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Up-and-Comers: Lily Ng, Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners

We’ve given the mic to the industry’s future leaders. Lily Ng, communications advisor at the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, has recently been appointed as a youth advisor to the PRINZ Board. Now, shares her thoughts on the public relations industry.

What sparked your interest in pursuing a career in public relations?

Being a massive bookworm sparked my interest in PR! I grew up in a whāngai family with my aunt and uncle, who really encouraged scholarship. My aunt, in particular, loved reading, and gave me an appreciation for storytelling. I thought I might grow up to be a novelist or journalist, because I loved the idea of understanding and explaining the world through allegories. When I got to university, I learned there were many ways to have an impact on the world through storytelling, and PR seemed to offer the most variety and versatility.

What’s been your favourite project to date?

It’s difficult to choose favourites, because I get to work on such a wide variety of projects at The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners. I enjoy having the opportunity to talk with passionate people about what matters to them most. I feel very privileged to have interviewed and written about some extremely dedicated GPs such as Dr Tony Ruakere, Dr Api Talemaitoga, and the late Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i.

I’ve also been working with Māori theatre trust, Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu, on an incredible project called ‘Undertow’ for several years now. Undertow was originally performed as a quartet of plays, and it was recently made into a TV series that premiered on Māori Television throughout this month. The series is a version of Aotearoa New Zealand’s colonial history, told through the eyes of one whānau, on one whenua, across 200 years. I think it’s a story all New Zealanders should see – and it’s available ondemand now if you want to watch!

How do you explain your role to those outside of the industry?

I’ve only been working in communications for about three years now, so I feel as though I’m still building an appreciation for the breadth and scope of all that PR professionals do. When I talk about my job personally, I say I work with very dedicated and passionate GPs to draw attention to issues, celebrate success and share important updates in primary health care.

How do you overcome criticisms that public relations is spin and propaganda?

There are unflattering stereotypes associated with most professions, and that can be frustrating for the people working in those industries. Medical communities have ‘quacks’, and journos have ‘hacks’, but luckily (just like ‘spin doctors’) they tend to be few and far between.

I think a vast majority of PR professionals hold themselves to a high ethical and professional standard. Our professional membership and accrediting body, PRINZ, has a robust Code of Ethics that its members must follow. That code outlines principles such as advocacy, accountability, fairness, and honesty. I personally feel that the success of our members is a testament to how well they embody those values. 

Perhaps we can dispel some of those misconceptions about PR by celebrating the full scope of our profession. We know it’s not all about media events and talk-show interviews – our people also work hard to be the ‘conscience’ of an organisation, encouraging their employers to align their practices with their values, and contributing at the strategic or governance levels.

As well as Bachelor of Communications, you have also studied te reo Māori, public health and East Asian studies. Have you been able to bring these learnings into your work?

Absolutely! New Zealanders have beautiful, rich, diverse cultural identities, and I believe successful communicators need to have an understanding and appreciation of this. In Te Ao Māori and in many cultures across the Asia Pacific region, there’s a belief that the success of our communication is predicated by the quality and nature of our connections with each other. I feel that’s a core theory in public relations too. When I go to work each day, I take the knowledge of who I am, where I come from, and what I’ve learned with me.

What’s your advice for those considering a career in public relations?

My advice is to be confident that your skills and perspectives have value. Before I studied, I had a perception that the PR industry was only for outgoing people who were fantastic at public speaking. I was relieved to find that all sorts of personality types can be successful in our sector, and most of the people I’ve had the privilege of working with tend to be strong analysts with inquisitive minds. They can see several perspectives at once, they’re interested in human behaviour, and they think creatively to solve problems.

There’s also a wide variety of communication you could be involved in as a PR professional. You might like to think about whether you’re most interested in government relations, internal communication, stakeholder relations, digital media production, strategic planning, event management – or if you’d like to try all of them! I’m just starting out, but I can already see there are wonderful opportunities for growth and development as you progress in your career too. I can definitely recommend public relations as a fantastic career choice for people who enjoy variety and challenge.

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