Telum Talks To… Liu Xiao Wei and Adrian Tan, Judges of IPRS PRISM Award 2021

Telum spoke to Liu Xiao Wei (Board Member of The Marketing Society Singapore, Former VP, External Relations, Shell Asia) and Adrian Tan (Partner, Litigation & Dispute Resolution at TSMP Law Corporation) as two of the judges for the IPRS PRISM Awards 2021 on the award, the importance and what they’re expecting to see from entries. 

The IPRS PRISM Awards have been in place since 1987. Why is it important to ensure organisations and individuals in public relations continue to be recognised?
Liu Xiao Wei (LXW): As its name suggests, public relations (PR) as a profession and function helps organisations of all kinds, from government to private companies, to build a trusting relationship with their target audiences through meaningful engagements and communications.

That trusting relationship, in turn, contributes to the reputation and brand of the organisation. Practitioners in PR are in the centre and front of crafting and orchestrating these engagements and communications. It’s an act of both art and science, the art of creation based on the science of fact, data and analysis.

IPRS is the only accrediting body for PR practitioners in Singapore. The Institute’s mission is ‘advancing the excellence in PR’, with the objective of establishing growth for Singapore’s PR industry through knowledge acquisitions, networking, and exchanging of new ideas. The Institute continually strives to be the leading regional PR organisation that will not only elevate the profession but also set industry standards and increase public recognition of this profession.

The PRISM Awards is a way of recognition, and promotion of best practices, which in turn foster learning and development of PR professionals, a key objective of IPRS.

Adrian Tan (AT): Every one of us is a consumer of PR. Every day, we read, watch and reflect on individuals and organisations. In so doing, we are judging PR efforts. The best PR efforts produce one outcome: trust. We, the consumer, learn to trust an idea, a product or an entity. It’s not easy, and it takes strategy, wisdom and an understanding of the world.

COVID-19 has changed the way companies execute communications work over the past two years. Some have embraced the change, taking them as opportunities. Do you feel the same way?
LXW: Definitely. COVID-19 is a public health crisis, on a global level. One of the core competencies and capabilities of PR is crisis management and crisis preparedness.  However, no matter how well we are prepared, no one is ready for the challenges brought by COVID-19, there is no playbook for this crisis on this scale of complexity.

Having said that, we are pleased to take note of the responses and adaptability shown by many organisations, arising from the initial panic to focus on people and essential work and workers, to finding solutions, e.g. interventions of masking, social distancing to now vaccine and long term medication, etc.

PR plays a key role in crisis managing the COVID-19 for their organisations, from the initial tuning down on campaigns to focus on internal communications / engagements about employees’ health and safety, and external focus on customers and business continuity, and social responsibility, e.g. support the essential work, keeping the lights on, helping with the supply of critical medical needs, etc.

The role of PR in managing the response to the COVID-19 Pandemic are wide-ranging, from strategic positioning to tactical execution, and the essential role to help the management of any organisation to make the right decisions and do the right things.

As the outbreak of COVID-19 detected in China and Asia first, PR practitioners in this part of the world had the challenge of making the first move in managing an unprecedented health crisis, before it was even recognised as a global crisis. So, salute to all the PR practitioners in Asia for leading the way of managing a historic global crisis, in particular, China where the outbreak started and Singapore where most multinational regional headquarters are based.

AT: The world itself has changed, through the experience of COVID-19. For the first time, a global audience is asked to trust governments, health authorities and pharmaceutical companies. It’s not always an easy sell, as we can see.

The PR scene in Singapore has seen great growth over the past ten years. If there are areas you think communicators here can do more in, what would they be?
LXW
: Indeed, PR as a profession has grown a lot over the last decade thanks to the disruptions and advancement brought by technology, e.g. being more mobile, the rise of social media and the need for more data-driven approach, just to name a few.

As PR professionals, we are at the forefront of connecting the organisations we serve to the key stakeholders out there in society. Hence, we should always be aware of the bigger picture, the signals and signposts of what’s happening and shaping society. In this regard, a few trends worthy noting, such as the rise of focus on ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) and its implications to the organisation and industry we are in; the digitalisation, the future of work, and social issues of equality, etc. These are the big challenges and opportunities to be thought about, e.g. helping the organisation you are in to have a strategy and plan in place.

On a more practical level, getting the basics right is never out of date. The basics may change with time, some of the fundamentals for PR never fade. I’d like to highlight my favourite Page Principles for PR: tell the truth; prove it with action; listen to stakeholders; manage for tomorrow; conduct public relations as if the whole enterprise depends on it; realise an enterprises’ true character is expressed by its people; remain calm, patient and good-humoured.

AT: What we learnt over the past two years about communication is this: it has to be fast, it has to be clear, and it has to be accurate. Because, in the age of social media, every half-truth or fudge will get called out.

What can communicators do to keep developing professionally?
LXW: A general advice is to progress with time. As mentioned above, strategically to be aware of and be familiar with the bigger picture, the political, social and economic and environmental trends, policies and regulations, ESG, etc. At a tactical level, be aware of the latest development in our profession, be it analytical and data, or content creation, or new channels, etc.

As of how – learning has never been made easier today. There are multiple channels and platforms, from formal learning to learning on the job, to virtual learning such as LinkedIn, Coursera, etc. having lots of great offerings about various relevant subjects. In addition, you can learn from your peers’ best practices, such as the cases from various PR Awards, including the IPRS PRISM Awards, both past and upcoming; and last but not least, learning from mistakes and failures as well, as Henry Ford said ‘ The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing”.

Above all, be curious and open-minded – learning never stops and progress with time.

AT: In watching how others are communicating about COVID-19, lockdowns and vaccination rates, we can all learn how to deal with difficult issues, unite divisive factions, and build trust from the ground up.

While we’re still figuring out living in a pandemic / endemic state, how much more important has communications become for organisations, locally and regionally?
LXW: On one hand, we are living in a world of fast-paced changes, and a world of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) and ever more connectedness. The only constant and certainty is change. On the other hand, the expectation on organisations to be trustworthy is more than ever high, while the gap between the public expectations and organisations’ trustworthiness is getting bigger as we see from the annual Edelman Trust Barometer for 2 decades now.

PR and communications professionals can certainly play a bigger and more important role to help organisations close that trust gap, it is not a quick fix, certainly not a ‘spin’.

It boils down to the role of the PR and communications of ‘bring the outside in’ – to make organisations aware of the changing societal expectations, make the right decisions, do the right things;  and ‘bring the inside out’ – to make sure that organisations’ actions and responses are properly communicated with target audiences through the right form and shape of engagements.

What are some of the things you’re expecting in submissions this year? What are you excited by?
We are expecting COVID-19 related campaigns for the Best COVID-19 Pandemic Campaign Pivot which is a new category this year. We are also excited by projects in the climate and social change sector in response to another new category – Outstanding Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) Communications Programme.

Tell us what we can look forward to for this year’s PRISM Awards and how can people submit entries?
We have seen tremendous effort from the communications industry to keep up with a relentless demand for clear, concise and trusted information in our public sectors. The commercial sector has taken a hit and building rapport with customers requires not just ingenuity but a sense of purpose as consumers spend more time on research before purchase.

We are looking forward to celebrating good PR work and closing 2021 on a high.

Full details can be found here: