Q5: Beyond the press release, with Sarit Tomlinson [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Sarit Tomlinson, managing director of Joburg-based communications agency, Capacity Relations, speaks to us about the changing nature of public relations in South Africa — and how her agency has handled it.
Q5: How has PR in South Africa changed over the past 10–15 years?
Sarit Tomlinson: The most-significant change has been in how content is being published and consumed. The need for enticing content has remained constant. However, the manner in which it is now being published and consumed means that the need has extended to immediacy and relevance. Given the fast-paced change of daily life in the 21st century, generating instant and relevant content demands that you remain on the pulse of current narratives and community trends, if not become the originator of these. We have never looked at PR as the mere press release, and innovating and conceptualising landmark ideas is our competitive advantage. We have always adopted a multidimensional approach to brand and reputation management, of which the bedrock is, and remains, strategic intelligence.
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Q5: Tell us about the most-memorable moment in your agency’s history to date?
ST: In our 13-year history, it is difficult to pick a single most-memorable moment. We have been fortunate to work with leading, dynamic brands. The milestone moments range from our Jameson First Shot campaigns to the first-ever live Twitter billboard we did with J. Cole and Castle Lite, and our whisper campaign when bringing out Drake with Castle Lite. One of our very first campaigns was for Duracell, where we created a three-ton, solid chocolate bunny. There are so many [highlights]!
Through record-setting events to innovating South Africa’s ‘first-evers’, we have really had a lot of fun. Recently, we did the first-ever [live] ASMR [event] in SA with Flying Fish, and have been curating beautiful and engaging content with our Brutal Fruit Spritzer advocacy campaigns. Each measurable ROI we deliver to a brand, with a tangible increase in sales and bottom line, creates another moment to cherish.
Q5: What are your agency’s goals for the second half of the year?
ST: To survive (and thrive) in our most-challenging year to date, to support our clients through rough seas, and to find a way to continue trailblazing in these unprecedented times.
Q5: In your experience, what are the habits of highly effective PR practitioners?
ST: Evolution [and] curating world-class content.
Q5: What would your advice be to someone looking to move into the PR field?
ST: Do not fall for the misperception that PR is a “soft” discipline. PR in today’s landscape demands a high-level skill set — so, study! Understand not only communications, including media and channels, but educate yourself continually to gain insight into the narratives of target consumers as influenced by global and market trends. Being able to write is not enough; you need to continually hone your creative and content curation skills to ensure that what you write instantly and enduringly captures the consumer. Work on your mental stamina and personal tenacity, you will need it.
Ironically, in an incredibly tough industry, the barrier to entry has become lower. Many see PR as the glamour, where who you know is more important than what you know, where you will get to walk the “red carpet”, self-aggrandise and achieve fame. Do not be fooled by this misperception — PR is relentless hard work, underpinned by intelligence and creativity, with the passion and the perseverance to make it.
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diverse fields.