“I want to do PR because I like to talk and meet new people”.
“This is so different from what I studied in University.”
These are just some of the common remarks that mentors or supervisors hear from interns or fresh graduates, indicating a mismatch in the perception about PR versus its reality. Choosing a career path is a challenging and daunting life decision for most fresh graduates, more so in a challenging job market amid the current pandemic. So, it is important to have a clear understanding of one’s choice, especially before jumping headfirst into the world of Public Relations (PR) and Communications.
On a mission to help fresh graduates understand the true meaning of PR and what it really takes to thrive in this industry, Centriq PR Managing Director, Jacqueline Arnold, recently engaged Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) Kampar campus undergraduates and faculty members with a webinar, titled ‘So, you want to be in PR?’.
Arnold moderated the panel comprising Axiata Group Berhad Vice President and Head of Group Corporate Communications and Sustainability, Saffura Chinniah; Linde Malaysia Sdn Bhd Head of Communications, ASEAN, Valerine Lee; and MCT Berhad General Manager and Head of Corporate Communications, Alex Lim. The following are key points from the vibrant discussion, vital for fresh graduates to ponder upon before making that all-important decision:
UNDERSTAND WHAT PR AND COMMUNICATIONS IS AND ISN’T
Jacqueline: PR is about relationships with your stakeholders. So, understanding your stakeholders is fundamental in building strong relationships with your Clients and with your Client’s stakeholders. It also helps to cultivate a relationship with business partners such as the media, which today, extends beyond the traditional platforms to include influencers and key opinion leaders. PR is also about storytelling and creating content to put out onto various channels that we have today.
Valerine: PR and Communications covers a vast role including shaping a positive perception about a company, architecting the DNA of a brand, providing counsel to senior management or clients, stakeholder engagement, corporate communication, crisis communications and issues management, event management and media relations.
Jacqueline: Another important point fresh graduates should understand is the difference between in-house PR and Communications departments versus external PR and Communications agencies. In-house PR and Communications departments cater to the needs of one organisation within a specific industry. PR and Communications agencies are independent and cater to the needs of Clients or organisations from various industries. Agencies usually work with in-house PR and Communications departments to offer unbiased external counsel and act as an extension to handle projects where the department requires additional resources.
PR professionals are NOT spin doctors and PR does not fabricate or twist facts to make a company, brand or individual look good.
EMBRACING THE NEW NORMAL IN PR AND COMMUNICATIONS
Jacqueline: The impact from the pandemic is felt by businesses across industries. During this time, PR and Communications is even more relevant and important than ever before within organisations and among stakeholders.
Saffura: The first three months of the pandemic put many of us in a situation that we had never seen or experienced before. We were all struggling to understand and figure out the situation, including CEOs and board members of companies. So, our role as PR and Communications practitioners is even more critical now, in developing the tone and message for the company, so that we demonstrate care for the people and uphold the company’s reputation. This helps distribute the burden of the situation while the management strategically develops a business continuity plan.
Valerine: I remember the long hours overseeing the communication needs of Linde in six countries across ASEAN during the early stages of the Movement Control Order. However, the energy invested during this time helped the company move forward through the uncertainty. Linde took the challenge in stride positively and identified a way to communicate effectively through emails and video conferencing tools. Engaging people of all levels is important in PR and Communications. This includes the community Linde operates in by supporting them through food aid and safety programmes.
BE A JACK OF ALL TRADES AND MASTER OF MULTIPLE TOOLS
Alex: Public Relations and Communications represents one of the tools in the Integrated Marketing Communications Concept (IMC). It is not enough to go into the communications industry by just mastering one tool. In order to effectively form or change perspectives and communicate with your audience, it is important to have a 360° view. First, understand the nature of your target audience, then select the right channels to engage with them.
QUALITIES EMPLOYERS SEEK IN NEW HIRES
Jacqueline: Working in PR requires great passion. This passion is critical for practitioners to help clients and organisations deliver powerful messages and build positive reputation. At Centriq PR, we look for people who are enthusiastic with high levels of energy, people who go the extra mile, who are always helpful and, most importantly, polite. The other characteristic we value is proactiveness – in keep abreast with what is going on in the world, locally and globally. You can do this by reading the news, be it in online or in physical form, both local and international.
Saffura: Be curious, be a lover of information and knowledge on different topics; from art, culture and politics to music. Absorb it, care about it, and reflect on it. Always be in learning mode and you will never be bored. Cultivate a love for the art of writing because it is a very important function in PR and Communications. This skill will differentiate you from the rest. Finally, have confidence.
Valerine: I want somebody that is always hungry for more and willing to learn things outside your scope. In many situations, the PR person is requested to give counsel to manage tough situations. To do this well, you need to expose yourself to different experiences in order to develop your critical thinking skill. Be a Jack of all trades and always have a proposed solution ready when you approach a discussion instead of expecting the answers from your superiors. Something I learnt from my senior when I was a young practitioner is to be like a dry sponge. When you come out into the working world, absorb all the positive (and negative) experiences. This will frame your thoughts and ability to navigate situations and manage people as budding PR and Communications practitioners.
Alex: Upon graduating, your book knowledge will not be questioned anymore. Three things you need now is to be curious, detailed oriented and street smart. Change is the only constant thing in life, and curiosity helps you stay ahead in your field. Be detail oriented to ensure you cover all your bases and try to anticipate every possible scenario. This helps when you are required to give sound counsel to your management or clients. Finally, being street smart is the ability to think on your feet and adapt to the dynamics of the situation or surroundings.
In summary, the panelists believe that PR professionals are thinkers, reflectors and connectors. They are architects of brands, counsellors and managers of stakeholders. PR practitioners need to understand their stakeholders and select the right channels to reach them.
We hope the webinar provides our student members and budding PR and Communication professionals with the insights and tools for a fulfilling career!
Many thanks to Saffura, Valerine and Alex for making time and sharing their honest views about the PR profession.
Jacqueline Arnold is the Managing Director of Centriq PR. She is also the Vice-President of the Public Relations and Communications Association of Malaysia (PRCA Malaysia).