Public Relations – What Indonesia Taught Me

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As a marketing professional, and a Bachelor of Communication student, I understand there’s a lot of different areas that fall under the umbrella term ‘marketing’. One niche that is often disregarded in Australia is public relations (PR). A recent trip to our closest neighbour, Indonesia, really cemented this fact. I learnt a thing or two about the industry.

Earlier this year, along with 17 fellow students from the University of Newcastle, I was selected to travel to Java island for two weeks to study public relations. Each student in our group was awarded the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading’s New Columbo Plan scholarship. The experience allowed us to visit Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Malang. We were allowed to work with a real-world Indonesian client, developing communication strategies and enhancing our PR skills. The fortnight was filled with tourism unique to our profession, and there was plenty of things I took away from the experience.

Instagram is on the rise

Everywhere you look, any advertisement you see, there’s that little Instagram logo. Whenever a business wanted you to know their name, or check out their products/services, they directed you to their Instagram. It demonstrated the importance of social media and the global shift towards the platform. For me, this reinforced my belief in Instagram. While it’s newer than Facebook, Instagram has gained popularity faster. For many social media users, it’s becoming the platform of choice.

It seems the Instagram stories feature is one of the reasons for such success. As we already know, it’s more popular than Facebook stories. We also believe it’s more useful for brands than Snapchat stories. This makes it the most popular of the big story-featuring platforms. Our visit to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta seemed to prove this point. The Director of the Online Communications Section, Nicholas Kittle, told us that Jakarta is one of the most Instagram-storied cities in the world. And with 150 million local smartphone users, and a few hundred more in tourism, that’s a lot of people using Instagram. Our hotel even had an Instagram cut-out frame to promote their business (and, in turn, the platform itself)!

Your brand needs to be on social media. And, if appropriate to your target market, Instagram is the one to watch.

Audience matters

Being completely immersed in the industry, Nicholas also touched on digital communication. He said research is important because it can identify who your audience is and how best to reach them. It was this attention to audience that has caused a gradual shift in his team’s approach to content creation.

Nicholas said there’s been a move away from anchored content, and more toward what he calls a “socials first” approach. He and his team used to publish content to their website, then share this to their social media. However, it seemed this method wasn’t connecting with the target audience. Now, they use Instagram – a platform we know their audience is already using – and the content they publish is very visual, meaning it would suit social media more than a website.

Nicholas says this “socials first” approach also works for their business because it allows his team to be at the forefront of news and current affairs, which keeps their audience informed too. If a press release is issued, it can be pushed out on social media straight away, rather than waiting for people to find it on the website.

This method may not work for everyone. The Embassy is a niche that may be unrelated to your brand. The lesson is; the audience matters. Find out who your audience is, and how best to reach them, and adjust your practice accordingly.

Relationships are important

Your audience is important, but so too are your connections. The network you build in your professional life can have a huge impact on your work. Our tutor had an existing relationship with a tutor at Universitas Brawijaya (UB). It was this relationship that formed the foundations of our trip and added extras that we may not have otherwise experienced. While our tutor offered 18 keen students, the UB tutor offered a select group of her students to accompany us, as well as space at the university to study. The UB students provided valuable insights into Indonesia and their studies and even helped us with tricky language barriers throughout the trip. We had language and PR classes at the university thanks to both tutors’ connections. And it was thanks to the UB tutor’s local knowledge that we were able to secure our PR client in Malang.

The public relations industry is all about relationships, and we recommend getting involved in your local community and global industry, immersing yourself in networking.

How Public Relations is perceived

The power of public relations is evident to the people of Indonesia. Our trip to the country’s leading PR association, PERHUMAS, shone a new light on the industry. Freddie and Nia, from PERHUMAS, spoke at length about the rise in PR. They said more and more PR practitioners are cropping up around Indonesia. Because of this, students graduating tertiary education in journalism, PR or media, are already more competitive than those studying other areas.

The primary public relations body in Australia, PRIA, works to promote and enhance PR and the industry’s status to the broader community. Meanwhile, PERHUMAS’s main goal is to unite the various cultures, dialects, understandings and people of Indonesia. Perhaps it’s this is the reason that PR is a more trusted area in Indonesia than in Australia. While Australian PR practitioners may be labelled as “spin doctors”, all of Indonesia (right up to Government officials) believes PR will work towards bettering the nation.

The Indonesian Prime Minister, Joko Widodo, even said: “public relations practitioners throughout Indonesia should not be limited to managing information, but rather participate in building narratives that are interesting, meaningful, characterized and contain national values.”

Heading Home

I hope that this enthusiastic attitude towards public relations spreads to Australia. An awareness of how it fits in with marketing and communication makes all the difference. Especially to those practising within the industry.

Indonesia taught me a lot – even outside of the classroom. As a student and marketing professional, immersion experiences like this are very valuable. I can’t wait to put my new skills to work back at home.

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Our team worked together on this blog! Click the logo to check out our team page, and learn more about the faces behind The Marketing GP.
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