SPEECHES AND REMARKS

Selected Speeches and Remarks

Women in PR - Choosing a PR Career and Surviving in it July 1, 2017 Presentation by Dr. Koryoe Anim-Wright President, African University College of Communications

Gbeshi dzi bo ni o ba bla?

That’s what my parents yelled out at me just about every week when I was growing up. I chose never to answer that question. But when my mom, really frustrated, would hold my ear and shout, “adun bi,” I would always happily respond by saying: “Adun mammi”!

Why am I telling these stories? Because when I was growing up, I was a handful. The only time I became quiet was when I was reading, writing or making up stories in my head. I knew very early on what my passion was. I didn’t know then what I wanted to be, but my family and I knew that it would have something to do with writing.

I’ve been asked to speak on the topic “Choosing a PR Career and Surviving in it.” For me, and I believe for most people who truly love what they do, I didn’t choose the profession. The profession chose me.

 

My presentation is divided into two parts – the first part will focus on choosing the PR career and, the second, on how to survive it.

Why choose a career in PR? My love for writing was my compass,which is why I believe having a passion for writing is the first reason to choose this profession. While attending college, I was a student assistant in the Office of Development and International programmes at the same university. Upon graduation with a BA in Communications: Radio/TV Production, I was hired by the office as an Associate Director. My primary role was the

identification, writing, development and management of international grants, contracts and programmes. I enjoyed my job because of the writing component, but it lacked the creativity I needed. Craving creativity, I noticed staffing gaps in the PR and alumni offices and began volunteering to write press releases and develop media projects. I also created and designed newsletters for the university community and soon became the sole writer

for the Alumni newsletter.

Fast forward seven years later, when I saw an announcement for a Director of Public Relations at a university in Danbury, Connecticut. All my former positions were in grants and contracts, but I creatively developed my resume

 

to showcase two things — my accomplishments in my official positions, and my experience in PR, which included the many volunteer PR initiatives I

had accomplished. With more than 100 applicants for the position, I ended up being the successful candidate. This taught me my first valuable lesson in PR — creating opportunity allows you to be ready for the right opportunity.

Yet another reason to choose PR is the diversity of roles. The beauty of the PR profession is that it contains a blend of just about everything. When we are working on maintaining a strong image of the organisation, we are engaged in brand management. Are we writing press releases? Well, there’s the journalist in us at work! When we spend time dreaming up innovative ways of promoting the organisation to stakeholders, we are developing an advertising campaign and playing the role of an advertising manager. And we are the spokespersons, serving as the face of an organisation when a tragedy occurs, mirroring the organisation’s humanity in the face of the tragedy or a scandal.

When I served as Director of Public Relations, I was required to do a lot —

review media coverage, deal with busy (and sometimes grumpy) journalists;

 

develop campaign strategies; create presentations; coordinate with admissions and academic departments; identify publicity opportunities; read, write and edit copy; manage endless events; attend strategic Management meetings; the list goes on. PR professionals are everywhere. We do everything. And we have to be ready for anything.

Another reason for choosing a career in PR is the quick-paced energetic environment. Rarely does a PR person utter the words “I have nothing to do”. That’s because we thrive in fast paced environments and love the “eclecticness” of our days. In my former PR role in Connecticut, I found myself doing everything from the mundane to the high level engagements. I helped arrange chairs for events during crunch time, I doubled as a server when the serving lines were too long, I served green tea to graduation

special guests, robed talk show host Montel Williams when he was our gradation speaker, been a member of a committee that planned a visit by former US President Bill Clinton to our campus, and rubbed shoulders with actors James Earl Jones and Mia Farrow and film director Mira Nair (to

name a few) when they visited our campus for lecture series. And the lesson learned? Be committed. And always be prepared to be what the institution needs you to be.

 

My next reason has to do with the variety of jobs. There are many potential roles and areas that you can specialise in the PR industry. For example, if you want to incorporate marketing, advertising and public relations in your career, get into integrated marketing communications. Interested in politics? Public affairs and lobbying may be for you. Want to go corporate? There’s internal communications, serving as an account executive or and financial relations. If you are good at planning and organising, then event management is the way to go. Do you love getting your hands dirty? Then specialise in crisis management or lobbying. Whatever it is you love, you’ll find an area in PR that’s right for you. From business reports to news stories to reviewing music to books and films to blogging to writing feature articles to media releases, you might find that

your biggest challenge is not choosing the career, but deciding what to settle on as your niche.

Surviving PR

So, now that you have chosen the PR profession, how do you survive it? To survive this industry you must be prepared to do more and to learn daily. A few years after I accepted the PR position at WestConn, I got a call at 1 a.m. from the campus police: A student had hang himself from the balcony of one

 

of our dormitories. That was the most difficult day of my professional life. Arriving on campus, I asked to be taken to the scene. This was very deeply personal situation and I felt strongly that I needed to connect the student and the incident in order to adequately do my job in this instance. After spending time where he was and viewing him and the circumstances, I left the scene knowing intuitively what had to be done. And from around 1.45 a.m. to 5am the activities were nonstop: I evacuated students from the dorm, arranged for the campus kitchen to be opened to serve tea and cookies for students, called school counselors to come in to help the students process the situation, briefed and invited the university president to join us around 4 am to talk to the students, called a local priest to preside over a memorial service for the campus community I planned to hold at 9 a.m. Some decisions came to me naturally, others I had some learning to do so I called more seasoned professionals to find out what else I could do. My final call was around 5 an to the local media, sharing what had happened and asking them to give me time to get the release together for them. That day I went home spent — I

left campus for home close to 10 pm the following day. It had been a long, trying day. I may have been exhausted, but I knew the right thing had been done for the young man and I was filled with a sense of accomplishment. The whole incident had been managed well, and with honor to the young

 

man took his life. DISCUSS 1 AM VS 3PM. My next lesson was: Expect the unexpected and be ready to excel.

The second key to surviving this profession? Don’t be afraid of the bad news

— scandals and tragedy. Most PR professionals find themselves in hot water when they cover things up. That’s a slippery slope. Our job is the manage issues with honesty and tact in order to elicit the appropriate desired

reaction. When I worked with one of the major institutions of higher learning in Ghana, fees were increased and students were understandably agitated. Students were angry and had resorted to calling the media about what they perceived to be the unfair treatment by the imposition of fees. One radio station approached me about broadcasting live on campus. At that

time, the Management of that university were extremely wary of the press and regarded the visit as one that would cast the institution in an unfavorable light. I saw it differently — as an opportunity to present our reasoning. Management eventually agreed and we had a wonderful visit by one of the leading radio broadcasters and his team. As part of the visit, Deans and other campus officials shared the programmes available and explained the reasons for the fee increases. The host was firm and asked all the hard questions. However, by providing a platform where we could also present our position,

 

our side of the story was heard, resulting in the issue being neutralised. We were able to proceed with our fee increase without any further incident. That’s what transparency does — it allows for a balanced presentation of issues and facts and in many instances, the truth prevails.

My third point for surviving this industry has to do with having the right set of skills. There is no getting around the need to have excellent written and verbal communication skills. That is a must. But just knowing how to write isn’t enough, you need to have a good eye for a story and ability to find the key message and make it sound inviting and exciting. You equally have to be hard working; have the ability to deal with multiple tasks at one time; be creative, determined; be confident in your recommendations; be persuasive; and persistent. Being versatile and adaptable is also key, and girding yourself with some design abilities will give you an edge.

So many times, I hear the expression: this is not my job. This doesn't fly in PR. If you are committed, the job is the successful completion of the project, not the limited part you play in the project based on your job description.

 

Concluding Points

During my life as a PR professional, my staff included students, part-time employees and full-time employees. One of my more memorable student assistants was a lovely girl called Heather. Heather was intelligent, quick- witted, poised, BUT, she was an introvert. Many of our conversations hovered around how hesitations about whether she could thrive in a PR environment given her introverted nature. I shared my experience with her. I am not a people person. But I am an “extroverted introvert”. I have learned over the years to “turn myself on” and in those instances, I am sociable and friendly. So I helped Heather find her “extrovert” mask in order to survive the day in an industry she absolutely loved. Part of our conversations involved finding an area in PR that best suited her talents and her personality. After our many talks, Heather graduated and left. She now

works for an advocacy group, focusing her efforts on their web and social media strategies. And she’s thriving!

With every industry, its important to conduct research is ascertain trends and gaps and position yourself to meet those opportunities. It’s about staying relevant and adaptable in a very fast changing world. And how you do that will allow you to stand out. For the PR industry, the impact of globalisation

 

means we need to keep up to be successful. The critical piece here is technology since it has now become a widely accepted way of engaging.

We also have to anticipate the future by staying close to other PR networks and experts in order to hear what’s going on in our industry, and what the predictions are. Armed with that information, we must find ways to incorporate these critical elements in what we do.

To organisations without viable PR offices, I say the time is now. Gone are the days when one had the luxury of not taking into account the public relations ramifications of a decision. Today, thanks in large part to social media and the immediacy of our needs, savvy businesses ensure the PR spoke in their organisational wheel is fully lubricated and ready to roll.

I could go on and on about how my background in PR prepared me for my current role as President of the African University College of communication, but that’s a whole lecture in and of itself!

To PR professionals I offer these final words:

 

It is important for us to stay connected to our clients and our audeience and not wait fo something to happen before we make the connection. We have to continually work at knowing who they are, what they like, and what makes them tick. Relationship building is one of the greatest time consumers, but one offers the greatest reward. In all cases, we must know our stakeholders more than they know themselves. The more we know them, the better we

will be at serving them and averting crises.

The field of Public Relations demands our commitment. And it is that commitment that makes us good at what we do.

So let’s not survive this profession. Let’s work on making the profession thrive. And remember, this profession is far from easy. Those who are good at it just make it look effortless.

Thank you.

REMARKS BY AUCC PRESIDENT, DR. G. KORYOE ANIM-WRIGHT

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