Chris Wai is a Corporate Communications Representative based in Toronto, Ontario. He currently works for the City of Toronto and previously worked at a PR agency.
How did you get into the communications industry?
I got introduced to PR when I was working with the Toronto Blue Jays in Guest Experience. I was very curious to see, from afar, how the media scrums would work with the players and reporters before and after ball games. I did some networking and informational interviews and decided to enrol in a post-graduate public relations certificate at Centennial College shortly afterwards. The industry matched well with my personality and skillsets.
What skills does one need to survive in the communications industry?
The obvious core competencies would involve promotional writing, public speaking, research fundamentals, business acumen and as well as being comfortable with the idea of change. Our industry is literally never the same each day. Whether it is our work environment, colleagues or sector, being transferable and able to adapt to new challenges is vital to our roles in reputation management.
Also being likeable and having a cheerful and trustworthy personality goes a long way if you want to have success in working with the media. Be friendly, approachable and open at all times and success will come to you.
What are some important lessons you learned while job hunting?
There is no substitute for experience and trying to apply for jobs that are way above my qualifications early on in my career was a mistake. I think working side gigs or volunteering can help manufacture some of the desired skills being asked by employers nowadays like social media management, video production, InDesign and public speaking.
One of the common mistakes that I saw a lot of classmates make when we graduated was being far too selective in their job hunt. Everyone wanted to either work in a big PR firm, work in fashion PR, sports PR or do in-house communications with a reputable organization.
The truth is, smaller firms, non-profits or agencies are likely where careers will ultimately begin. The accolades and bigger opportunities will come as they have for me! Dismissing smaller opportunities is a big mistake when looking to grow a career in PR. You can skip the unpaid internships though.
Have you found networking to be a vital exercise for you?
I love networking and learning from others. At first, it may seem like a very daunting task to reach out to strangers for coffee or at events. It really comes down to having confidence in yourself and what you can bring to the table for discussion. It doesn’t have to always be about experience, but more so about showing that you have a passion for the industry and have some smart questions and opinions.
Any successful and well-established PR professional out there would be more than willing to sit down and have a chat. I’ve connected with professionals beforehand who work in the public sector and their talks have subsequently helped me position myself better for formal interviews and opportunities with the City of Toronto, which is where I work now.
What’s a misconception you had about the PR industry?
That it was all about media relations. In reality, I’ve found that there are so many components to public relations that people don’t know about! And it’s great to have all these transferable skills.
Is work-life balance possible and what do you do to achieve it?
Work-life balance is possible and should be a priority for PR professionals as their careers grow. I’ve seen many of my colleagues burn out over the years and their work productivity and mental health suffered. Success is ultimately connected to how happy we are and happiness is something we all have to seek out ourselves.
Of course, having a supportive boss makes it that much easier to achieve a work-life balance. If you find yourself stuck in a toxic office that does not support leaving work on time, taking reasonable vacation time or provides moral support, it’s time to find a new job!
What is the greatest professional challenge you have faced and how did you deal with it?
I think the greatest professional challenge I’ve faced is having to deal with a difficult manager and senior executives. School never truly prepares you for everything you’ll see in the workplace and managing relationships with a difficult superior is something we all have to learn how to handle. The key for me was to surround myself with positive colleagues who acted as a support network through difficult scenarios on the job.
How do you handle demanding clients?
In the past, I’ve found that setting realistic expectations right from the beginning of the work relationship has been super beneficial. Some clients will not care about realistic deadlines or work-life balance. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of client services vs. working in-house.
But even if things go south, you can always point to the beginning when you listed what was realistic so that the client can see where their demands contributed to the results that were attained.
What are some future PR trends professionals should look out for?
Some may argue that social media and digital marketing are eating a bigger piece of the pie. Analytics and new metrics are also being used and focused on more, especially within agencies that want to cater to clients that require a more business approach. While these are important pieces of the puzzle, PR professionals are still the ones with the vision on how to develop entire campaigns along with key messaging.
We are the ones who can incorporate business goals into stories that audiences can relate to and be influenced by. We are the storytellers that are the backbone of building any brand. Think of it as a film – people may be attracted to the special CGI effects and other gimmicks, but it’s the story that determines how great a film is.
Do you do any freelance work on the side, and if so, what?
I used to work a part-time job with the City of Toronto’s tourism division before switching full time to work for the City in communications. I have a YouTube channel that talks about my passion for pop culture but also allows me to develop my video production skills. I also volunteer for political campaigns in my spare time to build my network and understanding of public affairs.
For someone who is about to start working at a PR agency, what is your best piece of advice?
Look for mentors who are willing to help guide you in the right direction and provide opportunities for growth. Identify one or two key skills that you are great at and show immediate value to your agency and clients. Earning the trust of clients and your team is vital so sticking to what you do best and going from there is my best advice. If it’s written work, ask for that. If it’s pitching influencers, focus on that more. Work smart!