What do public relations practitioners have to learn when it comes to Auckland’s growing diverse communities?
The flyer from the Public Relations Institute of NZ was persuasive. It quoted Mayor Len Brown saying Auckland was made up of more than 100 ethnic communities and reminded public relations practitioners that a quarter of Aucklanders have Asian ancestry and another quarter identify themselves as Māori or Pasifika.
Then it invited the PR community to listen to six ethnic media experts talk about how New Zealand organisations can interact with these diverse groups.
There wasn’t a bad turnout – three dozen people. But if, as many think, this is a key issue for public relations people, why wasn’t the AUT Business School’s seminar room overflowing?
Ethnic media is booming in New Zealand. There are almost 50 ethnic and community radio stations, for example, and Triangle TV, Māori TV, TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika, WTV and Sky between them cater for at least 30 different language and cultural groups. And there are plenty of non-Eurocentric print options.
But Pacific media commentator Richard Pamatatau believes the public relations industry isn’t adapting fast enough to the changing media scene.
Pamatatau, who spoke at the PRINZ seminar, says many Pacific Islanders get all their news and information from programmes like Tagata Pasifika, or radio stations like 531pi, but that many public relations professionals are still concentrating on getting their messages in the NZ Herald, Fairfax, TVNZ and TV3 or mainstream radio.
“If they are doing their job responsibly they should be thinking about ethnic media, but many in the PR industry don’t understand this.”
Some of the problem is lack of knowledge, or fear of getting it wrong, Pamatatau says. “One PR person said to me: “Why should my CEO talk to you when he might not know much about your culture or language, and I might not have time to brief him on your needs.”
“But in fact, PR people have to get on top of diversity, not use it as an excuse to hide. The argument should be ‘Why am I not in the ethnic media?’”
Several media outlets now offer their own translation services for ads and other messages, which can help bridge the language and cultural divide.
Radio Tarana founder Robert Khan agrees there is a problem with ethnic media being sidelined when it comes to news events, but is optimistic about the future relationship with the PR industry. When he started his Indian community radio station sixteen years ago he realised he was going to have work very hard to get traction with the PR and advertising communities, he says, and “acceptance of diversity has been a slow process”.
However over the last four to five years, things have started to change. The recent national and local government elections had good examples of politicians and their PR people actively targeting diverse communities. Other examples include the NZ Police’s recent recruitment campaign for officers from diverse communities, and the Auckland District Health Board drive to encourage sick people to go to their GP, rather than the local hospital.
Khan says interactions between ethnic media and their communities can be different from those between mainstream media and their audiences. For example, the Indian community gets a lot of its information from events, so an organisation wanting to target Indian migrants might look at taking a stall at a local festival, rather than trying to get an article in the paper or a news item on radio. Radio Tarana has a commercial events arm, and puts together, on average, one event every 5-10 days. The Chinese and Pacific media networks also host events as a way of reaching their communities. “The PR industry needs to understand that,” says Khan.
Interestingly, Khan doesn’t think any lack of engagement between PR professionals and ethnic media stems from the “whiteness” of the PR industry. Although an average 30-strong student intake at AUT University’s public relations course will only have a couple of Maori students and similar numbers of Chinese or Indians, according to AUT’s PR programme leader Joseph Peart, Khan doesn’t think this is a big issue.
“The fact PR practitioners don’t reflect the community is not a problem,” he says. “The new breed of PR people has grown up in a new Auckland and their thinking is different. And some of the more experienced people in the game have reinvented themselves over the last five years.” Khan says it isn’t about the practitioner’s ethnicity, but about the person’s knowledge base and understanding of the changing population and media mix.
Gill Stewart, general manager of The Radio Bureau, which promotes ethnic (and other) radio stations, says the critical first step is simply letting companies (and their PR and advertising agencies) know about the importance of ethnic media and their audiences to the success of a particular campaign.
“The challenge is to move clients beyond the numbers game, beyond reach and frequency, and to look at the importance of reaching a particular segment in terms of their objectives.
“We encourage face-to-face conversations to ensure the message is getting through and we make sure we have case studies. It isn’t always easy, but once [executives] know and understand, it puts an ethnic media station onto their consideration set, and then we see it on the radar for future campaigns.”