At a recent regional corporate affairs meeting, I spoke to a CEO of a global bank to find out his priorities over the next three years. With confidence, he immediately replied, ‘There are three countries to which we accord priority: China, India and Indonesia. These are the countries where we [want to] invest, to grow."
When hearing this, I felt great pride. Indonesia has become a prime focus, along with two other Asian giants. This global bank, with its far-reaching network, believes that Indonesia is an excellent arena and is a key player in the Asia Pacific region.
However, there are many other multinational companies that believe in Indonesia's great potential. Various research consultants with vast international experience have also said that Indonesia has all the requirements to be a key player in the region: it has a conflux of demographic advantages, it is abundant in natural resources, it has a large, productive and young population and has a unique strategic geographical position.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo also expressed his great optimism in this regard.
"We have been given only 15 years into the future to transition. If it is successful, we will take off. If not, we will be stuck on the runway. Other countries will race forward, while we trail behind. That’s what we do not want to do," he said.
Jokowi was referring to predictions by global consultant company, McKinsey Global Institute, which in 2012 released a report that the archipelago nation could become the world’s seventh largest by 2030 in terms of economic size — up from its 16th position now— overtaking developed countries like Germany and the United Kingdom. This underlines our attractiveness as a world magnet.
While Southeast Asia’s largest economy offers an attractive value proposition — from its demography, population and natural resources — it also has homework to do, such as improving its investment climate, developing infrastructure and claiming its place as the seventh largest.
The big question is, how will all Indonesians respond, once they come to know this? Will they feel part of the progress, aware of their potential and engaged in securing this goal?
This is where public relations becomes critical. Even with the acknowledgment of our great potential, with all the hopes and efforts of the government, the average Indonesian does not seem to be aware of this. It is unfortunate that our own people often enjoy disparaging our country more than highlighting its positive achievements.
Indonesia urgently needs public relations practitioners who have global insight coupled with a strong sense of patriotism. Public relations efforts should strategically be geared towards promoting Indonesia's success stories and capturing the interest of would-be investors.
Public relations road map
The role of public relations over the next 15 years should first begin with appraising the current condition of our public relations efforts. In doing so, we must take into account that the profession has managed to evolve rapidly in a relatively short period.
For example, there are more than 200 public relations and communications courses are offered across Indonesia today. This is, in fact, the largest number of public relations and communications programs to be offered in Asean. The sheer number of programs makes Indonesia a more advanced and progressive public relations environment than its neighboring countries.
Nevertheless, the contribution of public relations has not been sufficiently appreciated locally, compared to the achievements of other professions such as marketing or advertising. That is why, in my view, we need to examine and modify certain issues with the program and profession.
First, its needs a new paradigm. In several discussions held with international practitioners, the issue was raised that Indonesian public relations professionals are unable to successfully sell positive news about Indonesia internationally.
This is despite the fact that the profession itself has become a borderless career without limits. With just one click, news, whether it is accurate, positive or otherwise, can immediately reach the entire world.
Therefore, Indonesia needs professionals or well-known spokesmen who can endorse and advocate on its behalf, to convey key messages about Indonesia and why investors should consider investing in the country. This requires a comprehensive public relations plan.
Second, expectations of the profession are becoming greater. The public relations professional must not only act as a spokesman but must also be the eyes and ears for his or her organization, working on a full-time basis.
Those in the profession must continue to adapt and upgrade their skills and must be well versed in other fields include law, marketing, socioeconomics, social media and political dynamics in order to effectively carry out their work. To borrow a popular phrase, a public relations practitioner must become the jack of all trades.
Third, the pressures of globalization and the emergence of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Economic Community (AEC) add a whole new dimension to this profession.
Public relations in Indonesia should ideally be able to capture, follow and adapt to developing trends and dynamic issues, speed to market being the key concept here.
When it comes to public relations, we tend to solely dwell on technical competence, key messages and exposure. Ideally, creative public relations is also coupled with an innovative mindset and the ability to think out of the box.
Above all, we need a framework, a holistic approach, transcending the sectoral ego, with the full collaboration of all stakeholders.
Public relations in Indonesia should be the unifying factor, instead of a fragmented puzzle. If achieving these economic goals by 2030 is too big a plan, then all public relations practitioners in Indonesia, whether private or government -backed, should work together.
15 years is not much time if what we want is a more progressive Indonesia, ready for takeoff, to develop into a country with great economic potential. If all the key people come to know, care about and dedicate themselves to the greater goal, then you and I and the entire 255 million citizens will prosper.
Agung Laksamana is the chairman of the Public Relations Association of Indonesia and a director at Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd (APRIL), a producer of fiber, pulp and paper with a production base in Indonesia.