Launch of IPRS’ PR Leaders Series

Among Communication professions, PR practitioners are most apt at learning to adapt in a crisis. The Covid-19 situation is unprecedented.  Duke-NUS, where many medical experts are working towards a solution, has been positioned as an institution of authority and influence amid the chaos.” Anirudh Sharma, Director of Corporate Communications, Duke-NUS Medical School.

On 30 April, Marcus Loh, President, IPRS Council 2019/21, hosted Anirudh Sharma, in a half-hour dialogue – the Institute’s first virtual townhall for PR professionals and guests.   A wide-ranging spectrum of topics was covered – from purpose-driven communication to corporate storytelling and internal communication, against the backdrop of Duke-NUS Medical School’s evolution from a medical school to an institution in the forefront of the battle against Covid-19.

Here are some highlights of the conversation:

Given your journalism background, how can PR practitioners do better when engaging the media in the new media landscape?

One thing remains the same across the different landscapes I’ve worked in: journalists are looking for stories that they can tell THEIR Audiences.  Reporters need to “sell” their stories to their editors first.   Thus, three things are important:

  • Think like a journalist. Start with a good headline.
  • Contextualise your story. “Localise” it.
  • Include visuals where possible. It adds appeal and impact.

Communications is determining the winners and losers in the current Covid-19 crisis. How are you steering Duke-NUS through this pandemic?

The current situation is unprecedented.  The many medical experts at Duke-NUS are working hard towards finding a solution.  We are positioning Duke-NUS as an institution of authority and influence. We are trying to make the best of the situation by finding ways to collaborate with partners and the media to reinforce our narrative that we are a brand that can be counted on in moments like these.

Understandably, Duke-NUS has been receiving a deluge of press enquiries daily.  We recognised this as an opportunity to share our expert opinions on the rapidly evolving outbreak. So we created a webpage dedicated to questions on Covid-19 and made key information easily accessible to our media partners.  We lined up a panel of experts for more complex questions and issues.

These things did not happen naturally, though.   We had to closely work with both the media as well as our researchers to ensure that we communicated in a clear and emphatic way.

How would you encapsulate, in a phrase, Duke-NUS’ sense of purpose to stakeholders and society today?

Duke-NUS is all about “Transforming medicine and improving lives”.  Duke-NUS is one of the few medical institutes working towards developing a Covid-19 vaccine.  If we succeed, it will be something for all Singaporeans to be proud of.

Lastly, if you can give advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Firstly, don’t take things too seriously.  Apply common sense to your skills.  Communicators are in the frontline of every organisation. Maintaining common sense and a sense of humour would allow you to display leadership skills in panic situations. Secondly, don’t dwell on mistakes.  You won’t get anything from this. Take mistakes in your stride; learn from it, and move on.  Always take a breather, a pause, before you press that “send” button. This prevents you from sending something that you might regret. I always give myself a five-minute buffer before I send out any email.  Often, I found that this helped as I was able to choose a better word or phrase to convey my messages with precision.

What is the relevance of industry apex bodies like IPRS in Singapore today?

Here in this platform, all of us can speak the same language. Here, we can freely talk, network, and learn from each other. Nobody else can do that. Doctors have their professional associations, engineers have their professional associations, and they are also in the frontline of their respective industries. We need this platform more than anything else, it is pretty relevant to us.