A RECENT luncheon with Ms. Zeny Iglesias, a former professor at St. Scholastica’s College, took me on a quick throwback to my college days in Mass Communication classes and my experiences as a Public Relations practitioner in various PR agencies. Oh, what a joy to see a beloved mentor beaming with pride that we are now in the same industry. I imagined, what could be more gratifying for a teacher than to see her student follow her career path? Indeed, it was such an exhilarating moment to speak to one of the persons I look up to among the common circle of colleagues at work.
Speaking of schools, universities have been busy mounting graduation rites lately. Thankfully, our low-risk situation has enabled face-to-face ceremonies. This year, another set of graduates is about to enter the so-called real world. A new batch, dreaming of making a mark in PR practice, is joining our league.
I asked myself, what could be the advice that I will give to the newly grads who are planning to try it out in PR or related industry?
As successes and failures have taught me, earning a diploma does not equate to finishing the race. The real world is a bigger classroom, with the hopefuls continuously challenged to unlearn and re-learn what had been taught in schools. At a certain point, it makes us realize that it is not just the daily lessons that matter. Grit, discipline, patience, not to mention humility, are traits that will earn us the badge of being deserving to be in the industry. And this brings me back to the throwback moment when I look back and recognize some of the remarkable people who took the time and gladly taught valuable lessons about the profession that I have grown to love and respect. What makes them truly admirable is the fact that they were generous in teaching a starter like me to be able to wade through the gentle and harsh waves of obstacles that will come my way as I pursue my career. Undoubtedly, their nuggets of wisdom have served as a lighthouse that continues to guide my path to this day.
Following are just some of those lessons that I picked up and would be happy to share:
“Public Relations is about creating relationships with your target public.” —Max Edralin
The late Manong Max Edralin was a co-member in Tuesday Club and International Public Relations Association (Ipra), both by-invitation membership clubs composed of media, public officials and PR practitioners. I distinctly remember that whenever an opportunity presented itself, he would always strike a conversation with me and discuss the importance of understanding PR beyond the “pa-photo-photo opp” concept. PR after all is not just about publicity. It is knowing your target audience and mastering the science and art of delivering your message to them.
There were times when I encountered personalities who thought that PR is limited to making it to the headlines and photos being visible in publications. Lately, reaching a trending status in social media was also added as one of the measures.
While certain requirements call for visibility and virality, PR is also practiced sans publicity. Establishing trust and connection with your target market is far more lasting and credible. An excellent corporate PR campaign encapsulates the company’s vision, culture and DNA. It is seen and experienced, not just in press releases, but in how each employee represents the company from the top management to the rank and file, the maintenance of the standard of quality of products or services that cements customer loyalty from generation to generation, the engagements with communities that improve their lives, and the consistency of its advocacy. All of these are part of establishing a relationship with your public. It is not time-bound nor ad hoc. Rather, it is living out the purpose of a company or leadership; it is in short, walking the talk.
“Tell me your idea in one short sentence.”—Tony Zorrilla
As a PR consultant once upon a time in Zorrilla, Zorrilla and Associates, The Mr. Zorrilla was quite critical of my thought process as an adviser to clients. He was my worst—and most caring—critic. He was quite strict in literally forcing me to streamline my thoughts in a split second. He said that clarity and speed are essential, most especially in times of crisis situations. As a consultant of a PR agency to local and multinational companies, he repeatedly explained that it is important to be constantly ready and on-point in laying down risks and opportunities to be able to draw the right solutions in an instant. “If you cannot state your thoughts in one sentence, then you obviously do not know what you are talking about.”
You can bet that it takes grit to be under the strict tutelage of Mr. Zorrilla. But just as how he predicted two decades ago, I am profusely thankful to him for being too patient with me in practicing every day. Clarity of mind and being able to communicate well are two traits that a PR person has to possess. To this day, it remains to be a constant challenge to streamline thoughts in the midst of the influx of information offered by several platforms of communication, including but not limited to fake news and various forms of disinformation.
Simplifying several elements that may affect a corporate or a person’s reputation takes a lot of time and experience to master. But it is an essential skill for a PR practitioner to swiftly weed out what is not significant and determine what the issue is really all about. In an era where anybody can be a journalist using the social media platform, speed and careful calibration of response is a 24/7 task.
“Always look beyond what your eyes can see.”—Rey Anthony G. David
My first foray into PR was in Pro Solutions Inc. I vividly remember that I had a blast learning the ropes through ProSol. The list of clients and their requirements provided great exposure for handling small and big events with media coverage.
To this day I still believe that one of the stepping stones in PR is being able to mount events from the ground up. A young practitioner has to have the energy to juggle various requirements in detail. Beyond the glitz and glamour of organizing themed press conferences, concerts, exhibits, launches, etc., the routine for preparation and setting up contingency plans are a must in any PR arsenal. Handling of events requires a mental checklist, discipline in keeping time, and flexibility for unexpected changes. Traffic nor force majeure are never an excuse. Regardless of the situation, the show must go on, as they say.
In one of the first few press conferences that I organized, RAD, as we call Mr. David, said, “You should listen during press cons and interviews to be able to determine the news that will come out tomorrow.”
Oftentimes, event organizers are too busy paying attention to the physical requirements and flow of the activity but not to the angles of stories that are developing in the course of the discussion, which actually provides room for post-event efforts. Sometimes, a question from a journalist gives a hint for a possible follow-up interview or a new set of references that may provide more substance to his/her story. It is therefore important that events such as press cons are not only seen as a one-day affair but as a launch of continuous conversations.
“Be straight to the point.” —Charlie A. Agatep
Writing and possessing a keen eye for flawlessly written articles are part of the tasks of a PR practitioner. But this does not only include creating press releases. A PR does a lot of correspondence. Letters of invitation are often sent out to people holding high positions. Mr. Agatep was always very clear with his instruction that letters should be straight to the point. Leave the flowery background and state the agenda immediately in the first part of the letter “because these people are busy and loaded with other equally important invitations.” Spare the recipient the unnecessary introduction.
My stint in Agatep and Associates taught me another lesson from Mr. Agatep—his Point A to Point B reminder. A good communicator must be clear and simple with his key message. In a press release, what exactly do we want to say? What message do we want to leave behind? What kind of perception do we want to create? Oftentimes, communication plans are replete with grand executions, using technologies that are on-trend. But it leaves the most important task: ensuring that the message that we want to convey is received well and that desired reaction is met.
As social media becomes more influential, when technology drives the daily lives of most of the public, when attention span retention is a constant hurdle, how are we going to take our key message from point A to point B? How often do we evaluate the impact of our communication campaigns beyond the numbers of likes, shares and comments on Facebook, or the size of the published article?
Passing the Torch
AFTER a couple of hours of conversation with my college professor, there was a hanging question about considering the idea of “giving back” by rendering teaching hours in a chosen university. Personally, there’s no doubt that teaching is a selfless way of reciprocating the patience, trust and support given by our professors. I guess there is just a part of me that keeps on asking, “Do I deserve this privilege?”
Talking about teaching, it is with much anticipation that I would also like to share that mentorship in collaboration with schools is one of the main thrusts of Ipra Philippines of which I am a member. Together with my colleagues in Ipra, we look forward to exploring partnerships with heads of academic institutions to be able to support the new generation of PR practitioners in the country.
For now, we salute and honor the newly grads. Congratulations and best wishes, Batch 2022!
PR Matters is a roundtable column by members of the local chapter of the United Kingdom-based International Public Relations Association (Ipra), the world’s premier association for senior communications professionals around the world. Claire de Leon-Papa is the Head of External Affairs and Social Partnerships of Unilab Inc. She is a member of Ipra-Philippines Chapter and the International Public Relations Association.
PR Matters is devoting a special column each month to answer our readers’ questions about public relations. Please send your questions or comments to email@example.com.