Six talking points from the Asia Pacific IN2 Summit in Singapore

From fake news to corporate activism, the rise of podcasts and the decline of advertising - global PR experts gathered in Singapore to discuss the industry's hottest topics.

Cannings Purple 20 Sep 2019
6 mins
Speakers at the IN2Summit in Singapore

Ah, Singapore – home to humidity, chilli crab, some of the best hawker centres you’d ever hope to find and, of course, The Holmes Report Asia Pacific IN2Summit for 2019.

I was lucky enough to fly north from Perth for last week’s Summit and the associated SABRE Awards (Cannings Purple was named Asia Pacific Corporate/Financial Consultancy of the Year) and found a very interesting melting pot of ideas and conversations, as PR professionals gathered from around the globe.

Here are some of my favourite talking points…

Fake news on the agenda at IN2 Summit Singapore

Fake news was very much on the agenda at IN2 Summit in Singapore.

1. Why fake news ‘works’ and what it means to real journalism

If anyone has ever wondered how fake news takes hold (and then spreads), there’s a simple and human explanation: by appealing to our emotions, it hits many of the “right buttons” from a content perspective.

The point was made well by Ruder Finn’s Martin Alintuck and Nithun Nandakumar in a very interesting Summit presentation around research undertaken into content consumption in Southeast Asia.

So what can be done about it? As Cannings Purple’s Director of Media Strategy Peter Klinger identified earlier in the year, the best antidote to fake news is quality and truthful storytelling – and that equation opens up real opportunities for established and trusted news brands. But as SPRG General Manager Edwin Yeo pointed out in Singapore, this also requires journalists taking time to get their heads around key issues and not getting dragged into the myth-repeating game (such as the oft-uttered falsity that Amazon rainforests provide 20 per cent of the world’s oxygen).

Subscribe to The 268 newsletter

Ruder Finn's Nithun Nandakumar talks content.

Ruder Finn’s Nithun Nandakumar talks content.

2. Content everywhere – but what do we really want?

There were some truly fascinating results to emerge out of Ruder Finn’s research – notably that 63 per cent of respondents admitted to making unplanned purchases purely based on content. The attributes they sought from content were entertainment, educational value and passion about a subject, with brand itself ranking well down the list.

Some of the research results seem arguable. Nearly 80 per cent of people may say they want factual and straightforward content in preference to emotional material. But surely that only holds true for specific subjects that lend themselves purely to simple facts and figures? It also doesn’t explain the popularity of fake news.

One of the most interesting revelations was the 52 per cent of respondents who said they had an appetite for the written word ahead of video. How does that stack up when more than 80 per cent of internet traffic by 2022 is predicted to be video?

My own personal take is that the best types of video have real impact and are imperative to any content mix. But video has to add something different and new to a conversation to be truly relevent. If it just repeats what’s already known or has been written, what’s the point in producing it?

Matthew Briant and Graham Brown discuss the Asian podcasting scene.

Matthew Briant and Graham Brown discuss the Asian podcasting scene.

3. The noise around podcasts is worth listening to

If you wanted a pointer to the fact podcasts are increasingly valuable commercial commodities, consider Asia Tech Podcast host Graham Brown’s revelation at the IN2 Summit that AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes wants to build a business out of them. There’s someone with a decent eye for an investment!

In an on-stage discussion with Hill + Knowlton Strategies’ Matthew Briant, Brown also raised the issue of company employees either hosting or appearing on podcasts. That requires a shift away from the traditional corporate stance of businesses being “gatekeepers” to their people’s voices – and there is risk incumbent in that. But who better to advocate for any business than the people who work there? As Brown put it: “Stop chasing influencers, your best influencers are your own people. Each of them knows another 150 people.”

Karun Budhraja talks technology at IN2 Summit Singapore.

Karun Budhraja had some fascinating insights on technology.

4. Data v humanity: which one adds up?

An ever-present theme in Singapore: the desire/need for companies to improve/refine the way they use data to generate better communications/decisions.

An equally omnipresent theme? That data-driven businesses must have a natural counterbalance through the human touch. As Armadeus’ Karun Budhraja explained, “half-baked data means algorithms that are also half-baked” and “voice assistants and chatbots may simplify customer experiences but empathy is still hard for them to understand.” GE South Asia Chief Communications Officer Rachana Panda had a similarly insightful take: “Technology is how we do things but people are why we do it.”

The value of advertising spend was under the microscope.

The value of advertising spend was under the microscope.

5. The tug-of-war between advertising and PR

A rapid-fire presentation by Aly Ang from W Communications contained some real talking points, namely the assertion that ordinary people don’t care about ads despite the advertising industry being forecast to grow to be worth $616 billion globally by the end of the year.

Can the comparatively “little” PR industry grab a slice of that pie, through an eye for organically appealing content and a strong connection to the journalists who produce our news? Ang says “yes”, pointing to the success of a pizza-for-bees stunt by Papa John’s (a W Communications client) as evidence.

Corporate activism was a major conversation at IN2 Summit Singapore.

Corporate activism was a major conversation at IN2 Summit Singapore.

6. Is it worth rocking the boat to take a stand?

Last but definitely not least: the very complex (and newsworthy) matter of whether brands and businesses should take stands on social issues and, if so, how should they approach that?

The first half of that equation is the simpler part … at least as far as employees go. As Weber Shandwick’s Darren Burns explained, workers now expect their bosses to be prepared to speak publicly on controversial issues – and those who aren’t up for it risk being viewed in a negative light. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce raised a similar point-of-view this week in defending the airline against criticism of its activism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Two panel discussions at IN2Summit tackled the activism topic at a broader level and every guest on stage agreed that taking a stand was important. As GE’s Panda put it: “Every brand has a personality and people know what to expect. We are a global brand so we have to talk about global issues – like globalisation and free trade.”

But there were plenty of riders to the support. From knowing where every part of your business sits when it comes to an issue (“you have to get your own hypocritical house in order”) to the challenge of convincing CEOs and leaders of the worth of taking a stance (“it’s hard to talk to power) and the fact corporate activism is rarely risk-free (“taking a stand may cost you”).

It was perhaps telling that with Hong Kong’s unrest lurking as a hard-to-ignore backdrop to In2 Summit Asia Pacific, none of the speakers was particularly willing to offer any advice as to how Cathay Pacific might tackle that ongoing situation.

Sometimes even hypothetically taking a stand can be challenging!

The Holmes Report’s IN2 Summit is a global network of events that explore the innovation, disruption and evolution that has — and continues to — redefine influence and engagement. They are held in conjunction with the SABRE Awards, which celebrate superior achievement in branding and recognition.

Simon White is Cannings Purple’s Content Editor and manages The 268, our content and news hub, which was a finalist in the Branded Journalism category of the 2019 Asia Pacific SABRE Awards. He is a former editor of both and WAtoday. Email Simon.

More Cannings Purple news:

Photos thanks to The Holmes Report/IN2 Summit Singapore.