I RECENTLY visited St. Scholastica’s College, following an invitation to be the keynote speaker for the College Week of the Liberal Arts Department. It’s been two decades since I last set foot in my alma mater. As expected, it brought back memories of the four years that I spent there.
As I prepared my speech, I asked myself, what key message should I impart to my audience? You see, key messaging is a critical practice in the field of Public Relations, where I belong. Key message is the takeaway of the target audience that should not just inform, educate or even entertain—but should inspire, stir a more critical discussion or move people to take relevant actions.
I was lured by the glamor and dynamism of broadcast and advertising—that’s why I took up Mass Communication in 1992. While I had a significant experience in the country’s leading broadcasting company immediately after college, I got exhausted with the daily grind of back-end production. A former professor in Advertising and PR introduced me to the world of Public Relations. I never looked back since then.
PR is always mistaken for a job that is all about creating publicity. When I started as an associate in a PR agency, I was trained to do events management—the discipline of organizing gatherings such as concerts, art shows, press conferences, product launches, celebrity interviews and so on and so forth, as part of the communication strategy to reach out to a particular market. But more than organization skills, I was honed to anticipate certain level of expectations, be prepared in any unexpected setback, ensure that objectives are met, and more importantly, stay within the budget. I must admit, at a young age, those days were really fun.
Not long after, I was privileged to be exposed to the more serious stuff of public relations—Issues Management, Reputation Management, Media Training, Crisis Communication and Advocacies, or some may call it Stakeholder Relations or Social Investments. The Scholastican ‘calling’ to become an agent of social change suddenly made sense.
To make a case, being in the pharmaceutical and health care industry, the conventional thinking that the PR job requires only the responsibility of peddling brands is certainly far from reality. Health needs to be seen not just from a medical and marketing standpoint but even through the lens of cultural, social, historical and economic perspective.
How can we provide access to health care most especially to those who belong to the base of the pyramid? How can we make our efforts sustainable instead of just implementing donation-based projects? How can we improve the health seeking behavior of the public? How come incidences of tuberculosis and HIV are rising again? Why do we have teenage pregnancies? What is the state of the country’s mental health? How can we ensure that the next generation is not plagued by malnutrition and stunting?
These are just some of the concerns that are ailing our healthcare industry. As PR professionals, we can create a lot of noise about these topics. But these efforts will just become merely band-aid solutions if not complemented by relevant understanding and programs that include policy development, research, training needs analysis, health education, to name a few, that will pave the way for more appropriate actions.
Mr. Max Edralin, a respected figure in the local PR industry and a fellow member of the International Public Relations Association (Ipra) who passed away a few years ago, once told me, “Public relations is creating and nurturing relationships with its target public”. This definitely resonated to me since I do a lot of community engagements, without the need to publicize most of the time.
Improvement in health-seeking behavior is not an overnight task. It takes a consistent approach to be able to nudge the target public to make certain choices such as compliance with drastic lifestyle changes. It requires understanding of the terrain of a particular area or market—the influencers, the right spokesperson, the timely messages and news angles that can connect to the audience, political and social issues that cause the problems, cultural and faith-based norms that need to be taken into account. Undoubtedly, one company or brand cannot do it alone. A seasoned PR practitioner would know that validating assumptions, mapping out like-minded individuals and/or organizations and forging partnerships with them is an essential part of the PR job. And the commitment to go through the rigor of all these cements the company or the brand’s reputation, or as it is recognized now, authenticity—which is more lasting rather than a short-term promotion or gimmick.
In a society where information and disinformation coexist, in a world where a small box of gadget dictates our daily life, in a digital space where character judgment is based on comments and reactions of strangers, a decades-long well-meaning project or campaign of a company, a brand or an individual may be threatened by a click of a finger. This is a constant challenge to a PR person. But this also serves as a motivation that there is so much that should be done.
I ended my speech with a call to action among my fellow Kulasas who will soon become part of the ‘real world’. I strongly believe that anyone, even students, can call for disruption or question traditional thinking or system that may result to improvements or social changes. The availability now of several platforms should serve as a gift and a free means to connect and be heard. But just like the deluge of press materials that are sent to newsrooms every day, the overwhelming information online confronts us with a more difficult challenge to stand out. Hence, all the more that the practice of PR should remain. The responsibility to communicate and to communicate responsibly are the pillars of a genuine PR.
The columnist wishes to congratulate all graduates of MassComm and PR this year.
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 premiere 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.
Image credits: www.freepik.com