As the Communications Manager for Radio-Canada (Manitoba and Saskatchewan), Martine is well-known in the Franco-Manitoban community. Although we had yet to meet and despite her busy schedule, she quickly accepted my request for an interview. Martine has had a diverse career, working in both agency and corporate PR as well as marketing. Her educational background is also varied: radio journalism and communications. For more details about her schooling and past experiences, have a peek at her Linkedin profile.
With her easy smile and charming personality, it’s obvious for all to see that Martine Bordeleau loves her job. I sat down to chat with Martine on a blustery October morning in her office in St. Boniface.
Public relations - French style
With a title like Communications Manager, you’d think her tasks would revolve entirely around...well...communications. However, it’s a lot broader than just that; a large part of her day involves marketing. As she explains, “In reality, it’s hard to disassociate marketing from public relations”. And forget about nailing down a typical week. As she sees it, the only thing you can count on is the unexpected.
Martine stresses that strong writing skills are non-negotiable in communications and public relations. Even more importantly, in her position, it’s critical to be able to write well in both French and English.
She adds, “Obviously you need writing skills for everything you write, like press releases. What’s equally important is clarity in everything you write, whether it's for an individual or for a group. It must be done with diplomacy and politeness. You represent yourself and by extension your company, so it has to be professional.”
She also warns that you have to be careful with anything you put out there because your career can be ruined in 140 characters. And while grammar is important, content will always be king.
Social media: a PR pro’s best friend.
Martine is a big fan of social media. It sets the stage for friendships. It's an important tool that allows companies to reach out to people that traditionally they wouldn't have had access to. You can widen your net by getting your followers’ friends to follow you. The trick, she explains, is to strike a balance between social interaction and content.
“You have to be very adaptable. Things have changed so much in the last few years. Plus, you have to vary your message according to what medium you're using. The language you use on Facebook will be different from emails or Twitter. You have got to target your market.”
How do you keep up with times?
Linkedin is probably her number one go-to website for social media. She likes groups like Canadian Women in Communications, although she admits to not following it all that much anymore. She adds, “There are times in your life when you need more of that kind of support. I’ve come to a point in my career where I don’t really need mentorship anymore.” She does however keep up with current events and case studies by following a few PR blogs.
If only I had known...psychology.
When asked what she wishes she had known, Martine admits she wishes she would have studied more about human psychology. Not the lie-down-on-the-couch kind of psychology, but rather to understand what motivates people. It’s an invaluable skill to recognize personality types and reading body language because then you know how to approach people. In Martine’s opinion, it’s a skill everybody should learn but it’s especially important in the communications field.
She also feels a guide on diplomacy would also have been very beneficial, kind of like an Etiquette Guide for PR pros. She even knows what the first chapter in the book should be - First impression: don’t screw it up.
Her proudest moment?
Martine loves to find partnerships and develop tailor-made communications plans. Earlier this year, she was able to get some mileage for a documentary for the French series Tout le monde en parlait, a documentary called La cloche de Batoche, produced by Radio-Canada. It was about the 1991 disappearance of a famous métis bell, originally taken as the spoils of war by English soldiers from the fields of Batoche in the late 1880s.
She was able to get all the stakeholders involved by having a pre-screening for the public. It allowed them to get feedback – good or bad – for the project. Explains Martine, “We were even able to project the film it Batoche, on the field where the battle had taken place, in a barn, projected on a blanket. You could feel the history.”
Tips for newbies?
- Listen: it's probably the hardest thing to do. Martine explains that there’s this assumption that, as PR professionals, we should be talking all the time. However, listening is actually the most important thing. You need to listen, sit back, mull over the info you’ve been given and then come up with suggestions.
- Adaptability: in your relationships, even when you're working with someone you may not personally get along with, you have to be able to set that aside. You have to be able to deal with all kinds of personality types and you have to be able to schmooze.
- Feu sacré: you better have it (translation: sacred fire). “You better be passionate about public relations because it’s a tough job.”