Do you think Xylitol gum is better than other gums because of its anti-cavity function? Is it worth its expensive price? If your answer is ‘Yes,’ there is a man who feels happy about it. Sung-In Shin (Shin), president of KPR, the leading PR firm in Korea, is the man who managed public relations for Xylitol. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) met him and asked him about PR and his career.
Graduated from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Japanese division
Worked in the overseas business development division of Hyundai engineering & construction Co., Ltd.
Handled and supervised PR activities for Lilly, Baxter, Xylitol, TI, TAG Heuer, SAS, Shell, 3M, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Intel and several others for more than 21 years.
Currently in charge of overall communications activities, consulting and media training at KPR.
Also, an adjunct professor at the PR & Advertising department of Hanshin University.
SMT How did you start working as a PR consultant? And what do PR firms do?
Shin I had a job in the Hyundai group before. Since I studied foreign languages, I worked in the international business. I kept this job for over seven years, and after that I quit it for my family who wanted me not to work overseas. After that, I took charge of a planning office at an English magazine. While I worked there, I heard from foreigners that there were not many PR firms in Korea. One of my acquaintances who knew a lot about the service and PR-related fields set up a new corporation and I joined. It was challenging because PR firms had not existed in Korea before. However, I wanted to feel fruitful as I planned a project and get a result from it. PR-related work needs your experience and network to communicate with our society. The origin of the word ‘communication’ is communicare, which is Latin for ‘share.’ Money and property disappear as you share them, but communication doesn’t. If I share my knowledge with someone, it is helpful for each other. It can contribute to making a better society of great mutual understanding. A PR firm is a backstage consultant which helps people communicate in better ways. We pursue the public good and we think the view of the client is important, too. Therefore, we do not take on clients such as tobacco companies, predatory lenders and gambling organizations.
SMT There are many people who think PR is the same as advertising. Could you tell us the difference between PR and advertising, and the importance of PR?
Shin In PR, dealing with media relations is called ‘publicity,’ but publicity is one of the wider parts of PR. PR is becoming important as companies have to communicate well with internal customers and the local community for their growth. For example, when a company wants to build a factory, they have to make citizens agree to the project. Also, they should obtain their approval for the favorable progress of construction. At this stage, PR can play a great role between the company and citizens, opinion leaders and NGOs. If they have mutual understanding in a positive way, there will be more jobs which are good for a local community. Therefore, the realm of PR is very wide and makes companies improve so that society can grow in harmony. It is a kind of win-win strategy. The philosophy of PR is similar to that of democracy, accepting a majority decision, and it is essential to lead the agreement of the people. In the process, PR performs the role of engineering.
SMT When do you feel worthwhile as a PR consultant?
Shin This program is sponsored by Mcdonalds, which is our client and Severance Hospital. We manage a program for child cancer patients, helping them to return to school. Prudential life insurance Company also sponsors a national student volunteer work contest, “Prudential spirit of community,” which is for activating the culture of sharing, every year. It is very fruitful to make our clients contribute to society by creating jobs, doing some activities and sponsoring programs for teenagers. Through managing those kinds of clients, KPR has become popular and successful in marketing. Also, we created new territories for PR: sports marketing, health care PR, online PR, public service and issue & crisis management. By extending the range of PR, we let people know its diversity.
SMT KPR has many famous clients such as Canon, Pulmuone, 3M Korea, Philips. What kind of service do you offer to them? And what is sports marketing?
Shin We have various kinds of clients and they need different services. For example, Canon has many PR events. Not just for people who participate in events, but also for people who cannot be there, we try to provide a lot of information about our products widely. And we manage an online blog and caf for Pulmuone. 3M is also our client. We help them out by spreading their motto, innovation and creativity, and they sponsor a science camp every year. We help Philips to launch new products. Also, we won the ‘Consumer Launch Campaign of the Year’ award in the 2008 Asia Pacific PR Awards for the Arcitec, Philips’ new dry shaver. In the case of sports marketing, during the 2002 World Cup, Nike sponsored the national soccer team. When people feel excitement in soccer game, and are exposed to of brands, for example the swoosh mark of Nike, they become familiar with it unconsciously. Actually, brand recognition of our client who sponsored the World Cup increased by 20 percent. Our company is the only PR firm serving a sports marketing in Korea. The management company of Yu-Na Kim, the figure skater, is our client, too. We train her in what to do or not to do when she goes abroad and appears in the media. Also, when Thierry Daniel Henry, a soccer player, came to Korea, we sponsored his signing events and media appearances.
SMT What is the most successful result in KPR’s career and has KPR experienced failure in the PR service?
Shin Xylitol gum came out first in 1997. At that time the cost of Xylitol was 10 times more expensive than sugar even though they taste the same. The price of general gum was 300 won, but Xylitol gum was 500 won. It was hard to inform customers of the value of that 200 won, which was the difference between the two gums. Also, Xylitol disappeared from the market as the IMF crash worsened business conditions. However, Xylitol gum took the first ranking in Japan, so the company came to us. We said that it would be better to advertise it through dentists because they know that Xylitol prevents tooth decay. At first, Xylitol gum was sold in dental surgeries. It gave people faith and was successful to inform them about the effective function of Xylitol. Today, Xylitol gum takes 70 percent of the national gum market. The above is a successful example of PR, but there aren’t always good cases in PR companies. In the early 2000s, there was a boom in venture businesses. We had many clients from venture businesses, and they paid us in stocks, as a fee. However, many venture businesses failed and our clients did, too. From this experience, we became more careful.
SMT KPR also sponsors a university student PR idea contest. Why did it begin, and what factors are considered when judging this contest?
Shin To commemorate the 2003 IPRA (International Public Relations Association) golden world award, we started a university student PR idea contest. It also contributes to an improvement of the national PR industry and scouts for original PR ideas among young people. When we assess the contest, creativity and possibility are important factors of judgment. That’s because if you can make great use of the knowledge you gain from school, it can be welcomed in society. Also, it has to be persuasive and presentation skill is essential.