VUCA environment and PR readiness to face the challenges

By Hani Kartini Marzuki

GOMBAK, 18 July 2021: In the face of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment, the public relations (PR) industry is finding ways to progress and adapt to the new norm and understand what VUCA really means to the industry, a webinar was told on Saturday.

A PR Lecture Series 2021 on the theme “PR Readiness in Facing a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous Environment” was hosted by the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia Student Association (IPRMSA)-IIUM Chapter where two prominent speakers were the guests at the webinar.

They were Prof. Dato’ Sri Dr. Syed Arabi Idid, a senior professor from IIUM’s Department of Communication, and Mr. Jaffri Amin Osman, Vice President of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia (IPRM) and a public relations consultant.

Prof. Syed Arabi, in his presentation, spoke on the three biggest crisis situations in Malaysia which were the Malayan Emergency (1948 to 1960), the 13 May 1969 incident (handled by the National Operations Council), and the present COVID-19 emergency. He analysed how each crisis situation was handled and communicated by the government.

He further said that there were many discussions being done on previous crisis situations, however, he added, they lacked written studies to draw a solid communication crisis theory that can be used in the PR industry.

He said, “We need empirical evidence to develop theories in crises. To understand the current crisis, we need to review and analyse previous emergencies and how they were being communicated.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also shifted the way information is being circulated. According to Prof. Syed Arabi, the rise of social media had led to the loss of monopoly of the government in providing news and information to the people. 

In the present emergency, he said, people are free to react to information using the new media making it extremely hard to identify fabricated news. The concept of fake news may have given rise to the infodemic that we face today, he added.

He further argued that the attention given to the traditional media is now being occupied by the new media. Based on statistics he presented, the professor said the usage of traditional media has gone down by 28 percent as of May 2021, however, the usage of new media has increased significantly.

He opined that the current government should best consider to boost utilisation of these new media platforms to spread messages and information of today’s crisis.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jaffri emphasised the concept of three Es in preparing today’s youth to face the VUCA environment. The three Es are Education (be it formal or non-formal), Exposure, and Experience. 

In contrast to Prof Syed’s presentation, Mr. Jaffri focused more on self-development and preparedness for the industry in facing the VUCA environment.

According to Mr. Jaffri, youths will be more resilient in facing challenges if they have been exposed to challenging situations and have personally experienced handling those situations. 

In the PR industry, we can observe the impact a pandemic has had on PR agencies and advertising firms when they are forced to stop operating.

Mr. Jaffri mentioned that since they are unclear how long this epidemic will persist, most companies are focusing their budget on crisis management. Some are even adjusting their strategies to account for other considerations such as employee engagement and healthcare.

He opined that post pandemic, organisations might consider continuing with working from home considering the fact that this working trend has still managed to produce the desired outcome.

Empathy is a key component of the SQUARE acronym, according to Mr. Jaffri. Empathy should be practised regardless of where you are in the hierarchy. Its relevance is especially important at this epidemic time, when crises are happening on a global scale. 

“We need to empathise not just analyse” is a quote that Mr. Jaffri Amin Osman or as he prefers to be called Uncle Jeff, keeps on highlighting. It is a very wonderful phrase that emphasises the need of living in a peaceful condition of consideration for others.

He said that we must be creative in utilising all of our resources in coping with a VUCA environment while also having more empathy than ever for people who are suffering with this difficult situation.

Attended by PR professionals, academicians, and students from other universities like Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA), Taylor University and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), who represented their respective student chapters, the webinar took place through Zoom platform and was broadcast live on YouTube.***

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