ONCE upon a time, I worked in public relations.
And while I was doing mostly editorial work, helping create publicity campaigns for a prestigious PR firm’s high-profile clients and writing press releases, I still had to help out and “entertain” our targeted media practitioners quite regularly.
Sure, it’s easy to just sit around and talk shop with the media during functions, but the role of a PR practitioner takes a different turn especially when a client is in a crisis.
I remember one time there was a big issue involving a telecommunications company our PR firm was handling, and we had to deal with an impatient lot of reporters who needed answers to their probing questions. And I don’t know why I ended up answering the inquiries of one especially irate reporter, most probably because the actual spokesman—one of my bosses—was still in heavy discussions with the CEO of the company on how to handle the crisis.
That incident took a lot out of me. As a PR practitioner/communicator, one needs to have a lot of patience in dealing with nagging journalists who you know need complete facts for their stories before their deadline. I understood their predicament perfectly because I had been in their shoes before.
To explain to a bitchy reporter what our client was up to required a delicate balancing act. First, I had to try my hardest in my sweetest voice to request her to push back her deadline some more, and explained how I understood the predicament she was in. Second, even if the problem was our client, I couldn’t throw the company’s CEO under the bus and rat out his issues to the media. So that took another round of excuses, virtually lying through my teeth just to buy more time for our client.
That situation really made me uncomfortable. And while it took me a few more months and a few more publicity campaigns later for me to quit my job in that PR firm, that particular crisis with that telco already made it very clear in my head that I was in the wrong job. First of all, I have no patience in babysitting brats. And second, I hate to lie. That’s not to say that all PR practitioners are liars. But sometimes they do need to bend the truth a little to suit their client’s objectives. (It’s a lot like advertising; you say you have the best laundry detergent in the world even if there are other more effective ones out there.)
Being a PR practitioner is a special calling. You need to have a special set of skills to be in the profession. It helps to be friendly and articulate, have a good head on your shoulders to be able to absorb all the necessary information your client needs to put out his company or his product—and, most of all, tons of patience.
Of course, being articulate isn’t enough. To be able to effectively communicate a client’s thoughts, ideas and products, a PR practitioner needs to invest a lot of time and energy in forming the necessary relationships with media first. Networking is a big part of the job. It takes years to form a personal relationship with journalists; we are a naturally suspicious lot who can see beyond the free lunches or the swags handed out at press events.
(And then there are one too many PR practitioners/publicists out there who only remember to call when they need a favor. A media colleague dubs such PR practitioners as “Nokia”. Like the phone brand, these PR practitioners are “user-friendly”—they call you when they need to use you. And since the colleague’s promotion, many of these Nokias have suddenly come out of the woodwork paying her one too many visits.)
So going back, I may have lunch with a PR practitioner, but that doesn’t mean we’re friends and I’m going to write glowingly about his client the next minute. If my questions are answered convincingly and I am able to get the necessary info/data/statistics I need from the PR’s client, only then will I write a story. But even then, it’s still 50-50 that the piece will be in the client’s favor. It all depends on whether I think the story is newsworthy in the positive way President Aquino, for instance, likes all the news about his administration to be.
And even when we in media don’t see things the way a PR’s clients would like, there should be no hard feelings. A PR practitioner cannot take things too personally, and should be able to take a rejection of his client’s point of view or product as a challenge on his part to work harder at his job. Like they say, trabaho lang ’to, walang personalan. (I remember one particular female PR practitioner who would resort to banning journalists from press conferences just because she didn’t like the negative pieces those journalists wrote about her client.)
So I applaud those people who’ve managed to make a go of it in the PR profession, even more so if he used to be a journalist and had somehow successfully been able to shift his frame of mind from that one seeking out the answers, to the one giving them. Truly, I can only count on one hand the very few who are actually excellent at being PRs. (And if you think that it’s you I’m referring to, it’s likely that you’re wrong. Hahaha.)
Seriously, being in the PR/communication business is difficult. The PR practitioner has to please his client by way of increased sales of his products/services. He also has to constantly make sure the media/public is happy with his client’s products/services. These days, most PR practitioners are in the business of creating news about their client even when there is nothing newsworthy to report. And that is what separates the real pros from the rank amateurs who can’t even spell the name of a journalist correctly. These successful PR practitioners will tell you that again, it all goes to the personal relationships they have formed with the media over the years.
Not everyone is cut out for this job. And if all PR practitioner and his client can do is just blame the media for not publishing the client’s projects or efforts at reform, then perhaps it’s time to quit the job.
(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on April 8, 2011.)