Transparency-culture values mean openness in bad times

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 February, 1999, 12:00am

Asian companies will face increasing pressure to improve the way they communicate with the market and abandon their tendency to 'retreat into the background' in tough times, according to a public relations expert.

Michael Morley, the New York-based deputy chairman of public relations consultancy Edelman, said during a visit to Hong Kong last week that the only way for Asian corporates to regain international confidence was to maintain a high communication level no matter how bad the economy.

'The general principle we commend is that you should communicate well through good times and bad, not just in the good times.

'We're living in a world where there's a massive push towards transparency and common guidelines to what you'll find in a company's annual report.

'This varies around the world but in the global economy there's going to be a lot of pressure for a degree of disclosure that won't come easily to certain Asian companies. It's not confined to here but it's certainly true of many companies here,' he said.

Mr Morley, who has worked at Edelman in New York for the past 15 years and in public relations for 38 years, is the author of a recently published book, How to Manage Your Global Reputation, and lectures on crisis management.

Asked how he would advise mainland officials to handle the crisis plaguing its international trust and investment corps he said public relations advisors 'shouldn't get above themselves in terms of imagining they can wave a magic wand above a crisis'.

'What you can do is explain very well what's being done, you can get feedback as to what the key audiences are wanting to know and should know and what the key issues and complaints are.

'You need to have a good dialogue with the client to urge them to address those issues, both in the reality and the explanation,' he said.

'But very often it means changing the reality and that's not easy to get done. We can influence quite a bit but you can't overestimate your own importance and sometimes we do.' On Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's PR problems, Mr Morley said Stephen Lam's appointment as information co-ordinator was 'a good first step' towards resolving them.

'But once you take a position you have to recognise that part of it is being visible and communicative and that's a very important thing to do.

'I think a greater degree of visibility on his [Tung's] part from what I've heard would go a long way towards lessening the criticism.' Edelman is providing advice to the H-share listing of Shandong International Power Development.