Public relations is the lifeblood of any product announcement or CEO interview with media. At Qualcomm, a Chinese multinational telecom company, people like Maggie Huo work to ameliorate public relations catastrophes, and make sure that a favorable public image of the company and its executives is maintained. Huo is a Public Relations Manager for Qualcomm’s Beijing branch with extensive experience in the public relations field. With over ten years of expertise in PR, she is proficient in integrated marketing campaigns, media relations, product launches, providing strategic counsel to regional executives and leveraging PR and marcom strategies to drive demand and awareness for products and technology. US-China Today spoke with Huo on her background, what it is like working PR for a Chinese multinational company and what it takes to be successful in the field of PR.
What is your background, and did you always have an interest/passion for public relations? What sparked your interest in public relations?
I was actually studying English, specifically English in Science and Technology, in my university days. What I was studying was very different from all the other students studying English, as many of my courses focused on technology, especially telecommunications. After graduation I knew I wanted to find a job related to my major. I feel very lucky to be a part of a multinational company and my English background served as a breach for me to enter a multinational company as a PR person. You need to have very good English language skills.
Second, as a PR professional, you need to be able to communicate with others and different people, whether reporters or journalists. I enjoy the feeling when I get to talk to reporters or media contacts because you really get to be the ambassador of the company. Sometimes you have to translate or interpret very technological information. For example, when a new product is launched by the company and it’s very advanced in technology, it is extremely important for the PR person to translate technology-heavy information into reporter-friendly or user-friendly messaging. This all helps them to understand and build positive articles for your company.
Were you always naturally drawn to PR’s aspect of communication and the ability to communicate with multiple public spheres? Did you have to build that as a skill over time or did it come naturally to you?
I think a PR professional needs years and years of working experience to become skillful. Some people can be born communicators, but when communicating as a PR professional on behalf of a certain company, you are not doing it on behalf of yourself, so you need to be very consistent about the messages and information that you deliver to publics. You need to understand your company’s culture, product information and all other areas and details well.
Would you say that this is different for an agency or firm vs. working in-house? Would you say working in-house for Qualcomm requires a lot more time researching and understanding the company internally as opposed to taking on a client?
I don’t have experience working in a firm or agency, but based on my observation, I think the jobs are different. For in-house PR, we not only need to communicate with external audiences like reporters or PR peers in partner companies, we need have close communications with internal teams. For example, when communicating important company messages externally, you must have alignment with the headquarter team. Usually the deliverables from PR cannot directly drive sales, but as one of the most important marketing functions, good/positive PR deliverables are integral to a company’s business success. You need to align and communicate with your management team and product team, and other functional teams to work out when and what to say to media. For people working in agencies, their direct contact is with the in-house PR professional, so I believe their key work is to support the client.
What are some public relations concerns that are unique to multinational companies?
The most challenging thing is to have a spokesperson follow key messages and refrain from saying whatever they want to say, especially when talking about important company messages and avoid sensitive topics. For an announcement like a new technology or product unveil, it is important to remember that you have to deliver the same message globally. Even though I’m working in China, it doesn’t mean every time when we support our executive or our technology spokesperson, they can say whatever they want to say. We need to prep or run rehearsals before any executive or spokesperson meets reporters or goes to round-tables. We have to align all messaging because not a single region or country is independent. The message you deliver today to a Chinese reporter highly possibly will be the message a US or UK-based media outlet will pick up the next day. We make sure everything that is delivered is globally consistent.
What makes working as PR manager in China different than PR in the United States? How do these differences affect — if at all — your daily work life or the necessary skills/qualifications to be a PR manager in either country?
Given that I haven’t worked in the U.S. in public relations, it is difficult for me to answer this question. Every PR person needs the basic PR skills, but you also need to understand the micro-environment, including the economic and cultural environment of the region or country you’re in. Working at a multinational company in China, you must be very aware of China’s economic development, political situation and policies.
It is a must for every professional to establish a good relationship with media. In China there are different types of media, from mass media to technology media or gadget-focused media. With the development of mobile internet, people’s reading habits change, and there are more and more people reading news and company stories online through social media channels like Weibo, WeChat, aggregation news apps or short video apps. It’s important for in-house PR to be a quick learner and understand those new and popular emerging media channels, to develop PR content/assets, suitable to be used in those channels.
What does a normal day at work look like for you? What do you enjoy about your daily work life? What do you wish you could change about your daily work life?
My average day at work ranges from doing media inquiries, arranging interview/roundtables, event planning and supporting our spokespeople to develop their public presentations. Supporting public keynote speeches is one of the most important parts of our daily life. I find it interesting because when you help them develop the message or slides they are going to use, you are constantly learning new things. I am always learning more about our latest technologies; sometimes when there is a new announcement, even our technical spokesperson may not be familiar with the details and how to position it externally, but I would understand it from the very beginning. The marketing team shares all the information with PR so we are always updated on what is new in the company. That is the most interesting part of my job for me.
Whenever the team has finished a big event and I see all the different coverages from media, there is an extreme sense of achievement. Even though you maybe didn’t sleep well for a week or two in preparation for the event, when everything is done and there is wide coverage, it is a big sense of achievement. On the other hand, I do wish I could have a better balance between life and work. The entire China team is always busy.
What are you currently working on or what is relevant in Qualcomm China right now? What are some top business topics that affect Qualcomm’s work?
Obviously at Qualcomm right now our focus is the word “5G.” The three major operators, China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom, have announced last week the official commercial launch of 5G in China. This is very exciting news and as an insider of this industry, I have witnessed and been a part of the 3G launch, 4G launch and now it’s 5G. I was at the event personally and it really felt like witnessing another milestone in the development of the country’s mobile industry. We have been promoting our technology and solutions and our partnership with our OEM [original equipment manufacturer] partners.
What other passions do you have? Will there be something else after Qualcomm?
Normally in my free time, I just like to stay at home and relax by watching movies and taking my daughter out to play and enjoying family time. She loves to read but because she is still young and some books are challenging, I read aloud to her a lot. We are currently reading Harry Potter and she loves it. As for now, I want to stay at Qualcomm and even though our team is always busy, I love my job and enjoy being a part of a great team of colleagues. I feel that who you work with is a very important factor. I feel that the work environment and the people I am around is very positive and uplifting and that is one of the main reasons I will stay at Qualcomm.
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