Get­ting a job in PR

New Straits Times - - Higher Ed - Rsani@nst.com.my

ROZANA SANI

GLITZY events, glam­ourous com­pany, classy brands — this is what comes to mind for most peo­ple when they think of a job in the world of pub­lic re­la­tions (PR). And that’s an over­rated de­scrip­tion, re­marked Maha Dhu­rairaj. PR es­sen­tially is build­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween an or­gan­i­sa­tion and its publics.

The group di­rec­tor of Edel­man Malaysia said while there are mo­ments of glam­our, PR work usu­ally trans­lates into a lot of long hours, crazy dead­lines, de­mand­ing clients and op­er­at­ing on crazy amounts of adren­a­line. “And we love it. I’m of course look­ing at it from a PR con­sul­tancy lens.”

Ac­cord­ing to Maha, who has had 15 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in PR, many peo­ple look at PR as me­dia re­la­tions and mak­ing end­less calls to the me­dia pitch­ing sto­ries. “That is def­i­nitely part of it but PR prac­ti­tion­ers are es­sen­tially sto­ry­tellers, as what we do most of the time is com­mu­ni­cate mes­sages about a brand in var­i­ous chan­nels.

“There are many stages of this. When you start off, it is es­sen­tially sup­port­ing the se­niors and learn­ing the ropes so there is a lot of me­dia mon­i­tor­ing, calls, re­port­ing and such. As you progress up the lad­der, it be­comes more about man­ag­ing client re­la­tion­ships, pitch­ing for new busi­ness as well as coach­ing and build­ing tal­ent,” she high­lighted.

Maha said se­niors in the field can look for­ward to cre­at­ing pro­grammes that make a dif­fer­ence and res­onate with the au­di­ences as well as in­flu­enc­ing de­ci­sions and com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­grammes.

“It can some­times be a thank­less job but the peo­ple who suc­ceed are usu­ally those who are re­lent­less in their pur­suit of ex­cel­lence, brave and pos­sess the tenac­ity to thrive un­der pres­sure. For me, it’s about build­ing peo­ple. It’s also sim­i­lar to plant­ing a tree. You in­vest a lot of time in nur­tur­ing to make it grow and when you see the tree bear fruit, it’s so de­light­ful — par­tic­u­larly when I see my team grow and suc­ceed. I am still in this busi­ness be­cause I am a be­liever and I want to build the next gen­er­a­tion of con­sul­tants who are proud of what they do and com­mit­ted to de­liv­er­ing the best out­comes to clients while hav­ing fun,” she said.

Univer­siti Te­knologi MARA (UiTM) Pub­lic Re­la­tions De­part­ment lec­turer Ab­dul Hamid Sai­fud­din, mean­while, terms PR as the me­di­a­tor as well as image man­age­ment part of any com­pany.

“It al­ways be­gins with the cur­rent tem­per­a­ture sur­round­ing an is­sue or a project, and the first thing we ought to have in mind should be, how can this news re­lease/pro­gramme/cam­paign bridge the or­gan­i­sa­tion to a spe­cific group of peo­ple so we could reach a mu­tual un­der­stand­ing, that in turn, can ben­e­fit both par­ties,” he ex­plained.

Ab­dul Hamid said PR in­volves many hours of desk­top re­search and reach­ing out to peo­ple.

“Do ex­pect many late nights and last-minute changes in prints and de­ci­sions. You know it is good PR when peo­ple glossed about how good a cam­paign turned out, not know­ing that ex­actly two hours ago, you had to edit 89 pre­sen­ta­tion slides deck for your boss.

“If you think PR is for you, then you must not mind get­ting your hands dirty and be will­ing to take the lead. Changes at the eleventh hour, while no­to­ri­ous, keeps you go­ing and in re­turn, will make you a sharper per­son, an­tic­i­pat­ing po­ten­tial mis­takes and prob­lems in the fu­ture. This is a field where we an­tic­i­pate the so­cial’s cli­mate or tem­per­a­ture, and doc­tor them ac­cord­ingly,” he shared.

Rem­i­nisc­ing to the time he was a student at UiTM’s Bach­e­lor in Pub­lic Re­la­tions pro­gramme, Ab­dul Hamid said he al­ways sub­scribed to the adage that PR is noth­ing else but Lawyer­ing and Jour­nal­ism.

“I kind of stick to it un­til to­day. It is true in a sense that, we try to so­licit the best sit­u­a­tion from both par­ties, and try to meet them half­way. The jour­nal­ism come in the form of per­sua­sion and in­for­ma­tive writ­ing,” he said.

Be­fore be­com­ing an aca­demic, Ab­dul Hamid has ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the in­dus­try.

So how does one get into pub­lic re­la­tions? What sort of qual­i­fi­ca­tions does one need?

There are many univer­si­ties of­fer­ing Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­grammes — of which PR is a dis­ci­pline, Maha said.

“You don’t nec­es­sar­ily need a de­gree in PR or Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The job re­quires a lot of writ­ing, com­mu­ni­cat­ing and strate­gic think­ing as you will be spend­ing a lot of time think­ing of how best to de­pict a prod­uct or ser­vice. And in times of cri­sis — how to de­fend a brand’s rep­u­ta­tion, so it re­quires peo­ple who are con­stantly cu­ri­ous, in­ter­ested in the world around them, not afraid of chal­lenges and pos­sess knowl­edge of the dig­i­tal space as that’s where com­mu­ni­ca­tions is headed,” she added.

Ab­dul Hamid stressed stu­dents who plan to ven­ture into PR must be able to hold their own. “They must be in­de­pen­dent, a good team player but at the same time, be able to sur­vive on their own. Pa­tience is one of the key in­gre­di­ents to sur­vive, from the many hours on ground work to get­ting the project to light, per­se­ver­ance is key.”

Other than that, he said cre­ativ­ity and imag­i­na­tion would come in handy to keep things fresh and in­ter­est­ing.

“Apart from a de­gree, you may also con­sider get­ting an ac­cred­i­ta­tion from the In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Re­la­tions Malaysia,” he noted.

Cu­ri­ous peo­ple tend to ven­ture into pub­lic re­la­tions, said Ab­dul Hamid.

“With jour­nal­ism and broad­cast­ing, it is pretty much clear-cut. But with PR, what ex­actly do you do? Stu­dents throw them­selves into the un­known and start to de­velop these self-re­liant skills to sharpen their skillsets; from writ­ing, edit­ing, pre­sen­ta­tion, orat­ing as well as de­sign­ing. Here in PR, they will learn ev­ery­thing un­der the sun to pre­pare them­selves be­fore they be­gin their in­tern­ship pro­gramme. There, they will start to edit them­selves and note the dif­fer­ences in han­dling mul­ti­ple and unique as­sign­ments as they go along.”

Grad­u­ates or “creative com­mu­ni­ca­tors” may look for­ward to a plethora of job op­por­tu­ni­ties rang­ing from me­dia re­la­tions, event man­age­ment, so­cial me­dia, pub­lic­ity as well as mar­ket­ing to name a few, Ab­dul Hamid said. “There are quite a num­ber of grad­u­ates who ven­tured else­where with their skills, such as busi­ness, ad­ver­tis­ing, broad­cast­ing, jour­nal­ism as well as the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try.

“Usu­ally, those who ma­jored in PR or com­mu­ni­ca­tions will be given pri­or­ity to en­ter the field. But now, there is a slow up­take of me­dia of­fi­cers coming from a more di­verse back­ground; while it is good, they will need some time to ad­just to the job scope and de­mands that comes with the pro­fes­sion,” he said.

When peo­ple say that peo­ple in PR are pre­ten- tious be­cause of how well they are dressed and present them­selves, it is be­cause they are in the busi­ness to make other peo­ple look good, Ab­dul Hamid opined. “So be­fore you want them to be as such, you need to play the part first. There is no harm hav­ing to wear a tie ev­ery now and then or learn­ing to do your hair up in a chignon; in fact, you are em­pow­ered to deliver your best,” he said.

Can one join PR without the rel­e­vant train­ing or qual­i­fi­ca­tion?

Of course they can, said Ab­dul Hamid. “How­ever, they must be pre­pared for the de­mand­ing na­ture of the job scope. Work­ing round the clock and hav­ing al­most no week­ends might throw some peo­ple off, but there are perks in the form of sat­is­fac­tion on a job well done, power lunches and of course, net­work­ing from di­verse in­dus­tries. You will never know when you will be col­lab­o­rat­ing with them in the fu­ture.”

And of chal­lenges that are of­ten faced in pub­lic re­la­tions?

“Lots, but usu­ally it’s time pres­sure and the de­mand to deliver more for less,” said Maha.

Group di­rec­tor, Edel­man Malaysia

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