Comms Agencies Are Lacking Basic Writing Skills: Industry Report

Once upon a time typed on an old antique typewriter

Too many communications agencies are lacking basic communication and writing skills, suggests the latest PR industry report from the Public Affairs Asia, a network for the communications industry across the Asia Pacific region.

The report was developed in conjunction with talent resource agency Prospect. The report encompasses interviews with 40 communications practitioners across APAC and a survey of 356 responses.

Among many findings, one of the big internal challenges communications agencies are facing is a drop in the ‘bread and butter’ of basic skills, such as writing and editorial.

The report said too much time is being wasted bringing employees up to scratch with the basic skills.

Many agency heads find this concerning as content production is increasing.

“In marketing we are moving away from being the people who produce brochures to a team which gives good marketing strategy and who have cross-functional capabilities,” one department head said, according to the report.

“With online marketing, most marketers now need to be able to write. If I find someone who can write, I can train them to be a marketer. But a marketer who can’t write is very different.”

Another exec added: “For media work, for internal communications, for web content, for the intranet, content generation is important so everyone needs to write. It’s a problem across the regional team and as we move to digital, it’s going to become even more of a problem.”

And another area of concern is a disconnect between global marketing and local marketing – and what languages are used for each. The study is across the Asia Pacific region, where English is not the only language used.

The report said: “This results from a failure to develop truly bilingual communications functions. Some businesses are relying too heavily on local language in some markets, and some are relying too much on English in others.”

Too, focusing on how much communicating should be done on a global and local level is increasingly difficult. However, the report noted there was a continuing drive for localised content.

“For me personally, I need to get the right resource balance,” said one comms manager.

“The communications director’s role in this region is to be the bridge between the mother ship and the region and to ensure the resource balance is right.”

The report does note however that the general perception for an agency when it has both local and global clients is to have a local figure when the organisation is more public-facing, such as governmental.


Another challenge noted by the study is perception, and how comms agencies fight their case when budgets are constantly stretched.

“Many think communications is sending emails or distributing press releases. There are lots of hurdles to cross in educating some people within the business,” said one manager based in Hong Kong.

Too Much Time in response mode, not enough in thinking

When brand crises happen – which we’ve seen multiple times – many communications agencies are there managing the strategy and communications during the hard time.

And these capabilities are still with many agencies, however one comms practitioner believed the mindset was shifting to see comms agencies as business growth drivers.

“Traditionally, corporate affairs was seen as a reactive tool: clear up a mess, manage a crisis,” they said in the report.

“But increasingly corporate affairs is seen as a co-pilot to deliver growth for the business – a shift in mindset rather than capability.”

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