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 skill sets; 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 pretentious 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.