PR is the Best Protection

The following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Pancho Dizon, this chapter is titled “PR is the Best Protection.” In it, Mark Cabuloy of online English language school 51Talk, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in PR for education.   

The average layperson assumes that the public relations field is solely about talking up a  company at special events and then giving themselves a pat on the back afterwards. Mark Cabuloy of online English language school 51Talk knows this is far from the truth.  

If you ask him to describe PR in a nutshell, he’d be the first to tell you that PR practitioners  are the protectors of a brand’s image. They make sure a brand is perceived positively, from  the student using their services to the company shareholders (the company is publicly  listed on the New York Stock Exchange).  

After all, scams are unfortunately a common reality in their industry. Many schools entice  non-native English speakers with quick, easy learning that promise fluency in a few  months’ time, only to hire teachers who are underqualified. Thus, Cabuloy’s job is to ensure  that 51Talk maintains an image of legitimacy and quality in the eyes of both students and  teachers, defending them from any negative perception.  

So how is a brand successfully defended?  

According to Cabuloy, the first thing to note is that there must be cohesion among all the  materials that 51Talk releases. The consistency shows the brand is always on top of things.  

“This is because, in order to control a narrative, you need to have a clear and consistent way  of communicating things,” he said. “This means if we release a certain message on social  media, we have to make sure this is echoed when our country head gets a TV interview  as well.” 

Cabuloy stressed that this became especially important with 51Talk gaining more attention  during the COVID-19 pandemic, as demand escalated on both sides of the business: more  students wanted to learn English online, and more people wanted a job they could do from  home. “We were happy to meet the demand, but it’s a challenge when there are suddenly  more eyes on you than usual,” he said.  

Thus, Cabuloy always made sure to reach out to every team he worked with and took time  to ensure everyone was on the same page. Whether it was the PR team, advertising team,  or the digital marketing team, he knew he had to engage them all. This collaboration also  dovetails with Cabuloy’s belief that at the heart of it, PR is 90% preparation and 10% actual  execution. 

“There’s always a need to synergize everything, so you have to dedicate time out of each  day to ask them about their goals and make sure it’s consistent across the board,” Cabuloy  said. “Sure, it’s time-consuming, but it’s always worth it in the long run.” 

Another thing Cabuloy noted that they did to support the brand image was to always keep  abreast of what’s trending on social media. This observation especially makes sense given  

that they have a relatively young clientele who spend most of their time on social media  anyway.  

“Whatever material we put out on social media has to catch their eye, taking into account  how short people’s attention spans are nowadays,” said Cabuloy. He shared that this is  why they tend to shy away from long form posts on social media, instead electing to use  trending memes to catch people’s attention. For instance, they have posts referencing  Netflix hits like 13 Reasons Why to enumerate 13 reasons why teaching with 51Talk is a  good idea. These posts show wit, are relatable to the target audience, and of course, are  eye-catching.  

“You need to take the strengths of each platform into consideration and then adjust  accordingly,” Cabuloy said. 

This kind of thinking where everything they do is targeted towards a specific type of  stakeholder also extends to their campaigns. “A campaign is successful not just if it reaches  the right audience, but also if it makes a positive impact on their lives,” Cabuloy said. “This  is what distinguishes a PR campaign from a marketing or branding campaign―we want to  know how we touched stakeholder’s lives with what we did.” 

Cabuloy offers up 51Talk’s “Yellow Collar initiative” as an example, one of the platform’s  most successful campaigns to date. Here, 51Talk partnered with the Department of  Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to provide livelihood opportunities to  qualified applicants in rural areas. The campaign was dubbed the “Yellow Collar initiative”  to refer to the fact that their talent fell in between white collar, office-based work and blue  collar, manual labor work.  

Started in 2016, information about the Yellow Collar initiative was disseminated by posting  about it on the official 51Talk Facebook page and even a weekly talk show that detailed  what the 51Talk teaching experience is like.  

“The campaign was a success because it gave bright, deserving, young people a chance to  make a good living in their own homes,” Cabuloy said. “We were able to attract a swathe  of talent in small cities as English teachers, making it no longer necessary for them to cram  into big cities like Metro Manila. They could start a fruitful career close to their roots, to  their families.” 

Of course, it also helps that the campaign earned them an Anvil Award in the Public  Relations Programs On A Sustained Basis category. Recognition is given after a scrupulous  screening process and thorough deliberation by a panel of multi-sectoral judges, who factor  in things like having a research-based strategy and how well the program was executed.  

According to Cabuloy, the award served as much-appreciated validation that the platform  was on the right track. “To say that PR is challenging is an understatement, but instances  like achieving an Anvil award remind us to keep going,” Cabuloy said.  

He revealed that it’s also the challenges of PR that excite him. “It can be difficult but what’s  nice about PR is that everyday there’s something new. It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s  never boring.” 

With these words, Cabuloy hopes that all PR professionals can gather up the strength to  be the front line of defense their respective brands deserve.

To get more insights from other marketing leaders like Mark Cabuloy, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


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