Stretch, Flex, Trust & Leap: The Gymnastics of Public Relations

I’ve gained several great takeaways from the past week in the office at MSL Hong Kong. This week’s lessons in PR could translate to the steps of a gymnast’s process, in my opinion. The perfect gymnastics routine, through the lens of an aspiring public relations specialist: Stretch, flex, trust and then leap.

1. Stretch. There are several things interns like us should constantly be stretching: our eyes and ears, as open wide as they can go for maximum listening to what’s going on around us; and our brains and abilities, in order to learn as many lessons and skills as possible through observation and trial-and-error.

There have been several instances this week which showed me the importance of listening as much as possible and stretching my limits as far as I can. From reading in detail every single email I’m CCd on, I was able to voluntarily contribute a cute and original solution to one of our client’s concerns. From taking diligent notes during our first ever formal Corp/Finance team meeting, I was able to draw novel lessons in the nature of crisis communications and the financial impacts it can have on PR firms and the client in question (to be further told in 2.). From reading up on and virtually stalking my PR firm before I began my summer internship, I was able to come up with and suggest a new social media initiative for my agency (to be detailed in 4.). Finally, from listening to the friendly chatter in the communal kitchen over the course of my internship, I was able to meet and later have lunch with a fascinating woman from one of my firm’s sister agencies!

Don’t get me wrong: I am newly a huge proponent of asking as many questions as possible throughout the learning process that is an internship. However, if we’re sure to keep our eyes, ears and minds open at all times (even during the casual lunches outside the office), I’ve found so far that there are innumerable lessons to be learned from the professionals around us.

2. Flex! That is, flex your skilled PR muscles and be flexible.

Every muscle seems to count, as I observe the savvy professionals in my office turn tricks and pull out all the stops to satisfy each client and media figure they come in contact with. The first component of this requires flexing those interpersonal skills, drawing from past client experiences and reaching into one’s back pocket for an extra touch. My boss recently sent a request for information to a client based in the US, and I noted her suave placement of “Have a Happy 4th of July weekend!” at the bottom of the email; while we’re in Hong Kong (and my supervisor isn’t American), it’s important to place every amount of care that you can upon making efforts with current or potential clients. In another instance, I overheard my supervisor chit-chat with and then invite for a drink a brand new journalist to the renowned local publication SMPC. It really is all about the connections.

Being flexible professionally seems to be an important PR lesson, as I learned in our weekly meeting which served to summarize the recent goings-on of our crisis communications client (a large, foreign corporation that’s been dealing with a moderate financial scandal).  It turns out that the estimated charge of this client’s “retainer package,” or the most basic package and time allotted for my firm’s services, was initially presented to be much lower than it’s been turning out. When a company takes on a client in need of somewhat impromptu strategic support, there’s simply no way of knowing to exactly what extent the situation will reach. That is, it was very important in this case for both our agency and the client to be considerably flexible toward the business aspect of this communication collaboration: we were going to have to charge them more than planned, as the time budgeted for the client’s first month of business had already been consumed at a high pace in the first eight days of our work with the company.

3. Trust. This is simply a matter of trusting in every counterpart and collaborator around you. From colleagues working at different firms, to regional counterparts within my PR agency’s Asia network, to the fellow intern supporting the Corp/Finance team at MSL, trust is another theme that has recurred to me throughout both my week and entire internship experience.

It seems practical, sophisticated and progressive for my firm to be working on as many collaborative client pitches as they currently are. For example, in the case of many financial clients my team is targeting, we have chosen to in-source strategy and both language- and cultural- translation in order to prepare presentations of optimum quality for our clients. While Hong Kong may be a geographical hub for financial and wealth management companies who are becoming more active in Asia, there has historically been greater activity in the financial sector in Singapore in recent years. This means, we call up our agency’s base in Singapore for their expertise, and even potential for client migration in the case of a need for new business. As I’ve already alluded to, it’s been very rewarding to listen in on conference calls and have lunch locally with firm counterparts from all over the region (and even from the Western hemisphere) since I’ve come to Hong Kong.

Finally…

4. Leap. Sometimes, a little initiative and enough planning to back an idea are all you need to implement an entirely novel creative project on behalf of the renowned firm or media outlet at which you’re working.

In light of the encouragement from our strategic PR and journalism professors Mei Fong and Jay Wang to be conscious of the social media atmosphere surrounding the company I’d be interning for this summer, I spent quality time reading up on my firm, its offices and professionals around the world. One thing I came to notice was that my firm’s Hong Kong office was not participating on the global agency’s blog. Hmm. I wondered why that was.

Once I started my summer internship and began learning more about the dynamics of my office and its executives, I wondered further why their expertise was not being voiced through a fun, thought-leadership outlet such as the firm’s blog. So, I decided to ask my supervisor. Next thing I knew, she was picking my brain for what might be possible or advantageous – to both us and the industry – for us to share. We noted that Hong Kong has a unique perspective on emerging economies and a fresh need for public relations; there was also the fact that my firm had a wealth of creative interns (such as myself) that had typing hands at the ready.

I told my supervisor about the internship experience blog which I was already keeping for my summer course; the rest was history. I’ve been able to draw from the PR lessons I was already reflecting upon in my course blog (yes, this one!) and have so far created five posts that will be contributed to the agency blog for purposes of attracting future talent and informing fellow PR professionals and interns as to insider tricks-of-the-trade.

The most rewarding part of this process was receiving professional praise and affirmation from not only my immediate supervisor, but also my firm’s global communications and social media overseer. My final lesson in the gymnastics of PR, then, was that sometimes you have to go for it and leap to achieve your greatest impact!

Ta-da!

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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