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Where an end brings you to the beginning

“Why did you choose to study public relations?”

“I didn’t know what I want to do so I chose PR.” That is the honest-to-goodness answer I usually get from a fresh graduate at a job interview.

It does seem that public relations is the stop-gap course for clueless university entrants who end up spewing text-book definitions of PR at interviews. It doesn’t help either when the majority of PR lecturers are theorists with limited, and sometimes, no “in-the-trenches” experience of PR be it in-house or with an agency.

It is no wonder then that the graduands are often lacklustre with no understanding of, or passion for, what they studied.

Out in the field, the situation is further exacerbated by “practitioners” with narrow understanding of the field they are in; who see the practice as a means to an end – bring home the bacon.

Having been a PR practitioner for over 30 years, I am guilty of being jaded – “That’s how it is out there. As long as I am not sucked in the miry bog, I am fine.”

It took the death of a PR giant to get me re-centred.

CT Hew, my first boss, passed away in August. He was a consummate professional and a highly-regarded PR practitioner. Tributes poured in from all over the world – his ex-colleagues, his clients, fellow practitioners, media personalities.

One trait which stood out above all in the many remembrances of him is “Integrity”.

When I first entered the profession in the 1980s, integrity was not a word I would associate with the PR industry – to be absolutely honest. I remember distinctly telling CT that “PR is nothing but whitewash.” A few years under his guidance changed that misperception.

Integrity is, in many ways, the cornerstone of the PR industry.

As gatekeepers of our clients’ image and reputation, we have to make sure that they communicate with integrity and in truth. It is our job, as their communications specialists, to hold them accountable and keep them on the straight and narrow even if they may resist.

Personally, a PR practitioner’s word is his/her bond – to clients and other stakeholders.

Our strategies have to be sound and realistic – not empty promises to nail the job only to give excuses further down the road why it didn’t work.

The quality of our work and our level of involvement and counsel have to justify the fee we command.

To the media/influencers, it is being a straight shooter without spilling the beans; ensuring that their deadlines are met; and working alongside them to craft a credible story without overstepping boundaries.

Then there is Passion. Passion for what we do. Passion is what keeps us in our chosen career for decades despite the late nights and lost weekends; Passion is what drives us to meet clients with enthusiasm and excitement; Passion is that which pushes us to keep learning and adapting as the industry evolves.

It is not dependent on new experiences or new challenges or new stimulations.

It is the constant inner drive to challenge oneself, to perform better than the last project you undertook; the satisfaction of anticipating and pre-empting a client/media; the desire to keep learning as education does not end.

This passion does not die. It may waver and dim but all it takes is for some unexpected gush to fan the ambers and it burns anew.

Admittedly, it took a death and a memorial to help me re-focus on why I have remained in the industry for so long.

It was, first and foremost, a deep-seated passion for my chosen vocation followed by the knowledge that it is one where professional and personal integrity is paramount.

These cannot be taught in any PR course or come with an earned degree.

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