Telum vox pops: Why are PR and social media roles perceived as non-essential by the public?

Telum vox pops: Why are PR and social media roles perceived as non-essential by the public?

Last Sunday (14/6) The Straits Times surveyed 1000 Singaporeans and results showed Social Media Manager / PR Specialist ranked third in terms of non-essential profession. Telum caught up with some industry professionals to hear their views.

Joyce England, Head of PR & External Communications, Asia Pacific at Experian
It doesn't surprise me that we're thought of as non-essential folks. Most people don't understand what PR and social media professionals do, and a lot of our work goes on behind the scenes. For years, I've tried to explain what I do for a living to my mother, but she doesn't get it. When the prime minister makes a speech to reassure people, for example, we’re the ones writing the speech and preparing the spokesperson. COVID-19 has made me feel like I’ve been put in the front seat as a communications practitioner and I know we’re making a difference even if people don’t see how we make things happen. 

James Brasher, Managing Partner at RICE Communications
Without knowing more about how the survey was structured and the profile of respondents, it’s a bit hard to gauge if the results are truly representative. That said, the results don’t surprise me as many people don’t fully understand or appreciate the role of communications in, or outside of a crisis. Obviously, communication is important but when put alongside the work done by frontline staff in a pandemic, its perceived significance is understandably less. As communications professionals, we need to continue to take pride in the work we do and focus on how that impacts businesses and communities positively.

Tarun Deo, Managing Director Singapore and Southeast Asia at Golin
To begin with all jobs are essential but when viewed though a COVID lens and the perception of what a job delivers - clearly some are deemed 'more essential' and rightly so by the public at large. It would have been interesting to see what the results had been if we had substituted PR specialist/social media manager with 'communications professional' as an example. I think we will all agree that the need for informed and trustworthy communications at this juncture - as an example - what is the Ministry of Health / Manpower doing to keep COVID-19 in check or working to keep the spread of the virus in dormitories has been 'essential' information for most, if not, all people at this time. Communications professionals at these ministries have been working tirelessly to bring this 'essential' information to the public across all media formats. What if the public did not have access to this?

Robin Goh, Group Chief Brand & Communications Officer at Singapore Post
The PR industry probably does a terrible job of public relations for itself, but for good reasons. We as communications professionals often work in the background, changing mindsets and making paradigm shifts. To guide our intended narratives, we leverage different tools - pitching, educating, spokespersons, trending topics - to rally attention to our own cause. Some of these causes are unpopular, which is why the industry gets labels such as ‘spin doctors’ or ‘propagandists’ since time immemorial.

Members of public often judge communicators based on what they see: working with influencers, entertaining members of the press, organising events, pulling stunts, which some may dismiss as frivolous. What people don’t see is we often arbitrate between internal and external stakeholders, ensuring consistency in the messages that companies put out, in the spirit of accountability and transparency. Sometimes we have to do the dirty job of reminding our internal stakeholders that we can’t hide certain truths.

Most importantly, PR practitioners work as a bridge between newsmakers and news writers. Behind every story you read in the press or online, there’s probably a ‘spin doctor’ making it happen.

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