PR’s Shades of Gray: The Relations of Public Relations

While I’m typically more drawn to a sunny shade of yellow, you could call me a fan of gray. Gray area, that is. The Western philosophies, moderately liberal political stances and dilemma-filled natures of college students tend to make us resistant to anything asserted as black and white; circumstances and the complexities of human society come into play when you study the liberal arts. This is why I’ve learned this week another component of public relations in Hong Kong that I love and am absolutely intrigued by. Nothing is black and white.

First, the time frames within a life in the PR industry are anything but set to 9-5. I had initially gotten the feeling – from wrongful assumption as well as my own internship experiences – that this side of the communications industry was much spent at a desk during regular business hours. Not so much. Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of desk work! However – from what I’m encountering in the Hong Kong arena – the daily calendar of a PR account leader might stretch from yoga-networking dates at dawn to corporate sponsorship events into the wee hours. While this leader may join a conference call [with counterparts around the globe, mind you] at 12noon on your average Wednesday, he or she might also fly to Bangkok on a Friday night to meet a client for over-the-weekend crisis confrontation.

The paying client may respect your abilities and be shelling out the big bucks for your consultation; for the latter reason, however, they may also lay down firm deadlines for brainstorm material or a written piece that conflict with the deadlines of nineteen others. This is what keeps the PR professionals I’ve seen in action over the past three weeks in the office until 11pm. Sometimes, it’s a simply unreasonable demand for turnaround; other times, its the urgent nature of a reputation issue at stake, which calls for an immediate and thorough response by said communications advisor/guru. Regardless, late nights don’t seem less common than those I hear are endured by new investment bankers. And who said that Comm was an easy choice for a major/career path?

In a very similar vein and particularly in Hong Kong, I’ve come to see that public relations are very much maintained by relations of the informal sort. That’s right: networking. Everyone loves to eat and drink, and adding to one’s daily work a little pleasure at meal times seems a very widely accepted, efficient method of consolidating ones day-to-day obligations (such as eating and getting your job done). From what I’ve seen, the daily routine of a public relations professional can and should include a wide array of meal-meetings, pitches-over-coffee and noddles-and-networking sessions (we are in Hong Kong). Moreover, just because the setting is a little less formal doesn’t mean that the stakes are lowered. Today, I accompanied my account-leading supervisor and mentor for a cafe meet-up with her friend-turned-colleague, in the interest of a new “service” he would be pitching. His unique and quite niche consultancy does music; more specifically, they strategically design non-original music compilations – playlists, if you will – for business events from media lunches and corporate conferences to product launches and restaurant openings. At the risk of over-assessing what was a brief but meaningful chat between mates, I’d say that the aims and outcomes of this meeting were as follows: D learned of a new service to accompany the public relations provided by her agency, and C walked away with numerous new contacts to which he could reach out, a long list of email addresses, and a wide variety of potential clients to which Cmight be able to secure distant access in the near future.

I got a lovely cappuchino out of the deal today – but also, a valuable lesson in the importance of forming and maintaining quality relationships with professionals in this local industry, in order to maximize both the human resources and potential for connections around us at all times.

Finally, I’ve learned through my first projects with the PR agency that communications and content are valued based on quality, whose subjective nature (quality‘s, that is) means that there is never a single, black or white correct answer. We can’t be instructed as to what is the ideal strategy for a particular client – it’s known as a creative industry for a reason. Thank goodness for this: I never particularly mastered Microsoft Excel and all of its graphing capabilities in my communications courses. I nearly got them all down today. After the tedious assignment of quantifying the media monitoring results of three weeks of coverage over a finance scandal in a local nation in Southeast Asia – yes, counting the numbers of positive, negative and neutral reports from about thirty separate media outlets – it was also my privileged responsibility to assess all of these quantities for meaningful analysis to be given to the client themselves. I was at first taken aback by begin trusted with this crucial analysis task. As I proceeded through bit of news after bit of news, though, I began to draw both interestingly telling trends and key messages from the various media standpoints I had tracked as well as valuable lessons as to the ins and outs of effective PR. Every message counts. It’s important to read between the lines, and to view each voice partaking in the public dialogue as that of an influential individual.

I noticed a trend in the takeaways of this week: PR is about the people. Feeling as though I’m a people-person was one of the primary reasons I chose to pursue communications as a career, and learning from those around me this summer that people and meaningful relationships are even more imperative in Hong Kong is all the more encouraging. I look forward to continuing to develop the relations that will comprise my public relations experience this summer in Hong Kong!

About Cory Welsh

Cory Welsh is a progressive BA/Masters degree program participant at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and received her B.A. in Communication in May 2011. After growing up in Ventura County, CA, Cory moved to Los Angeles in order to solidify her interest in facilitating relationships and organization through communication. Most recently, Cory served as the exhibitor relations coordinator for the 2011 LA Times Festival of Books. She is currently serving as a student intern at a renowned PR agency in Hong Kong, and will complete her Masters of Communication Management in December 2011.
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