Lifestyle Business

The challenges & rewards of corporate PR

- Elizabeth Lolarga -
The public relations (PR) profession has grown in appeal as a career option for more and more mass communication students. Time was when job opportunities for mass comm graduates were to be found in print media, radio-TV broadcasting, advertising or communication research.

Government offices, including the president’s, business institutions, foundations, even high-profile individuals (public officials and celebrities) have found spokespersons necessary to communicate what’s going on with them clearly and credibly to specific stakeholders or the general public.

Two Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP) officers will talk about the challenges and rewards of their jobs. PRSP will hold its 10th national congress on Sept. 26 and 27 at the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel’s Garden Ballroom in Mandaluyong City. This year’s theme is "Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development."

Juris Umali Soliman, corporate communications director of CEMEX Philippines, a leading producer and marketer of cement and ready-mix products, serves as PRSP external vice president. Edgar Timbungco, communications consultant of San Miguel Corp.’s subsidiary, La Tondeña Distillers Inc., is one of the society’s directors.

A mathematics graduate of St. Scholastica’s College, Soliman, 50, came into the profession "by accident" through the parliament of the streets. She was a non-life insurance manager who got so incensed with the excesses of the Marcos regime that she volunteered her services to Corazon Aquino’s media bureau. Among her tasks were fielding phone calls and delivering press releases.

When the Marcoses fled during the People Power revolt of 1986, newly sworn-in President Aquino personally asked Soliman to join Malacañang’s Office of the Press Secretary as supervising media relations officer.

Soliman said, "I loved the work and got stuck with it." She "survived" five press secretaries (Rene Saguisag, Teodoro Locsin Jr., Teodoro Benigno, Tomas Gomez and Adolf Azcuna) and seven coup attempts by working and remaining on call seven days a week.

Her performance did not escape the eyes of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) headhunters. She joined ADB in 1991 as technical assistant for media and PR. Working in that multicultural setting and the trips to countries receiving ADB aid opened her eyes further to the great gap between the rich and the poor, and the need to do more for her country.

When Citibank offered her the position of country protocol and public affairs officer with the rank of assistant vice president, this devout mother of two requested Bishop Socrates Villegas to pray with and for her before she decided to move again.

She became a one-woman office, sometimes working for 22 hours and sleeping for two, particularly when Citibank launched its Leadership Series. Former heads of state and high-ranking leaders like ex-British Prime Minister and now Lady Margaret Thatcher and Gen. Colin Powell lectured to key clients.

She applied lessons learned from former President Aquino: leave no room for errors and give full attention to the littlest details.

"I’m a perfectionist in all the events that I have coordinated. Everybody remembers me for that. I’m strict about time. I like clockwork precision. I give my heart and soul to everything I do," Soliman said.

Impressed, Powell wrote her boss, "A special ‘well done’ for Juris Soliman." Her souvenir picture with the now US state secretary shows them in a tight hug. He told her the occasion called for more than the usual posed photo, adding "The work you did was more than what my whole horde of staff could do."

Her attitude is: "How can you ensure the success of an event or an initiative if you don’t give your 101 percent commitment? My secret? I pray all the time!"

She also practices tithing, giving 35 percent of her salary to priests, nuns, San Carlos Seminary, the Carmelite convent in Lipa City or Chosen Children Village which takes care of children abandoned in hospitals because of Down Syndrome.

She said the theme of the forthcoming PRSP Congress is timely. "People, the environment, the world are suffering. We have to do something. The government can only handle so much. The private sector’s help is needed."

Her present employer complies with good corporate citizenship by remaining environmentally safe and maintaining quality standards. The CEMEX With a Heart program, Soliman’s brainchild, sends medical missions monthly to the communities in Cebu and Antipolo City where the cement plants are located.

The firm has donated new Pentium computers to public high schools. It practices and teaches waste segregation, joins the Department of Health in anti-rabies, anti-polio vaccination and anti-dengue fumigation campaigns, and trains out-of-school youth to earn a living.

These community relations activities paid off when the entry of cheap, imported cement threatened CEMEX and similar companies.

Soliman said the mayors, congressmen, parents, teachers, non-government organizations and workers wrote their own manifestos to Congress and the Department of Trade and Industry. They expressed that they did not want the local cement industry to suffer the same fate as the National Steel Corp. (NSC) in Iligan City. NSC folded up with the surge of imported steel.

Meanwhile, Timbungco, 37, took the route of finishing journalism at the University of the Philippines, covering the entertainment beat for a month for a broadsheet and writing for a weekly magazine. Still he was undecided about being a "hardcore" journalist.

His father egged him on to join Land Bank and write for its publications. The job enabled him to experience every facet of PR work – a little of advertising, media, employee and community relations, particularly dealing with farmers.

Later, he moved to Allied Bank doing similar duties. A friend tipped him about an opening at San Miguel Corp. It needed someone with PR experience.

Today he helps publicize La Tondeña’s brands: Ginebra San Miguel, GSM Blue, which is marketed in southern Philippines ("It has less alcohol, is sweeter and smoother, and drinkers claim they suffer no hangover," he says), La Tondeña Manila Rhum (exported to Thailand), Oxford Gin and a new product to be launched within the year.

The last is an "alcotonic" containing the ingredient guarana. According to Timbungco, "It helps you be up and about. It’s for the party crowd."

He said PR is "for the person who wants a more organized and regular communication job. The corporate setting provides a sense of stability and security. It’s a nine-to-five thing. I can control my dates with my wife. I can tell her we can go out on a definite night without editorial work interfering."

This father of two and parttime PR teacher at the UP Manila, where a course called A.B. Organizational Communication is offered, makes this last pitch for his kind of work. "In PR, you do many things. You edit publications, touch base with media people, coordinate with advertising agencies for copy development, do community work, and organize events. The profession is fertile ground for developing different skills."











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