January 11, 2019

Being a PR practitioner in Canada: why it’s different in Indonesia

By Zulfikar Fahd, Account Executive, BlueSkyCommunications

January last year I migrated from Indonesia, a country that’s culturally and socially different from Canada. Many adjustments had to be made. Weather-wise for example, this is my first time wearing heavy clothes for six months a year. In my home country, it was always humid and hot, around 36 degrees all year long.

Before coming to this country, I read somewhere that Canada is the land of unemployed skilled immigrants. It’s hard for many immigrants to get a job, let alone a job in their fields. That’s why I felt so lucky when BlueSky Communications hired me as one of its PR executives last summer, after two months of job hunting across Ontario and Quebec. Before leaving Indonesia, I worked in media and public relations for around eight years.

Zulfikar at an event sponsored by his first client in Canada

Despite my familiarity of the industry, adjustments still had to be made to acquaint myself with the job. Below are some differences I found between working as a PR practitioner in Indonesia and in Canada:

  • Face-to-face meetings vs. conference calls – Most of my former clients in Indonesia didn’t fancy conference calls, or even Skype calls. Whenever we had something to discuss, we had to commute to their offices to meet face-to-face. It wasn’t very efficient as traffic in Jakarta, where I’m from, is horrible. In Toronto you only need 15 minutes to drive from Liberty Village to The Beach; in Jakarta it takes 45 minutes for the same distance. We spent many of our work hours in the car. We did conference calls only for out-of-town and overseas clients. While here in Toronto, I do most of my client meetings over the phone.
  • The value of news – Living in Canada for almost a year, I could tell that this country is pretty quiet. Here we don’t have ground-breaking and shocking news on a daily basis like they have there in Indonesia. For example, in the last semester of 2018 three news stories from Indonesia had made it internationally: second 2,000 people died during an earthquake in August, Lion Air crash killed 189 passengers in October and crew and 3,000 people died during tsunami in Java and Sumatra right before Christmas. When something like this happens, Indonesian media would talk about it for the whole month without leaving any room for other news. Even Toronto’s horrific van attack last April wouldn’t make it to Indonesia’s national news.

When a big news story happens in Indonesia, jobs became way harder. No one would care about Nike’s neon collection after the Attorney General was murdered. I’m not saying being a PR practitioner in Canada is easier, but at least we’re lucky enough not to compete with that kind of devastating news on a weekly basis.

  • Media relations vs. media relationships – This is the biggest difference between working as a PR practitioner in Indonesia and in Canada. Given the highly competitiveness news media in Indonesia, relationships with journalists have to be built and maintained at a completely different level. Most PR firms in Jakarta specifically set budget to send birthday cakes and presents to some prominent publications, their editor-in-chiefs and even key journalists. They also set budget for their PR executives to personally hang out with journalists, either for dinner or coffee. PR executives are also encouraged to know the journalists’ personal lives and be friends with them. Companies and brands usually conduct lavish yearly media gatherings to meet the journalists face-to-face and strengthen relationships with them.

I used to work as a journalist myself, back in 2009-2012. I received parcels and gifts from many PR firms, companies and brands. They usually sent me their products, shopping vouchers and even discounts to use their service. As this has become a common practice, no one would consider this as a bribery. 

In Canada, it’s the complete opposite. I’ve been working with many journalists to get client stories published, but I’ve never met any of them. I only know what they look like through their LinkedIn profiles. Here, it’s all about story angles. If we pitch interesting story angles to the right journalists, the chance to get it picked up is pretty likely whether or not we know the journalists personally. 

  • Email vs. phone – Most communications between journalists and PR executives in Indonesia is done via phone rather than email. When pitching a story to a journalist, they would rather have it discussed over the phone. When following up an event invitation, we usually text the journalist. Email isn’t a popular way to communicate as many people think it’s way too formal. Nobody would think calling or WhatsApp-ing a journalist in Indonesia is intruding upon their personal space.

The journalists are also pretty close with one another. If they write for the same beat, they usually have a WhatsApp group to share news with each other. When a PR firm sends an event invitation, it’s pretty common to ask the journalist to forward it to their fellow journalist friends.

When doing my first story pitch in Canada, I asked my colleague, “Should I do this by phone or email?” And she answered, “Always email.” I only made phone calls on anything urgent, and I like it better this way.

Overall, the differences of working in both countries are quite noticeable. They come with their own challenges, and I’ve been enjoying these changes. I’m looking forward to learning more and making myself a better PR practitioner in Canada.

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