A survey commissioned and published yesterday by The Sunday Times has ignited debates and discussions all across social media as results found artists to be the top non-essential job in Singapore. Also on the list were telemarketers, social media manager/PR specialists, business consultants and human resource managers. According to The Straits Times, the online survey of some 1,000 respondents aged 16 and above was carried out by consumer research company Milieu Insight, and was aimed at garnering information on the changes to public's perceptions of essential workers against the backdrop of COVID-19.
However, some industry players in the world of marketing and communications have taken to LinkedIn to express their displeasure. Meanwhile in a Facebook post, local comedian and artist Rishi Budhrani disputed the survey findings, particularly the 71% who voted artist as the top most non-essential job.
According to Budhrani, if the survey was indeed done with “representative sample across gender and income groups in Singapore” and 71% of the nationally representative respondents feel that the number one non-essential job is that of an artist, he then challenged the nation to:
- Delete Netflix
- Cancel Spotify
- Sell all your TVs
- Stop showing your kids the iPad to occupy them
- Stop listening to music during your workouts/break times
- Stop watching any movies/music videos on YouTube
- Forget about those Korean dramas on the android boxes
He added: "If during the circuit breaker, you’ve gone out for a run with your wireless earbuds when you were stressed, or if you’ve watched that comedy before going to bed on a Monday [because] it was the only thing that made you laugh all day, or, if you’ve left a cartoon on for the kids so that you can have 20 mins of peace while the weight of the whole world comes crashing down on you... Then, an ARTIST HAS BEEN ESSENTIAL for you to get through this difficult time."
Marketing spoke to PR and social media experts to find out their reactions and thoughts behind the survey findings which listed social media manager and PR specialist as non-essential roles.
Social and digital agency Germs' strategy director Freda Kwok said the research could have better defined the parameters of the survey, as the context is missing or failed to be set enough. "Naturally, you see a lot of people being up in arms over the results. But I do see some who are a bit more critical and not taking things at face value as well," she said. Working at a social media agency, Kwok is more interested in knowing the full list of occupations on the survey as results such as social media manager and PR specialist is "oddly specific and even unexpected".
"It's not something that comes up naturally when you think about a pandemic. But when you think about it further, communications is essential in a pandemic, especially today. Not just to quell fake news but spread accurate ones, specify measures, the do's and don'ts. this is where some of the seemingly non-essential skills come in," she explained.
From the PR side of things, BlessAnn Luah, strategic comms director at Huntington said the bulk of what PR professionals do is “already in the shadows”.
“We are changing mindsets, affecting change and influencing behaviour. If the common man on the street can identify the work of public relations professionals, then it doesn't say much about our efficacy right? It's almost like we work in the shadows so our brands can walk in the light,” she explained.
She was also quick to point out that PR is often quoted as one of the most stressful jobs. “I would like to believe that the heavier the pressure, the bigger the impact - regardless of if people see it as essential or not,” Luah added.
Lars Voedisch, managing director at PRecious Communications seconded that the research leaves many questions unanswered, and that the research design itself will have influenced the outcome. As a PR professional for years, he explained still not many people know what PR is, and how crucial it is to properly frame, phrase and disseminate messages around appropriate behaviour during a pandemic.
“There are not many popular PR professionals out there and those who are, such as Kellyanne Conway, do not really do our job a big favour as it puts us in the ‘spin doctor’ corner,” he said.
As such, this is a wake-up call that the PR industry has to do a better job in marketing itself properly.
Much like Luah, he too added that most often, PR professionals’ jobs are to stay in the background and let others and their stories shine, Voedisch said, adding, "Therefore, we will never be as popular as the directly life-saving frontline of doctors and nurses."
Meanwhile, Voedisch who runs an independent PR agency, shed light on the perspective of the survey context such as what is considered more or less essential in a pandemic. Linking it to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he agrees that it is obvious certain professions such as doctors or hawkers are ranked high while others low. “We also have to think about the effect of social desirability bias – describing the tendency of survey respondents answering questions in a manner that will be viewed favourably. These tendencies can be elevated by mainstream media reporting on certain professions recently,” he added.
Marcus Loh, regional senior client director at WE Communications was of the view that public recognition for the impact of purposeful, empathetic, and accurate communications on both lives and livelihoods is without any doubt today.
Through the myriad stories resulting from press conferences, interviews, and heartfelt initiatives from the ground-up, Singaporeans saw how leaders, employees, volunteers, and essential workers from both the private and public sectors served as the primary storytellers of the nation’s multi-pronged narrative to rally the nation in this generational-defining crisis.
What is less known, are the people who have also played a part in defining, delivering, and distilling this virtuous narrative into the public's consciousness.
These include Singaporeans in the fields of public relations, communication, and the mainstream and social media. “In the same way that these professionals are happy to let these stories speak for themselves, good PR practitioners also know that the reputation of the businesses they serve should emanate from 'how' a business conducts itself, and not simply an articulation of 'why' it exists,” he explained.
“In the same spirit of #SGUnited, I hope that Singaporeans will recognise that everybody - our beloved artists, human resource specialists, and public relations practitioners - has essential parts to play in keeping Singapore together in the face of such adversity,” he added.