Career Path

The right words at the right time

by Ben O'Rourke

Public relations Rosemary Sayer Regional managing director - Asia Golin/Harris International Ltd

Statistics quoting the number of people who complain about their boring nine-to-five daily routine have not, as far as I know, been made public. A conservative estimate would put most people into this group, discounting those in healthcare, the police force and government, where the unexpected is to be expected. There are a number of professions that are considered, for want of a better word, cool, such as rock star, actor or supermodel, although the chances of inclusion in this elite category are slim at best. The few remaining lucky people are either in public relations (PR) or have won the Mark 6. Although PR may not be the easiest job in the world, it is rarely considered dull.

Rosemary Sayer, regional managing director - Asia, of Golin/Harris International Ltd, followed what she calls, a traditional route into PR - via journalism. After working in radio, television and print media for five years, she worked for two of Australia's largest companies, Wesfarmers Limited and Lion Nathan, before setting up her own consultancy, gathering a portfolio of clients involved in everything from healthcare and government to mining. Ms Sayer proved popular with head-hunters over the years in both Australia and Hong Kong. She moved to Hong Kong in 1997 and has worked for both consultancies and major corporations like Standard Chartered Bank.

Today, strong media connections are still important for the fresh graduate with a degree in communications or public relations. However, specialist positions require expertise that can only be achieved through years of working experience gained in the relevant area. At the end of the day though, it is all about communicating effectively, regardless of your qualifications or experience. "PR is about helping people communicate the right messages to their shareholders, governments, consumers, employees or other stakeholders," says Ms Sayer. "A company may be very good at what they do, yet not very good at communicating their ideas." This is where companies like Golin/Harris step in to smooth out the rough edges.

"You need to know how to manage your time and teamwork is also a key - the job is so varied it's impossible to do everything yourself"

Multilingual malady
So what kind of people are they looking for? "Usually fresh graduates or people with three to five years' experience in the business and, for specialist positions, they must have extensive experience in the field. You need to know how to manage your time and teamwork is also a key - the job is so varied it's impossible to do everything yourself. Good communication skills are essential and, in Hong Kong, people must be bilingual or even better, trilingual. It's so difficult to find good PR people who are fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin."

As for personality, vital ingredients that Ms Sayer looks for are "a passion for knowledge and information, an interest in current affairs ... someone who wants to learn and is interested in news and the community." Quite often Ms Sayer is surprised by the lack of interest some of the younger applicants have about the world around them and how little they read. "I ask them what they are reading or whether they have ever done any community service and it's disturbing how often they have nothing to say about themselves."

Golin/Harris has about 27 people working with a large number of clients at any given time. They are split into divisions, including public affairs that deals with the government and concerns about Legco decisions. Marketing communications handles consumer matters. Investor relations works with listed companies on annual reports, analyst communications and results announcements. The corporate practice does all general PR.

"Each consultant handles three or four clients. They spend most of the day managing media relations, counselling senior management on all aspects of communication, organising events and there's a lot of writing involved. It's difficult to plan your day as you never know what's going to happen. You may be working on a problem your client has with an upcoming Legco vote when the phone rings and you need to change a speech another client is about to make - it takes flexibility and multitasking." It is manic at the best of times and a little like juggling an assortment of expensive crockery, but this is what any PR pro will tell you makes it so exciting - and stressful. "It is a terrific profession," adds Ms Sayer.

China Opportunities

Positions in China are on the increase and Ms Sayer re-iterates the need for trilingualists in the currently immature, yet developing, market. "We're moving more people there for project work and have recently opened our first office but we're finding it hard to recruit the right people with the right language skills. As the Olympics approaches and the WTO opens China ever more, this will become more apparent."

Ms Sayer predicts an acceleration in mainland recruitment as the world focuses on the event in 2008 and quality becomes paramount.


Taken from Career Times 14 November 2003, p. 30
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