH publishes most of Singapore’s local newspapers, including Chinese language Lianhe Zaobao, Malay-language Berita Harian, and Tamil-language Tamil Murasu. Mediacorp operates all the local television stations and most radio stations in Singapore.

Weekly reach offline and online - Singapore

Print media which is significantly influenced and monitored by the governments has continued its decline as a source of news in both countries, but the trend was more significant for Singapore where print media’s share as a news source has halved in five years. 

As the use of print media as a news source decreased, digital advertising has rapidly increased and started to take a significant part of media budgets in both countries. For example, according to GetCraft’s Malaysia Digital & Content Marketing Report 2018 survey digital advertising makes an estimated third of total media budgets in Malaysia.

Sources of news - Malaysia

The rapid adaption of online media and the downfall of the print may unfortunately do with the fact that both Singapore and Malaysia have a bad reputation when it comes to media freedom. Within the 180 countries included in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index they both rank poorly with Malaysia standing in the 119th place and Singapore even worse in the 160th.

Sources of news - Singapore

Online media (including social media) is the primary news source both in Malaysia and Singapore followed by TV. Reuters data also indicate that among the online media channels Facebook has a significant share as a news source in Malaysia (even more share than Twitter with 22% of those who use it for news saying they get the latest news from Facebook). Increasing use of smartphones to get news has coincided with the increasing popularity of online news media. The use of Telegram mobile app has also increased as part of the continuing shift to more private networks and Telegram became a preferred news source both in Malaysia (20%) and Singapore (14%). As a last note, 32% of respondents in Singapore said they share news via social media, mobile messaging apps or email while the same figure was 47% for Malaysians. 

As an international online PR sevice B2Press team can turn your stories into newsworthy and SEO-friendly bulletins and distribute them via prominent news agencies to segmented media lists with guaranteed coverage on leading news portals. Our pay-as-you-go services also include the detailed monitoring, analysis and reporting of your coverage.

The transformation of PR in the region and in Singapore & Malaysia 

Public relations in Malaysia and Singapore was mostly practiced by the governments before 90’s. However, with the acceleration of industrialization and the empowerment of the private sector, it found a greater area of application.  

PR was mostly seen as means of media coverage or press relations before the digital era in both countries, but the PR professionals have developed themselves in order to catch up with the digital evolution. For example, as we mentioned before Malaysia is one of the countries where Facebook users have the largest number of connections. As of 2020, Malaysia is the highest-ranking country in the APAC region when it comes to engagement with B2B influencers on Facebook.

The impact of AI and other new tech will be significant 

It seems that technological advances such as machine learning, robotic process automation and drones will impact the organizations more in the future, but these new processes haven’t trickled down yet to the communications function.

In terms of corporate communications, it is discussed how new technology, such as AI, blockchain, virtual reality and IoT will influence their communications functions in the future. For instance, it is predicted that AI will be used for writing news releases and annual reports, converting text into video, analyzing social media conversation or conducting media research. Although the communications function has not fully adopted AI technologies, it’s clear these technologies could eventually generate immense benefits.

Communicating to Digital-First Economies and the Expectation of “Always-On” 

The respondents of the IPR survey stated that the booming tech and mobile-first society will continue to change the way their companies communicate. In this regard, they will be investing less in websites and more on apps. Participants said local social platforms that will continue to be dominant in Asia will include WeChat, WhatsApp, QQ, Weibo, LINE and KakaoTalk.

Many local social platforms in Asia provide an entire online ecosystem, allowing people to do most or all of their daily online activity via that one platform.

Strategic issues for communication management in the APAC region

Looking at the Asia-Pacific Communication Monitor 2020/2021 for the most important strategic issues of communication management in the APAC region and making a comparison between the pre-COVID (expectation of the professionals for 2020 when the questions were directed in 2017/2018) and post-COVID (asked expectations for 2023 in 2020/2021) periods we recognize some interesting changes.

Most important strategic issues for communication management until 2023

First of all, top issue in both periods is seen as “coping with the digital evolution and the social web”. However, after the pandemic the issue seems to have become less pressing since its mention decreased from nearly 49% to 38%. That might be explained by the mandatory adoption of digital channels and social platforms by PR professionals as a communication channel. To put it in other words, it seems like the PR professionals were forced to face their fears with the pandemic and became more relaxed about it as they gained experience.

Most important strategic issues for communication management until 2020

The fast-paced adaption of digital channels and use of e-economy must have also increased the importance of “using big data and/or algorithms for communication” as it has become more of an issue with its mention increasing from 32.4% to 37%.   

Other eye-catching developments are the rise of “Building and maintaining trust” & “Dealing with sustainable development and social responsibility” as issues, which makes a lot of sense after the pandemic. For example, SME's want more support in the journey to become more sustainable, according to the UOB SME Outlook Study 2022. When implementing sustainable practices, small businesses, with turnovers of less than SG$10 million, face challenges such as insufficient knowledge to identify and to execute relevant initiatives for the organization (40%). Three in five (60%) SMEs in Singapore believe in the importance of incorporating sustainable practices in their businesses. Improving reputation (54%) was cited as one of the top three reasons SMEs want to adopt sustainability as a core to their business.

Long-term development of strategic issues for communication management

Top 3 pressing issues from the eyes of the excellent PR departments are “coping with the digital evolution and the social web”, “using big data and/or algorithms for communication” and “the need to explore new ways of content creation and distribution”  

The same report uses statistical analyses to identify outperforming PR organizations, based on benchmarking and self-assessments known from quality management and categorize these organizations as “excellent communication departments”. As per the analysis, it is identified that the excellent departments emphasize “coping with the digital evolution and the social web”, “using big data and/or algorithms for communication” and “the need to explore new ways of content creation and distribution” as the top three issue for the field in near future.

Excellent departments emphasise the need to explore new ways of content creation and distribution as a top three issue for the field in the near future

Communication channels and methods today and in the future: Mobile communication is advancing fast; media relations is on the downturn

When asked, “How important are the following methods in addressing stakeholders, gatekeepers and audiences today? In your opinion and how important will they be in three years?” Social media and social networks (e.g., Blogs, Twitter, Facebook) made the top both for 2020 and for 2023 with its perceived importance increasing for 2023. The same is true for “mobile communication” which ranks second. On the other hand the importance of “press and media relations with print newspapers/magazines” ranks second from the bottom for 2020 and its perceived importance for 2023 is even smaller with a 23.1% decrease.

Perceived importance for addressing stakeholders, gatekeepers and audiences in 2020 and in 2023

Influencer Marketing as a PR offering: PR professionals in Malaysia and Singapore place more importance to influencer marketing for content seeding

While the global average of marketing communication professionals that see influencer marketing as a PR offering is 67%, the same figure is 88% for Malaysia and 72% for Singapore. PR professionals in Malaysia and Singapore is considering influencer marketing as a PR offering way more than the global average.

Percent of marcomms professionals who consider influencer marketing a PR offering

However, engagement with B2C influencers via Pinterest is not a quite preferred method among PR professionals in Singapore. Only 5% of them (lowest rate in the APAC region) use this.

Digital PR opportunities for Singapore and Malaysia

Link building for SEO is a potential opportunity to capitalize on as part of digital PR services in the APAC region

Link building for SEO ranks lowest as a PR offering globally (close to 55%). The PR professionals in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region also do not give SEO link building the attention it deserves but still put it in use as a PR offering more than the global average. While the percentage of communication professionals who consider link building for SEO content as a PR offering is 55% globally, for the APAC region the figure goes up to almost 63%.

Percent of marcomms professionals who consider link building for SEO content a PR offering

Using Social Analytics for PR Executive Positioning 

80% of PR executive positioning globally is not driven by social analytics. For example, only 22% of the Singaporean communications professionals are using social analytics for executive positioning & stakeholder analysis.

Percentage of PR pros who use listening tools for executive positioning & stakeholder analysis

Social Listening for reputation & crisis management

Reputation & crisis management campaigns can be significantly improved by making more use of social listening tools. Only 4% of C-level executives use social listening tools in Singapore and 5% in Malaysia which are very low.

Only 8% of C-level executives use social listening tools

Moreover, the existing PR firms/agents in both countries are not flexible about changing the social listening tools of their choice even if their clients request it.

Would you use a different social listening tool based on client requests/preferences?

A note on gender equality in the PR departments of both countries

More than 84.1% of all PR departments and agencies in Singapore are dominated by female professionals, compared to 73.5% in Malaysia. However, while female leadership in communication is strong in Singapore (78.3%), Malaysia (48.5%) is lagging behind.

An immense growth potential for digital PR services in Singapore & Malaysia

According to the Tufts University’s Digital Intelligence Index, Singapore and Malaysia are among the "stand out" leaders that built strong digital economies with systems powering strong positive outlooks for their digital future. 

As the region is heading towards $1T Gross Merchandise Value by 2030 and continues to emerge as the Silicon Valley of Asia, countless new and existing companies are pouring in Singapore and Malaysia. The increasing number of firms, the fast-paced evolution of the internet economy and the opportunities arising due to under-utilization of many digital services is presenting an immense growth potential for the PR companies.

As a very experienced international online PR agency the B2Press team is ready to assist you for all your digital PR needs in Singapore and Malaysia. With our in-depth digital analysis and monitoring of the region, we can help you to craft the most relevant messages, shape the best SEO-friendly news releases and make use of the most productive press release distribution channels which will multiply your content seeding. Our AI based media coverage analysis will not only prove the value of our digital press services but also will help you to justify your communication and marketing budgets with solid ROI rates.B2Press offers the possibility to write your news releases in Mandarin, Malay, English and Tamil languages. We have the best sources and connections for digital press release distribution from the local to global media. We’ll be more than happy to share the details of our online PR services that will take your communications to next generation.

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