Tuesday, 6 November 2012
For me, I've always found PR work to be 'light' - light in the sense as in "not so serious work". I've work in R&D Engineering which, traditionally, is viewed as "more serious". Yes, Engineering work required concentration and skill in manipulating Math and Science, but the environment can be incredibly dull. In PR, the colleagues tended to be more communicative and outgoing; but no less serious about their work. -Something I admire a lot about.
So, going into PR work, I too tried to enjoy it as much as possible.
Before PR, I was a journalist and was at the receiving end of what PR people planned and executed. These were mostly press conferences, one-on-one interviews and of course, press junkets. All journalists look forward to press junkets. It's when you get to go on a trip and be treated like royalty. Well, almost, but you get the idea.
These trips are almost always sponsored by the corporate clients of PR agencies. An exotic location is selected (usually), the invited journalists brought there, and a dinner is then hosted - often by a senior person of the client company. Such press junkets are expensive and are only afforded by multinational corporations.
For me as a journalist, more than just a good makan time, I view such occasions as opportunities to gain access to top people of a Fortune 500 company. The CEO of Microsoft or Oracle, the CTO of Cisco or Intel, etc... decision-makers we would otherwise have a hard time meeting (or get an opinion) under normal circumstances.
For large companies such press junkets are often organised as part of a corporate retreat with stakeholders, i.e. the customers and partners. There they would learn of the company's future direction in terms of product road map, marketing and channel strategy, changes in personnel, etc.
The management types then take time out to share their vision with the media so fresh news of the company can get out. But as such news are usually sugar-coated, I would try to get hold of a customer to talk to. But of course, the company or PR person will try to keep you from doing that. No one in their right mind would want a reporter talk to a customer unsupervised. It will be like shooting yourself in the foot. But there are ways if a journalist is so inclined. It's always a cat-and-mouse game.
So, such a trip works both ways; it's the classic "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". But as a writer, always be mindful of hard-sell by these companies who invite you. They rely on you to get their corporate message out to the industry and always want it to be as rose-tinted and positive as possible. But as a reporter or writer, you have a certain integrity to adhere to. Also a duty to your reader to remain unbiased.
One of the more elaborate press junkets I've been too was in Bangkok. I was invited by the kind folks of Canon. Back then, I was writing for a regional IT trade paper.
That function in Bangkok began with an expensive dinner cum traditional dance. It was held at the 7-star Oriental Hotel by the Chao Phraya River. Afterwards, we were then taken on a slow boat ride where we sipped wine, ate finger food, and made small talk with Canon's people. They got to know us better and we, them - all in a casual and non-threatening setting. Non-threatening to a point. After all, we were kept in a boat and could not run away!
The next day, we travelled to Canon's new inkjet printer factory in Ayutthaya, that ancient kingdom of Thailand. I was very impressed by what I saw there.
The production line processes were novel and innovative. They were not your typical linear type of operation. The time and personnel required to assemble a printer were greatly reduced. Work for production workers was also less repetitive and more varied, factors that could help reduce job burn-out and absenteeism. Canon's new and revamped production lines were certainly operating very differently from what other manufacturing folks were doing then.
I should know because I had worked in an advanced factory of almost 3000 people in various capacities before going into Journalism, and so could appreciate what Canon was trying to do. Besides, Canon's factory in Ayutthaya was the biggest employer in that area. It thus should play a greater role than just make printers.
As a matter of fact, they did.
The factory put in place pro-Community policies after much consultation with its workers. One such initiative led to the setting up of a supermarket on its premises. The supermart allowed the majority population of female production workers there to buy things before heading home after their end-of-shift, which could be late and the shops closed. The set-up was especially good for the mothers amongst the workers. I was told that shampoo and baby milk powder were the two most popular items bought at the supermarket. Not surprising, really.
After the factory visit, we journalists were led to room where we could ask more questions of the new manufacturing setup. In our group were quite a number of journalists from India. What I discovered about them was not pleasant.
For one, they were rather gruff and rude. They behaved as if they should be feted like VVIPs all the time and showed it. During question time, they did not even bother to introduce themselves nor precede their question with a polite Mr So & So. They sounded bored and appeared as if they much preferred to be somewhere else.
That was not the first time I had seen them behave in such a deplorable manner. They were the same during our first-night dinner. At times, they were so rude that you just want to punch them in the face on behalf of the hosts. Little wonder that the PR and Communications folks preferred to deal with us reporters from Singapore, Malaysia, HK, or the Philippines. We seemed to have better Asian sensibilities and etiquette than those ill-mannered blokes from the land of the Maharajahs and Untouchables. Perhaps they were channeling a bit of both, so proud and insecure they were. Or they could be exhibiting unsavory traits learned from their colonial past. I know in their work culture there, the bosses still preferred to be called "Sir". In any case, manners aside, I considered their behaviour to be very unprofessional. I wondered then if the PR folks even had to give them "cha (tea) money" to run a press release!
In the afternoon, my group of journalists were treated to a tour of the ruins of Ayutthaya. They were impressive, but I rather see the ones in Europe. You see, because the weather there is usually dry and cool, the ruins look better. They are not moldy and covered with algae or some damp patch. They also do not smell of mildew and dog urine, which was quite bad at Ayutthaya. A couple of times, I saw much worse. You could say the visit to Ayutthaya was a 4-D experience: 3-D structures with the additional dimension that assaults your sense of smell.
Therefore, as much as I wanted to appreciate the ancientness of Ayutthaya, its more recent foul additions made the visit wholly unpleasant. Nice to look at from a distance but terrible to explore up close. A solution would be to mask your nose first with lots of Tiger Balm or Axe Brand Oil!
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