“A*Star’s sense of purpose is about how we use science and technology to build a better world and contribute to issues that we are facing as a nation. Many issues like water, food and land shortages are problems that you cannot throw any more money at to resolve. Solutions must therefore be research or technology based. We are contributing to something very real and outcomes that will impact us for decades to come.”
Angelina Fernandez, Group Director of Corporate Communications at A*STAR (the Agency for Science, Technology and Research) was the latest special guest in our monthly PR Leader Series. Angie shared wide-ranging perspectives on corporate storytelling amid today’s ‘business unusual’ environment; her experience working with Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when he was the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and her thoughts on Public Relations including internal and strategic communication.
Here are the highlights of the conversation (check out our video for the rest):
- How has Communications changed at A*Star?
Fundamental changes were already occurring before COVID-19. Now they’re being accelerated. The media industry has been experiencing tremendous disruption. Resources are being reduced. The way the media approaches stories and interviews have also changed. Our response has been to build our own narrative capabilities. The mainstream media is still very important, but not necessarily the first platform we would go to.
- Is an academic degree a pre-requisite for a job in Communications at A*Star?
Not in Communications. We have a lot of smart people in A*Star. So my Communications officers must be able to talk and listen to them. If you demonstrate an interest in their work and its impact and outcomes, our scientists are more open. That is the essence of a good communicator – not necessarily your degrees, but the ability to talk to people and get the best out of them.
- What should Public Relations agencies do to be a better strategic communication partner with your team at A*star?
We are always happy to work with agencies who are interested to learn about our work and organization. That might not be the most relevant thing to the job on hand. However, having that broader understanding and a holistic brief about our work is helpful. Currently, there are many things we cannot do working from home, so we adopt a flexible mindset. We review the issues our agencies might have and revisit our original assumptions and our planned timelines and content, which might not be relevant now.
- You mentioned that the media is not the first platform that you’d go to during this period to make announcements. In the meantime, the media has seen a spike in viewership / readership as audiences are going to ‘trusted’ sources for information and news. How do you ensure that the news you put out on other mediums enjoy the same credibility as the mainstream media?
It all comes back to the trust and credibility a brand has. If the brand has had issues in the past, it will be hard to build credibility on your own. There are two areas that I am focused on. One is closing the feedback loop through rigorous data collection and analysis. Many of us have this aversion to data, but we should try to understand it better, or find someone with the expertise. If you close the feedback loop regularly, you will know whether your efforts on brand journalism are paying off. The other area is advocacy. You cannot be out there saying you are the best all the time. Other people need to say it for you and they could be both internal and external advocates.
- How do you ensure that your strategic relations with partner institutions remain robust and there’s continuous collaborations for future planning?
All organizations have recognised that they are not an entity unto themselves. We all have collaborators and competitors who may at some point collaborate with you. That is why relationships must be maintained all the time. We regularly check in with communication teams in other organisations we work with, not only when we need something. Communicators are great at building relationships and we should leverage this.
- You were with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) as part of a multi-ministry team that rallied Singapore through many challenging times including the Global Financial Crisis in the late 2000s. What was it like working with DPM Heng who was then the Managing Director of MAS?
He was in the trenches with us. He has a willingness to listen that has not changed even after he became the Deputy Prime Minister. The MAS used to interact more with institutions than individuals. DPM Heng started his career as a police officer. This background has kept him always close to the ground and that gave him a different perspective. He did not see himself just as a regulator of the financial system but concerned himself with how ordinary citizens were impacted by the Financial Crisis.
- How would you articulate A*Star’s sense of purpose?
It is about how we use science and technology to build a better world and contribute to issues that we are facing as a nation. Many issues like water, food and land shortages are problems that you cannot throw any more money at to resolve. Solutions must therefore be research or technology based. We are contributing to something very real and outcomes that will impact us for decades to come.
- Many Communication students will be graduating soon. They are likely to be disillusioned with the current job climate which has been badly impacted by COVID-19. What advice do you have for them?
Things are tough right now but that does not mean there are no opportunities. I once met an engineer who wanted to make a transition to Communication. She liked how it allowed her to express ideas in a written or verbal form. I encouraged her to create blog or vlog posts and share her ideas, and to get people to react to and fine-tune them. You don’t need a job to start building your skills and CV. You must show potential employers that you are passionate about something and are looking for opportunities to build your skillsets.
- What is the relevance of a convening body like IPRS in the industry today?
In these times, it is important to have a community and networks and that is exactly what IPRS is. It is a diverse community of practitioners who have much experience to share and a desire to learn more. Technology allows us to meet more people and benefit from the wisdom of others. I think IPRS has done a tremendous job in bringing communicators from all walks of life together.