To the ones that made me care

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure and also the torture of working with several talented people in the public relations industry. These were the people who took a chance on a girl who really loved to write and helped guide her to where she is today.

Getting here was definitely not easy. It was fraught with mistakes, steep learning curves and people who are constantly trying to trip you up. To be honest, the road is pretty much the same now! But I’m learning. In the beginning, I had a slightly easier time because I was working in-house. Work was stable and you had the time to pick up the ropes for what is required of your job. In-house is great because it provides a certain form of stability. The downside is that you often get mired in internal politics. Work becomes a secondary role because you have to keep certain players in the game. You have to be adept in playing so that you can dodge, deflect and sometimes swing the game to your favour.

Working in an international agency later was tough because I was literally thrown into the deep end and expected to swim. It was there I faced a really tough challenge. A director who really pushed me hard – she was a big, brassy and no-nonsense character. I got yelled at (right at my desk in the middle of the office), threatened and had work thrown out the door because it wasn’t up to scratch. Quality was everything and she expected the highest.

No compromise and certainly no lagging. All client work has to be drafted and on her desk by noon so that it will be delivered to the client by 3pm because ‘your client leaves the office at 6pm so they have to see your work before they leave.’ Don’t expect the client to work late or on the weekends just because you are slow. You cannot be late. All deadlines must be delivered. Client work and billability rates were priority. You simply cannot slack off, or go on any smoke break if your work is not at least halfway done. Your time is client time.

Harsh? Extremely. I wanted to quit after 3 months after too many late nights on my first regional, travelling project, too many telling-offs and grilling. The turning point came when I got counsel from another director. In working with this director, I realized a few things. Firstly, I can’t quit because I chased this job down. It was an agency that I aspired to work in with people who knew how this industry was run and clients I was eager to be involved with. Secondly, I’m no hack. I have the chops to DO this. Thirdly, there is no quitting because things get tough. I was determined to walk away from this experience proud of my achievements. You can’t kill me with that – I won’t bloody let you.

Was it madness? Yes. I was determined to prove that I can work this and so I dived back in. Look, I wasn’t there to make the woman love me. I just wanted to do the work. I stayed at this job for close to three years. Gradually work got better and I got the experience I needed, working on new business, leading teams and chasing down stories for the client. Billability was good and the work was constant…one thing about agency work is that, there is never a dull moment.

The irony was that hope came through when times were the hardest. I learned a lot about myself and also from the people who were toughest to me plus those that guided me through it all. She was not just tough. She knew the work and the clients. Just because she was a director didn’t mean that she was unaware of what I was doing or how I can do it better…despite the toughness, she showed me what I can do to excel. For that, I am immensely thankful and should I need a recommendation, she has said that all I had to do was ask. Wow. I’m also highly respectful of the bosses who’ve been there for me till today.

Where I am now is a good place. There is an immense opportunity for this company to become great but there has much as to be done to develop the young talent. For it is simply too raw…young people in the industry are great but you have to teach and mentor them. Don’t get me wrong we have great leaders but they need to be more involved in mentoring. There are some that guide through lip service but that is not enough. It is meaningless if you don’t show people how things are done at least once plus it reflects that you probably have no idea how to do it. Because at the end of the day, the newbies become lazy and assume that leadership means just asking a people to do a bunch of things. Work becomes meaningless and so do promotions.

My hope is for the company do more for these newbies. To get into the heads and the hearts of these people and really show them how the industry works. People shouldn’t go through what I have but they should be taught the right skills and given the right tools to excel. Public relations is not for the faint hearted; it is not just about the writing or content development. Not just the event management. Consultants are constantly challenged to think for the clients and counsel them to the best of their abilities. A yes-man has no place here and delegation only works to an extent. Internal politics is everywhere but a smarter way of approaching this is to work hard to prove your mettle and not just play at silly games.

After all, you didn’t get into PR simply for the glamour, right?

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Ever prodded a sleeping dragon, only to have it whip up and bite you in the ass? Well, neither have I. But I advocate that you should try everything...once ;P
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