Insights on Public Relations & Communications

By Jejhar Singh

The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship.

The Discover+ Panel on Public Relations and Communications, held on 30 June 2020, was graced by Nisar Keshvani (Moderator), Associate Director of the Strategic Outreach & Communications at National University of Singapore and Vice President at Institute of Public Relations Singapore; Eunice Cheng, Client Manager at WE Communications; Grace Chua, Corporate Communications Manager (APAC) at Google; and Keith Lin, Director & Digital Lead (Public Affairs) at Temasek International. Attendees included students at various levels of education with a desire to know the different career paths in Public Relations and Communications , and how to best position themselves for such roles.

No, you can join the industry if you have the passion for it. An essential fact to note is that 30% of the people don’t work in the industry that they study for. Instead, it is more important for you to look for mentors who can help you to fit into the environment and guide you through your journey as a young communicator. The ability to learn on the job and be resilient in your work is also vital, as it will help with your career progression. 

It’s important to note that the turnover rate is rather high in the PR & communications industry too. The days where PR was simply about writing press releases are gone. You have to be able to use stories to empower individuals in your organizations and bring forward subtle yet impactful messages. You have to find synergies between publishing, advertising and events. Your ability to learn from stories matters as you gather different perspectives and build empathy. As much as content matters, reach is essential too. You have to be authentic with the newsmakers and be relatable to the audiences.

When you first start working in an agency, primarily in the mid to large-sized ones, you are assigned to a practice (e.g. technology, beauty and cosmetics). With this, you begin building your specialization within a team while working with other groups through rotations. This will help you find out which speciality you are passionate about. As PR is a business within itself, you will be able to work with different departments such as Human Resources, Business development as well.

The number of members in your team will vary based on the account size. It will likely consist of three to five people, or even larger if it is a large account. There will usually be a manager or mentor who will guide you on the basics, such as media monitoring, letter writing and media pitching.

On the other hand, when working in-house, Communications are usually targeted towards your stakeholders, shareholders, employees, customers and the general public. 

Do this strategically, especially when it comes to handling controversies. You must have a key message that is clear and concise. It is important to form a convincing reply that a reasonable person will be able to accept. Hence, being in-house is somewhat different from being in an agency as there is a key focus on the brand itself.

PR is just part of the larger picture in brand development; it’s not everything. As many firms are consumer-centric, the overall user experience does matter a lot too. No matter how well a product or service is marketed, customers may stop using it if they do not like it.

Nonetheless, the key in marketing is to help users understand the company better, and this could be done through proving the effectiveness of the product. The use of storytelling is also beneficial as it can assure people that the brand is helpful and would benefit them. In short, organisations develop their brand by bringing joy to their customers and growing their brand as it builds consumer confidence.

The first step to this is to understand the external situation and speak to relevant departments within the organisation about it before crafting a press statement. It is crucial to make preparations with the spokesperson and the relevant departments before going public. It is not necessary to respond all the time, but it is important to observe the situation. 

Monitoring the aftermath is also essential. Has the situation really gotten better? Or has some other crisis drawn attention away from this issue?

Firstly, you get to meet new people all the time.

You also get to hear stories about people who have used your company’s products and how these services have made a positive impact on their lives.

Furthermore, communications is about strategy and there are new challenges, from building a brand to handling a crisis, for your team to solve daily. Overall, communicators are problem solvers. You need a strategy and plan.

You can also be a part of the conversation with the senior management, which can be interesting.

You also get to mentor your juniors and new hires. Helping them grow and seeing that brings much fulfilment too.

However, work can get unpleasant when there is a lack of strategy, or when communication is not perceived as a strategy in a very product-driven environment. Simply writing press releases and managing crises can sometimes be mundane.

It also becomes difficult to thrive in the industry when everyone begins to think that they are a Communications professional. Nonetheless, the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore (IPRS) has helped to professionalize the industry, hence mediating this problem.

No two days are the same. As communications professionals, there is a lot that goes on as you daily. For in-house, you might be working with your regional partners and various stakeholders on upcoming announcements and product launches to craft out a coherent narrative.

Writing also constitutes a large portion of a typical workday as you have to come up with templates for social media posts.

Most of the time is spent on research, writing and positioning things in line with your strategy to deliver a clear message. As marketing is paid for, it is important to pitch stories that the reporters and media would pick up and write-up on. Nonetheless, this is rather tricky as you are unable to control what is eventually written.

We are living in unprecedented times and it is likely that you would be competing with many others for jobs. To stand out, these are a few things that are sought after:

First, you need the hunger to seek, learn and embrace knowledge. In your work, you need to have a clear grasp of the subject matter and know how to project your clients’ messages. Hence, in recruitment interviews, good candidates will ask insightful questions and show their curiosity and desire for the job. Communication is hard work, and you have to be extremely detail-orientated.

Secondly, you need to connect and empathise with others. This is not about being extroverted per se, but about having an interest in people and presenting yourself well. Communication is all about building relationships, you have to be able to help negotiate positions and narratives and find out what works best.

Thirdly you have to be truthful, authentic and eager to show who you are. Sensibility in high-pressure situations is also vital as you need to be calm and composed. 

Communications is a specialist profession, but you do need breadth to progress as a communicator too. Being in the right company will allow you to gain the right opportunities to do so. You should ask for more opportunities as a young communicator.

The most fundamental hard skills required are speaking and writing, especially when you start out as a fresh graduate, as one could be tasked with a lot of writing, content development and media monitoring/scanning.

Presentation skills are also key as you have to speak to clients, present plans and tactics that are understood and that capture the attention of the stakeholders. 

Another essential hard skill is project management. As you work with different clients, it is essential to be able to multitask and handle the different aspects of your work simultaneously.

Important soft skills include curiosity and the ability to anticipate and address clients’ concerns.

Being able to connect the dots and analyze things critically is also vital. You should be able to share your thoughts cogently and convincingly and have a unique point of view that speaks the clients’ or brands’ voice.