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HomeProfilesPR jetsetter: Jessica Playford

PR jetsetter: Jessica Playford

Jessica Playford is Media Advisor to the Hon Peter Malinauskas, Minister for Police, Corrections, Emergency Services and Road Safety. She says being a Ministerial Media Advisor is an opportunity to be at the forefront of government policy and communications, working on portfolio areas that have a real impact on the lives of South Australians. Her next 12 months are set to be particularly exciting and professionally challenging as SA heads towards the March 2018 State Election.

You’ve worked in PR in Hong Kong. How did that happen?
My fiancé is a pilot and was posted to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. At the time, Jetstar was in the process of launching what would have been Hong Kong’s first low-cost carrier. An opportunity arose for me to work on Jetstar’s Hong Kong market launch campaign, which was the push I needed to quit a job I loved at SA Tourism and relocate to Hong Kong with my spaniel in tow.

After lengthy legal proceedings, Jetstar was actually denied a Hong Kong base and forced to leave Hong Kong. The role became a steep learning curve in Chinese government relations, shareholder management, advocacy and crisis communications. Culturally, I made a million mistakes in my first few months in Hong Kong and felt like a fish out of water on a daily basis. I have to admit that even though Jetstar put me through Cantonese lessons, my language skills are pretty non-existent – though my business etiquette is now passable!

Culturally, I made a million mistakes
in my first few months in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, it’s all about who you know – your network is everything, and that particularly rings true when it comes to the job market. While Jetstar was in the process of dismantling, I was fortunate to be introduced to the Managing Director of an agency specialising in lifestyle and tourism. Though I had always said I didn’t want to move agency side, it turned out to be the perfect fit.  I quickly learnt that I loved the thrill of pitching and winning new business, and was proud to bring in some key accounts such as Tourism Australia and South Australian Tourism. Promoting the Australian tourism experience internationally was a dream job, and I was also fortunate to lead Asia-Pacific comms for a range of accounts across different industries – from financial services to luxury yachts, international art fairs to wine distributors.

Did you see any major differences in how PR practitioners practice in Hong Kong versus SA?
It’s so entirely different! For a start, more than 90% of the media outlets in Hong Kong are Chinese language orientated, and many of the Chinese language journalists have limited English. Therefore, as an English speaker, you can’t read the publications, pitch a story, or send a press release without the support of Chinese colleagues. On the flip side of that, many company executives are English speaking (particularity for international companies) so client communications need to predominantly be in English.

Essentially, everything needs to be done at least twice – in both Chinese and English. If the campaign is Asia-wide, then you’re looking at even more languages for execution. To complicate it further, the same idea won’t always resonate across cultures, so sometimes campaigns need to be altered across audiences and one campaign morphs into several iterations.

A huge level of trust and cooperation is required within PR and comms teams in Hong Kong due to the fact that English and Chinese speaking team members are so dependent upon one another.

Another element that is very different is the platforms used to communicate. In Hong Kong and China, trust toward traditional media is incredibly low (Government-owned media having a lot to do with that). When engaging Mainland Chinese media a ‘red packet’ is expected and editorial is predominantly advertorial.

In recent years there has been an incredibly obvious
reduction in the number of in-house travel / tourism writers

Due to this lack of trust for media, influencers are often far more effective communications mediums, with ‘ambassadors’ forming the centrepiece of most campaigns. The digital world has given us the ability to create our own content, with our own talent, and this has caused a shift everywhere but particularly in places like Hong Kong where credibility is key. It’s not about pitches and getting ‘media hits’, but what can be created that will genuinely influence.

You’ve worked in a few travel PR roles. What were some of the major challenges in promoting travel stories through the media?
In recent years there has been an incredibly obvious reduction in the number of in-house travel / tourism writers, with media outlets instead relying on freelancers. This creates a challenge for tourism bodies as you don’t want to invest in an expenses paid trip (or ‘famil’ as it’s called in the travel PR world) unless you have a letter of commission from the publication. However, often publications won’t commission the story until they have seen it, so it’s a chicken and egg situation.

It becomes a bit of a gamble at times, but if you can build relationships with good freelancers that you know are regularly being published in top publications, then you will often get multiple articles in multiple publications for your single investment.

Can you tell us about a campaign you’ve enjoyed working on?
Surprisingly, a financial services campaign for a robo investment platform. While the product was pretty alien for me, I had a dream client with a generous execution budget who wanted to disrupt the market. We were encouraged to be bold and saw the launch through from market research and branding phase to street activations, PR stunts, celebrity endorsements and paid marketing.

Unfortunately this campaign didn’t win any awards or result in the surge of sign-ups that the client would have liked, but it is a great example of how as a comms professional your skills can be transferrable across so many different industries. I can now hold a conversation about ‘fin-tech’ at a dinner party!

How do you keep up with media outlets and opportunities – tell us about your media consumption habits.
My current role is centred on local Adelaide news media, so every morning I read the digital addition of the newspaper before I even get out of bed – it gives me an indication of what is in store for the day. I am constantly checking news sites throughout the day and reading radio transcripts.

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for the click-bait style stories on Mamamia. There’s no need to even watch shows like The Bachelor or Married at First Sight – the Mamamia commentary is more entertaining than the actual show!

What advice would you give a third-year university student who’s keen to work in PR?
Do internships, volunteer, network and put your hand up for every opportunity. It is also important to continually expand your skills as the days of the straight PR practitioner are gone.  Companies want to hire people that can whip up a Facebook video, create a meme and design a strong Facebook advertising campaign. The lines between communications disciplines have blurred so the more diverse your skill set, the more employable you will be.

Time for a fun question: when you were working overseas, what Aussie foods did you miss the most? So many … meat pies, flavoured milk and Fruchocs would be my top three!