Insights on Corporate Communications and Media Relations

By Eugene Goh

Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.

On 17 August 2021, Advisory hosted Discover+: Corporate Communications and Media Relations, the 40th edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:

  • Dawn Low (Moderator) – EVP, SMRT International; CMO, SMRT & IPRS Council and Accredited Member
  • Adrian Heng – Senior Counsel & IPRS Accredited Member
  • Nicholas Fang – Founder, Black Dot Pte Ltd & IPRS Accredited Member
  • Tracy Won – Director of Communications, National Parks Board

Below are some key points shared during the session:

Firstly, it is important to understand how the industry works, which largely involves understanding the audience’s needs. We conduct a reality check with our clients regularly to ensure that our products seem exciting while being aware of what news audiences are interested in as journalists report on our announcements and releases. 

Secondly, it is important to be able to write well. As a large part of communication is still done through the issuance of releases and documents, knowing how to effectively tell the story through one’s own words is the best and most direct way to get the attention of a media organisation. One also needs to be able to identify the content to put upfront to grab people’s attention, while having a logical thought process to develop the story flow. It is important for us to be critical about our work at this stage so that we are clear about what we are telling the public and the media. 

Lastly, strategic thinking is crucial as well. Often, we do long-term communications and may not necessarily see the outcome immediately. Hence, being able to see the big picture while distilling it into something palatable to the public is critical in our line of work. You need to be prepared for all sorts of issues that come your way. One way to do so is to know your company inside out. This is important because you are not just a communications person, but someone who may have to advise other departments based on your own analysis of the situation at hand.

You should get exposure to different industries and try different things along the way. Moving across different firms and industries will increase your value as you gain more experience and knowledge. This can help you move up the corporate ladder quicker than those who have only worked in one particular industry. It is very career-limiting as well if you enter a company with the aim of focusing only on one area.

Moreover, you have to find yourself a good mentor or a couple of good ones. The Institute of Public Relations of Singapore (IPRS) is great at matching working professionals to good mentors, especially at networking events. Aside from imparting you the knowledge required of this industry, mentors can be really useful when you are going into a new sector or getting promoted to a new position. They can help you lookout for opportunities and provide recommendations that may get you the job you are vying for. As you move up the corporate ladder, you can also look to these mentors for more advice because it gets harder and harder as you go up the ladder. 

We utilise case studies to assess our interviewees. It is important for Public Relations (PR) practitioners to see beyond the issue presented to them and recognise all the stakeholders that are possibly involved in the event or situation. We are looking for applicants who know how to speak to each of the different stakeholders, which is an important skill to ensure that the various situations encountered at work can be dealt with smoothly.

As mentioned above, critical thinking is crucial in this industry. This can be shown through the applicant’s breadth of knowledge, curiosity and willingness to empathise. Possessing these characteristics will show the interviewer that the applicant is interested in the greater world beyond issues on the surface level.

We used to create media traditionally, where we worked with digital media outlets to create content. However, in today’s world, this is no longer sufficient. Instead, it is important for us to create and use our own content channels to reach out and engage with our target audiences. This has also forced us to take a different perspective on how to engage with our audience authentically. 

Moreover, we also have to find ways to simplify technical knowledge so that they are more accessible to the average person. This requires us to be able to break down complex information into simple ones while still being able to effectively communicate the same message. 

At the same time, we also have to keep track of how the digital landscape is changing, and adapt to it accordingly so as to better reach out to our audiences. Knowing which medium to use and how to engage with the relevant target audience on the platforms is an increasingly important skill required in this industry. Given how the digital landscape has changed and will continue to constantly change, learning new technologies to keep up with the changes is extremely crucial.

One key problem the digital world faces is misinformation. As the digital communications world is very fast-paced, information spreads very quickly and standards for verification and editing of content are very low. To tackle this problem, it is important for us to be swift in responding to the plethora of misinformation generated by artificial intelligence bots.

Transparency is also crucial. Due to the abundance of information, people can easily find out if anyone is lying. Combined with the fact that social media has allowed everyone to become a potential spokesperson of a company or organisation, there can be a lot of potential pain points if a person’s official statement does not match up to the actual fact.

Use Linkedin and connect with various people in the industry, especially if you are looking to get an internship at a big agency like Edelman or Ogilvy. Find someone in the agency, connect with them and politely ask if they are looking for an intern. It makes a big difference to apply for internship opportunities through a person versus applying through an online application portal. Sometimes, the reputation of the person who is referring you to the company may help you stand out among the other applicants. 

When you write in, explain exactly why you want to get into this company. Be really specific about your goals and rationale. Do not simply state that you want to join the company to enter the communications industry. It will be beneficial to go deeper and let your interviewers know what you intend to do at the company if you are accepted. This will better show your passion and knowledge of the company and industry.

More importantly, do not make mistakes on your resume or Linkedin profile. Some applicants that we have seen do not have professional photos and contain resumes with grammatical errors. This does not reflect well on the applicant. A good resume and profile will show how meticulous you are and how much effort you are willing to put into the role. Additionally, it is crucial to have substance in your resume to grab the hirers’ attention. 

It will also be helpful for you to start consuming news products, which will enable you to craft answers during interviews that are topical or related to the company that you are applying to. It is good to know which clients each agency represents so that you can offer your knowledge and opinions. This shows that you care enough about the internship or job that you are applying for.

Lastly, do not write to the HR department. Find out who you will be getting the internship from and write to them. After all, communication is about communicating with your audience. Knowing who your audience is will put you one step ahead. 

We actually hire people from different fields of study so that we do not have a siloed mentality, though a lot of our people come from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. While our applicants do not have to study media studies, it will be beneficial for them to develop the relevant skill sets before entering the industry. Having a compelling story should be sufficient.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, what we are looking for in our applicants is basically the ability to write and think critically. If you have studied communications in school, you still have to know how to apply what you have learnt. You cannot expect your superior to read a 30-page document on all the theories you had learnt in university when a crisis has happened. Instead, you have to show your thought process and analysis of the situation beyond theories. 

Lastly, you need to understand what you are getting yourself into, as this industry is not just about meeting people, but also encompasses a lot of interesting challenges and issues to work on and tackle. 

It varies from person to person. However, as we can get several major projects at once, we may have to work long hours, and even during festive seasons, to complete our work. Working from home has somewhat exacerbated the situation too. It has also made it harder for us to create opportunities for human-to-human interactions among our colleagues. Hence, stress levels are naturally high, though we are also working on ways to deal with this challenge.

Moreover, ironically, communication in the communications industry can also become transactional at times. For instance, communication on Whatsapp can sometimes turn into a formal channel used purely for work purposes, which can make it difficult for colleagues to just have a casual conversation with one another. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that more companies will be aware of this situation and will conduct more checks on individuals to ask about their well-being and how they are coping with everything. 

We are perpetually at our desk. A lot of the work we do include writing, messaging and pitching via phone calls and emails. These are mostly desk-bound tasks. 

However, we do get time away from our desk as well. For instance, we may get opportunities to fly to other countries for events or run press events for celebrities around the world. It really depends on what we do and what sort of communications we plan. Working in the communications industry is more than just handling media engagement. We get to organise events, direct audience engagement events and influencer events among other things. 

In essence, it is up to individuals to design the communication programme to make it fun for themselves and their team. 

The core requirement of the job is to really understand our target audience. We have to keep abreast with current affairs to know what the big topical issues are. We need to know what the government is announcing, how the people are responding and what the media is covering. 

We also need to pay attention to the digital and social space. A lot of people tend to make their opinions and feelings known, which becomes a good general barometer to learn about the prominent opinions. While some may argue that we might only be hearing from the vocal minority and not the silent majority, we actually have tools to build a matrix to see all the different areas, from pages to media forums on digital space and social media. This helps us to monitor what the media is covering and what people are talking about in general.

Aside from that, we also have to be strategic when planning for communications in various situations. There is a need to figure out how to make people understand why we are going in a certain direction. 

In order to mediate two opposing views, we have to bring the different points-of-view together. It will be helpful for us to let the different stakeholders come together to talk and discuss the issue at hand. As communicators, we have to know our stakeholders well and earn their trust. They have to believe that we are making the right decisions. It is also crucial to make sure people understand why there is a need to balance certain decisions as it is not possible to bring satisfaction to everyone in every decision. 

The short answer is no. Communication is really about knowing your audience, having empathy and strategic thinking. These are not necessarily things that robots can do. There is nothing like having a human-to-human connection when it comes to talking to the media, your stakeholders, the public and your clients. It is really about understanding what someone wants to say and having them understand you the way you intended to.