Transcending the Sri Lankan Public Relations industry

Thursday, 19 November 2020 01:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

PR Wire Founder and Group Chairman Ashan Kumar


Public Relations (PR) results in successful brand reputation and image. Innovative PR, on the other hand, can move markets for the brand. In the rapidly changing socio-political and economic dynamic, PR too has been transforming into a future-proof and innovation-driven exercise that needs to connect and resonate directly with one’s stakeholders and audience or in PR terms, ‘publics’ to create value driven impact and action. 

With rapid changes – such as globalisation and technological proliferation – and unprecedented shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic instability, and unemployment taking place across the globe, the need for innovative PR and stronger reputation management for organisations and brands has never been greater. PR Wire – a local PR startup founded in 2010 and completing a decade of operations in Sri Lanka this year as a mid-size strategic consultancy amid such uncertainty – has succeeded against all odds due to its strident and innovation-driven approach. 

The company has grown steadily over the past decade – netting several corporate clients, forging partnerships with global PR giants, and even going on to bring home the PR World Awards. In this exclusive interview, PR Wire Group Founder and Group Chairman Ashan Kumar reveals the mantras that inspired Wire Group’s futuristic outlook.

It all started in 2008, when Ashan sat in his room one night and envisioned the idea to set up a Sri Lankan Public Relations startup. Little did he know then, that his local venture would grow to become a regional Public Relations Consultancy, eventually becoming part of the global PR industry. The ideas which transpired a young PR professional has progressed to a Group which entails a growing and not limited to, seven strategic consultancy units, ranging from a cross section of Strategic Public Relations, Reputation and Crisis Management, Business and Market Intelligence, Impact Relations and Sustainability Relations specialisations. 

Ashan’s first startup PR Wire was founded on the ‘triple bottom line model’ to connect and give back to the community – a concept that is now embraced by his entire Group of companies. The strategic consultancy firm has grown to become a training ground for the next generation of Knowledge Consultants which believes in empowering and grooming the next era of talent in Sri Lanka. 

Ashan believes that his efforts will transcend the boundaries of the Sri Lankan PR industry. He also believes that recognising and highlighting the local sector in the context of global PR industry can elevate Sri Lanka to new heights – exposing it to an ever-growing global clientele while supporting and linking local firms with international markets.

An old boy of Wesley College Colombo, Ashan’s entrepreneurship story is one of grit and perseverance. 

The beginning

Ashan elaborates: “My aim has always been to bridge the local PR industry with global best practices. This requires empowering and building local talent and capacity, especially because of the increasing gap that the local communications industry possesses. Moreover, most top professionals in the field have now taken on leadership roles in other organisations, thereby creating a vacuum in the industry for reputed, experienced set of skilled specialties.”

“We have set on ourselves a mission to continue to inspire the next generation of knowledge consultants in the industry. Staying true to our commitment to diversity and inclusivity, I strongly advocate the empowerment of all individuals through imparting the right skill-sets and training which will help them flourish in the industry,” he added.

PR Wire’s steady growth over the past decade is attributed to Ashan’s strong commitment to building his startup – which oftentimes has stretched into ‘25-hour days’. Today, the Wire Communications Consultancy Group supports the largest client base in Sri Lanka in Strategic Communications and Reputation Management. 

The Group directly engages market enterprises of all scales – micro, small, medium and large – both local and global. The Group focuses on a diverse range of Strategic Public Relations services through continuous research, development and innovation. “We often support many local causes and companies who are unable to set aside a budget for their marketing or outreach requirements. We have always risen to support these entities with our expertise. It is normal for businesses to think that money is the only currency, but this is not what we believe in and for us it has always being the evolving network, partnerships and actions which bring in greater impact that has brought us to where we are,” Ashan stated. 

He added, “If something new doesn’t take place in our consultancy services even for a week, I feel bored! My energetic team keeps me going with their passion, dedication and constant intelligent research. I’m always keen to see what these enthusiastic and agile talents bring to our table.

“It has been my vision to elevate the local PR practice with global PR norms to showcase to the world that Sri Lanka’s PR industry is on par with that of any developed country. I didn’t inherit a legacy, property or any funds to help me go after my dream. All I saw was an opportunity through research which made me realise that the local clientele was passionately pursuing Public Relations.

He added: “The thought of leaving the corporate world to become an entrepreneur always had its share of worries. Back then, it was extremely hard to find an ecosystem of support. I was unsure and hesitant about when I would have to make that move, and so was everyone I consulted for advice in this regard. I finally decided to take the plunge. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I struggled at every step of the way. The only thing that kept me going was the belief that I could make a difference in how the PR practice was then perceived as and for.

“I noticed that the world was evolving to demand stronger communications that were impact and action-led. This made me realise that the industry I was passionate about, had a larger purpose to fulfil – with regard to the corporate world, political sphere and governance, social and cultural issues, environmental sustainability, and the community at large. ‘Communications’ was turning out to be more strategic and was reaching out to the DNA of everything that was out there – it is now the common constant.

“After I was able to convince, assure and get on board my first three clients, PR Wire’s momentum continued to build and we never looked back ever since. I would like to acknowledge and appreciate the trailblazing entrepreneur Rajitha Dahayanake who boldly believed in our offerings at the very beginning and enlisted us for his services. Another significant role in our early stage was that of Ajith Abeysekera, Chairman of Aspirations Education, whose constant advice, guidance and constructive discussions made me think of my moral duty to our motherland. These individuals inspired me. I cannot forget my industry gurus Jayantha Sittampalam who introduced me to the world of Public Relations and Nimal Gunawardene who helped me realise the importance of learning every day and Rezani Aziz and Pia Hatch who moulded me and helped me realise my full potential. And the rest was history!”

Global recognition for a local communications consultancy

PR Wire – which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2020 – currently serves a multitude of Sri Lankan corporate clients and global level projects, leading in purpose driven conversations and impact. The company has been amassing global recognition by winning several global PR awards while competing with some of the most renowned global giants in the Public Relations space.

PR Wire has won the most coveted PR World Awards thrice so far – winning the Gold award in 2017 and 2019, and the Silver award in 2020. It was also awarded the runner-up position for ‘Best Agencies to Work for in Asia-Pacific’ under the Mid-Size category in August 2020 from New York-based PRovoke Media (previously known as The Holmes Report). This is a true testament to how it enables its team; the company has been a natural in fostering the team towards self-development and empowerment, inspiring leadership and self-responsibility.

The strategic Public Relations firm continued with its winning streak this year by getting globally recognised for its global business outlook as well as the culture and values bestowed during these challenging times. To that effect, PR Wire found itself amongst the very best when it won the Bronze award – under the category ‘Company Response of the Year – Creative Ways Companies are Giving Back During COVID-19’ – for its COVID-19 initiatives, at the 2020 Golden Bridge Innovation Awards – which saw entries from several top corporates in the world. Additionally, the company also won the Bronze award at the Pillar World Awards for team Diversity and Inclusion. 

Ashan was also awarded the Professional Hero of the Year – Silver award at the CEO World Awards 2020. CEO World Awards celebrate the achievements of leaders, executives, and their management teams behind the year’s most outstanding initiatives and achievements. This year’s special focus was on COVID disruption and Ashan’s leadership and excellent decision making have enabled PR Wire to stay afloat and weather the storm.

These awards were acquired competing with global corporate giants and further elevated PR Wire into the sphere of global recognition.

Inspired to innovate

The Wire team is encouraged and trained to innovate and execute various strategic avenues with all clients – whether it’s a start-up or a larger company. Team members who show record performance levels are more than merely rewarded, especially owing to the founder’s compassion and camaraderie with his fellow team members. He has always considered his team as family and has never let the employer-employee dynamic be felt. In turn, the team has always pulled through with their loyalty, commitment and dedication – both on and off site. This is evident in the performance evaluations and finesse of service that the entire team is reputed for.

The Wire Group’s authentic leadership style has played a pivotal role in the company’s smooth sailing thus far and has driven the organisation to be nothing short of the best, focusing purely on Public Relations as a practice.

“I believe in empowering and inspiring my team. Motivation is important, but inspiring and empowering ‘others’ is how you bring the best out of the best. I truly believe that inspiration comes from within, and this is what we focus on. An organisation cannot move far merely based on the inspiration that’s sparked within an individual. The collective inspiration and efforts of the entire team as a whole is what creates real value and confidence in our service offerings,” noted Ashan.

He insists that integrity and strong values are of utmost importance especially when PR Wire welcomes a new member to the team. He adds: “An individual’s attitude and view towards purpose-driven conversations and responsibility always takes priority and we will empower anyone who is willing to learn, unlearn and relearn.”

More strategic consultancy

The idea of a ‘stakeholder’ in PR is also changing rapidly. Anyone affected by a company’s product or service is a stakeholder, and a successful PR activity should reach every stakeholder, focusing on communications at this level and no less.  

“One cannot be reactive to one’s competitor or their methodologies. You need to find your own purpose as a brand and a corporate. The publics – which include your customers and target audience – are yearning for better connection with a brand or a company, they are watching you, what you stand for, and what you believe in. This connects directly to a person and creates an aspirational impact,” says Ashan, while also adding that, “A company, brand or person will need to be brand purpose ambassadors to thrive and clearly differentiate themselves in the minds of their consumers.”

Public Relations as we knew has evolved to what we now call Strategic Public Relations (SPR). SPR now sits at the intersection of an organisation’s strategic direction and the strategic communications employed to arrive at the set goals, targets and objectives. Over the past decade, it has outgrown traditional media relations to be more methodical and data-driven. 

The SPR cycle should ultimately define what a brand, company and person stands for – its core purpose driven by trust. In an age of informed consumerism, the only way to create an impact is to drive meaningful conversations. Creating that Brand Trust is imperative and PR Wire strongly advocates and implements a strategic process.

Impact is key for audiences in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. For one to understand how the audience has received the message and how it has impacted them, Strategic Public Relations has to be integrated to your efforts. In today’s PR however, impact does not stop here. Marketers, CEOs and Management are now responsible to look beyond profit and finding their true essence in a triple bottom line philosophy. 

An optimistic future

Discussing the future of Public Relations and PR Wire’s ambitions, Ashan optimistically reveals: “It is time for PR Wire to start its offshore expansion – the Asia Pacific (APAC) regions are now on our radar. I truly believe that this will take PR Wire to new levels. We will continue to innovate with a global PR mindset with local roots” he explained. “We will continue to further uplift our country with our strengths. I believe that several opportunities will open up for many purpose-led individuals as we drive our strengths towards strategic geographical expansions.

“Our team will be constantly elevated with continuous skills development training and related initiatives. We plan on investing heavily in areas such as research and development, service and new product innovation and consultation.”

He concluded this interesting conversation with, “Success, to me, is directly connected to my heart – the happiness felt within and the happiness shared with those who place their trust in us. That is what we believe in!”