Daring to keep it real in PR
Contrary to what some might think about public relations (PR) executives, Clara Shek has never been one to sugarcoat or gloss over things. Instead, she advocates a policy of candour and authenticity, which, as MD at Ogilvy PR, she employs in both internal and external dealings.
Why emphasise authenticity?
Some people have a tendency to say things they think others would like to hear, rather than what they really mean. I don't think that's the best way of nurturing a trusting environment - or trusting staff, for that matter. Because if a person doesn't know what people think of him, he ends up having a false sense of security, which inhibits his ability to progress.
That's why I believe in authenticity, in being true to yourself. Ultimately, I think everyone has a great side. It's simply a matter of whether they can discover it.
Has nurturing this culture had its challenges?
I remember giving feedback to one of my subordinates once, which she took very personally. I didn't realise back then that the way I delivered the information might have been hurtful. So I've had to develop more sensitivity about giving feedback.
What's it like to work for you?
I am a straight-talker. I say what I mean and, again, always try to be authentic. A big part of our role [as PR executives] is to be a storyteller for our clients. In generating those stories, I think it's incredibly important to be genuine. You need to be able to discover what the inner greatness of an organisation is and tell people about it in an authentic way.
Does the PR industry lack authenticity?
People seem to think that as a PR person, you always need to be very diplomatic and always need to say things that are 'appropriate'. But I believe there is no conflict in saying things that are true in a way that other people can acknowledge and accept.
What's your take on hierarchy?
I don't believe in hierarchy. Yes, organisations have structures, but I firmly believe that the best ideas can come from anyone.
A hierarchy exists because there is a need for accountability and a need for mentoring and nurturing people. However, I have no problem taking suggestions from the most junior colleagues.
Are you very hands-on?
I am quite hands-on when it comes to issues, crises or defining a brand.
Very often, a client comes to us for a brand-consulting assignment, so we need to craft what the brand positioning should be. When it comes to that, I'm very hands-on. I would facilitate workshops and work with the team to crack what the brand stands for.
Once that's defined, I would tend to let the team run with it. They do, of course, consult me on certain things, but I try and remain more hands-off at that stage.
How do you deal with internal conflicts, such as over clients?
That might have been an issue in the past, but these days, we tend to operate more as brand stewards who assess our clients' needs and implement strategies based on those needs. It's all about providing the right solution, be it through PR, advertising or otherwise. I believe in doing the right thing, rather than just doing things right. Too many people tend to jump directly to the tactics without thinking about what the real problem is.
How do you handle uncertainty?
During uncertain times, we adopt more prudence, particularly with things like hiring. We don't want to take on staff only to let them go shortly after. That's irresponsible. However, I feel that challenging economic times also present opportunities to find talent that might not be available otherwise.