Monday, September 20, 2010

Auckland PR Visit

This past Friday, I was up at 5:30 a.m. Why on earth would I get up before the birds you may ask? Well, it was well worth it. As a member of MCSA (Waikato's Management Communication Student Association) I got the opportunity to carpool up to Auckland and spend the day visiting public relations firms. We left the car park before the sun came up at 6:15 a.m. and arrived in Auckland to PRINZ (the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand) by 8:30, after stopping for coffee and a breakfast break (obviously a necessity!).

Our group of 20 (18 girls, 2 boys... as is common in PR; wow I picked the wrong major.. ;) just kidding), split into two sets of 10 and visited a total of 5 downtown PR firms, most a short walk away from one another. First, we visited the Auckland Art Gallery and spoke to their main publicity woman. It was interesting to see how PR is used in that specific context and I quite liked how she compared PR to working as a "translator," helping the gallery and artists' messages reach the public in a way that will be easily understood and appreciated.

Next, off to TVNZ, NZ's main TV channel network (the equivalent of the U.K.'s BBC 1 & BBC 2), where we got to tour the control rooms, full of bright TV screens, broadcasting content from around the world, whizzing media input machines, and lots of professionals, monitoring all the output to ensure no on-air glitches.

Currently, TVNZ is undertaking its "Nexus project," its largest venture since switching from black and white to colour in the '70s - a $20 million capital investment into going digital. Every tape of footage that comes into the network's studios from one of its distributors (20,000 per year!) is "ingested" into the system, creating a digital copy that can be uploaded for easy replay, online or promotional use.

Their current promotional slogan - "Inspiring NZers on every screen" - ties into this idea of TVNZ footage being accessible on many media platforms and is helping TVNZ re-brand itself as more "hip," current and technologically savvy to appeal to the younger generations.

Next, we got to hear from TVNZ's Publicity Co-ordinator and Corporate Affairs Spokesperson. They described their roles perfectly - Publicity strives to promote and celebrate the positive things that happen at TVNZ and Corporate Affairs tries to squash the rumors and stop negative stories from manifesting. Their Corporate Affairs spokesperson was an older woman who seemed EXTREMELY knowledgeable and an amazing speaker (I can tell why she is so good at her job).

Some memorable quotes from my new idol:
"Dreadful headlines happen to all of us."
"Corporate communication requires a thick skin and stiff spine."
"PR professionals are not spin doctors - we provide context."
"The recession means media outlets are fighting for a diminishing number of eyeballs."
She compared media management to playing chess - blocking your opponent (journalists) as they attempt to find sneaky, negative story angles, and says she puts out so many fires, her title should be changed to "company fireman."
She also commented on the difficulties in dealing with senior level management, where there's "a hell of a lot of testosterone going around." haha..

Next, we had a lunch break - delicious, freshly made sushi :) and then made an epic trek across town, in the rain and wind, to the Telecom offices (think torrential downpour, hurricane winds, and inside-out umbrellas, not to mention an insanely attractive afro hair-do upon arrival). I should take a second to mention that right now the biggest storm on the planet - a monster the size of Australia - has been hovering around New Zealand, intermittently attacking for the past several days. It is SO windy that it will be monsooning with black thunder clouds overhead one moment, then clear and sunny, in the eye of the storm, the next, then back to angry-looking clouds again.

Anyway, we made the treacherous walk and arrived at Telecom, New Zealand's largest phone company provider, only a bit late. It was interesting to hear how they divide responsibilities among their corporate relations team, seeing as they have a larger group and more resources.

Finally, we went back to the city center where we met with the main PR co-ordinator for AA (NZ Automobile Association... sister to our AAA). He had an interesting perspective, having worked in politics/parliament in Wellington prior to his AA move to Auckland. One of my favourite things was simply hearing how these professionals got to where they are today. Almost everyone has taken a very round-about path to working in PR and all have very diverse experience, having changed jobs multiple times. In fact, the AA director specifically mentioned how it's almost expected for PR practitioners to switch jobs every 2-3 years or so. If someone has been in one position for longer than that, something's usually wrong (were they not wanted elsewhere?). Each move helps to diversify your experience and expertise. Statements like that reaffirm my choice to be in PR. I've always wanted an exciting career with mobility and variety - something that was reiterated all day long by each professional we visited - "No two days are the same." "You have to be able to manage multiple loose ends at once" and "must quite like a good crisis!" I loved hearing the phrase - "I love my job!" which popped up at every place we visited. That's definitely a good sign :).

Finally, we returned to the PRINZ headquarters where we had a mini meeting with some folks from NetworkPR, a small consulting agency. Overall, it was an amazing day. I learned something valuable from each place we went, got to spend some time with the other NZ PR students, and left Auckland feeling confident and overjoyed that I have picked this career path!

On the way home, the two girls I drove with and I stopped at a big mall for some dinner and a bit of shopping. The weather had been worsening throughout the day and, as we continued back to Hamilton, we saw several areas struck by power outages and sections of Highway 1 (the only major motorway in NZ) that had been closed due to fallen trees. We have been experiencing so much rain lately that the Waikato river, which runs along the highway, has severely jumped its banks and is encroaching - lets hope it doesn't make it to the road! I felt bad for those caught in the insanely long line of backed up cars headed into the city as we passed them on our way home, with lightning flashing like a strobe light on the horizon and rain hitting our wind-tossed car in buckets. Don't worry, we made it back safe and sound by 8:00ish, in time for a movie night with Erika, Gabe, and Sam!

I'll add pictures to this post from the day once they are sent out in the next MCSA newsletter! So stay tuned...

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