CPRFHK young PR professional awards event comes with career advice

Hong Kong's council of PR firms recognises young talent in its industry and holds a panel session aimed at providing career guidance.


HONG KONG - As part of its outreach to young PR practitioners, The Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong holds an annual competition to recognise burgeoning talent among the industry's students and the newly employed.

The awards were presented on 31 March at Brick Lane in Admiralty and also featured a guest panel session aimed at providing advice to young professionals looking to advance their careers.

This year, to compete, entrants had to craft a communications strategy to combat binge drinking.

"Key insights the winners all had in common, was the understanding that there was a need not to prohibit drinking but to look into ways to encourage moderation with young people," said Simeon Mellalieu, partner and general manager of Ketchum Hong Kong. "There was also a great use of tie-ups and partnerships with entities like universities and orientation camps and also a strong content strategy, one that would recruit people to participate in the campaign."

The winners and runners-up across the two categories were:

Student Category
Winner: Abby Cheng from HK Polytechnic University
Runner-Up: Sheren Ku from HKUST
Young Professional Category
Winner: Sasha Alwani from Burson-Marsteller
Runner-Up: Scarlett Au from Tesla Motors

Panel Session

(L-R) Mellalieu, Wincuinas, Sun, Ng, Laxton, Walsh and Poon

In place of a regular panel discussion, the CPRFHK board created a quiz-style game where panelists selected a topic and were posed questions based on that topic. Subjects included digital experience, the ability to write or speak Cantonese or English, if internships were helpful and whether the ability to sell was necessary.

Moderated by Mellalieu, the panel's speakers were:

Andrew Laxton, MD and EVP of Asia, Racepoint Global
Felix Poon, MD, Vis Communications
Jason Wincuinas, managing editor, Campaign Asia-Pacific
Jon Walsh, senior manager of Global Communications, Infiniti Motors
Ruby Ng, principal officer, ISD
Valerie Sun, account executive, Fleishman Hillard and last year's winner in the young professional category

Here are some of the questions asked during the panel session, including some questions from the floor. Regretably, none of the questions were posed by the young professionals attending the event.

When asked, 'Why do you want to work in PR?', many fresh graduates answer, 'I want to work in PR because I like to work with people'. Is this a good answer or a bad one?

Ng: I think PR is about people and it's an answer I expect to hear. But I do expect them to come up with innovative ideas.

Is working with people exclusive to PR?

Laxton: Of course not, but it is very much a people business. You'll often hear this term bounced around in the industry, 'teamwork'. I believe though that it's more important to be supportive of each other.

Is an internship an asset for job applicants?

Walsh: It's absolutely fundamental, but it has to be the correct experience. What we find is that, and we do tend to look for people with a love for cars, we find that even if you spend your summers washing cars on photoshoots for AutoExpress, it's fundamental. It gets you the experience you need.

Are people with high salary expectations a turnoff?

Wincuinas: If somebody has a number in mind and they have to have it, that shows inflexibility and maybe we can't work with that person. But at the same time, people shouldn't work for peanuts. If you ask for a reasonable sum and they won't offer it to you, you should walk away. However, if you've got a family situation where you don't have to pay the rent but the experience offered is really good, you should consider getting that experience over cash, especially at the start of your career. 

Do you need to work 12-hour days?

Sun: I think everyone knows that agency work involves working up to 12 hours. Especially when you have clients that work in different time-zones. The real thing is that you have to put efficiency as a priority; you shouldn't have to work 12 hours just to get work done. If I get client-emails after work though, and it's my responsibility, then I'll get back to them. But you do need a work-life balance, so if it's not urgent, it can probably wait.

How important is digital experience and is having 'digital' in a title important?

Poon: I would say it’s important to the young generation and they come across digital experience every day. I don't think a title is important; it is more about the experience. I would value a reference or a job expeirence over title.

How important are sales skills?

Laxton: It's critical. We're starting NLP training programmes at Racepoint. Good sales technique is not just about winning new business. It's about being able to provide good council to clients everyday. 

You speak to brands, agencies, and government representatives on a daily basis. What are the trends you're seeing in PR that young pros need to have a good understanding of?

Wincuinas: I think the disruption digital is bringing to thr PR industry is absolute opportunity. Young people who can navigate this world have an advantage. Owned media is a rising priority for brands. You can get ahead before entering the job market just by just having an owned media channel of your own. GE is an example of a brand with a great owned-media platform that's allowing them to push out an image they wouldn't have previously been able to do. If you understand that kind of work, it's an opportunity.

A fairly standard career path in the industry is to graduate, join an agency, then move in-house. Do you actively recruit fresh graduates in-house?

Walsh: We'll take the right people from whatever the background. PR is a bit about people and flexibility. Basically, there's not much difference in the understanding gained from either side. In an agency you deal with multiple clients and in-house, multiple departments. It's not a real big differentiator for us.

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