How Punk Rock Subculture Taught Me to Become a PR Practitioner and Firm Leader

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As a business owner in his 30s and responsible for leading a company and expected to exemplify success, I often feel pressured by my colleagues and the professional community to personify an appropriate conservative figure: a clean-cut classy executive with a refined and ‘mature’ taste in life – fine dining and top-shelf wine, luxury fashion, and adoration of sophisticated music such as jazz or classical. This is particularly due to my profession in consulting public relations and communications strategy where image and perception are above all. However, the fact is I still prefer to wear a simple Jeans-Shirt-Converse set, enjoy a simple good burger, and listen to loud music most find unpleasant.

When it comes to taste, especially music, I have always been infatuated with alternative music since I was around 8 years old, from punk, heavy metal to grunge. I found it difficult to conform to the mainstream preference of my elementary school peers. Instead of Disney tunes and pop music, I preferred listening to bands such as Bad Religion, Sepultura, or Pearl Jam, all of which were introduced to me by my seven-years-older sister Sandhy, the eldest in my family.

I was too young to understand the meaning of their lyrics back then, but it was the radical ingenuity of the music that hooked me. It was not until I moved to New York during high school that I really got specifically more into punk rock – listening to bands such as Refused, NOFX, The Casualties, The Clash, Agnostic Front, Fugazi among many – and it shaped who I am today.

Punk rock is still commonly perceived today by many as a silly juvenile genre. It is loud, aggressive, and obnoxious for those not accustomed to it. The musicians and listeners are seen as immoral, eccentric anarchists disrupting accepted social norms. Visually, the scene is popularly known with an unorthodox fashion choice: the manic dyed hair, excessive facial piercings, worn-out ripped jeans, or studded leather jacket are some of the combination options.

It was not the fashion sense that appealed to me for the subculture though. I do not identify myself as a “punk rocker,” but I admired their courage to appear strikingly stand-out, and it was the strong ideology behind it that I embraced, and what conservatives missed to understand.

Punk rock is an expression of nonconformity, freethought, and self-sufficiency, values that I hold personally and professionally. Punk rock is not about teen angst and noise mess but making a statement, rejecting the status quo, and being your authentic true self.

So how has the punk rock subculture taught me to become a PR practitioner and leader to my firm?

1. Be visionary with goals and clear-cut objectives

The majority of punk rock bands are go-getters. They are aggressive, confident, and relentless in landing gigs and being heard. They are known to have a firm grasp of who they are and want to achieve. Forming a punk band requires being visionary and having objectives to set the band apart from others and becoming relevant in the punk scene.

At our consultancy firm, OCCAM, we implement the same mindset and discipline; both in how we run our business and how we help our clients. Being visionary drives and inspires what a company can become, and having clear-cut objectives determines the appropriate strategies and tactics to achieve it. When we talk to our clients, it is central for us to understand their vision and set achievable objective(s) before we take action.

2. Make your message clear, genuine, and relevant to your audience

Notable punk rock bands address an issue, whether it is social, political, or environmental, and they are not shy to be as direct as possible. They seek to relate, share their sentiment, and take action with their audience. Albums and songs are constructed with a clear message and relevant to a cause and its audience. It distinguishes the band apart from others. It is also important for the band to truly believe in the message or else they will be labeled as posers.

Messaging is the foundation of public relations and the most important step. It defines a consistent voice for a company and helps people understand who you are, what you do, and why. If a PR campaign fails, there is a good chance it might be due to a weak or absence of key messages.

Being a clear communicator inside the workplace is as important at OCCAM. Setting a healthy working environment strengthens our company culture, which requires discipline in stimulating two-way conversations and mutual respect despite job title.

3. Do not conform, be disruptive, and embrace the singularity

Punk rock does not play by the rules, often not even their own. It disrupts conventional attitudes and ways of seeing. It encourages you to own what makes you strange and dismiss normalcy.

Although there are codes of conduct that we do need to abide by in PR and communications, it is crucial to think differently, unconventionally, and from a new perspective. This set of thinking is as important internally in the workplace and externally when consulting our clients.

4. Be creative and wise in using every resource available

The do-it-yourself (DIY) aspect of punk is one of the most important factors and most distinctive characteristics of the subculture. Bands recorded demos in their bedrooms or garages with limited equipment. Fans published small publication ‘zines to connect with each other. Gigs are held in the basements or empty lots. Posters and album covers are hand-drawn and photocopied for mass distribution.

The same goes for effective PR and Communications today where media convergence has made a revolutionary impact on delivering and accessing information. As long as we fully understand the target audience and craft the proper messaging for them, we can choose and utilize various resources to be as impactful possible, whether it is the medium of delivery, the influencers to collaborate, media to partner, and many more.

Our consultants in OCCAM are very capable of consulting our clients on selecting, managing, and using the right resources to achieve their communications goals. All consultants are equipped with the general skills to handle the end-to-end needs of our clients, but each has their own expertise that complements and supports each other as a team, from media networks, influencer connections, content creativity to strategic thinking.

5. Engage, connect and collaborate with your stakeholders

The punk subculture grew and flourished from a strong sense of community since as early as the scene first emerged. All the great bands started from the support of their local hometown community, working together to set gigs and spreading word-of-mouth marketing across neighboring towns. “It takes a village,” as they say.

Today, it is essential for companies and brands to not only engage their audience, but connect and collaborate together, and empower customers as their advocates. In today’s highly connected world, it is even more important than ever to create authentic relationships with customers and facilitate advocacy.

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