PRoust Questionnaire: Gregor Halff

Gregor Halff

The PRoust Questionnaire provides a quick insight into a public relations practitioner’s interests and point of view, as well as her or his professional beliefs and values.

If you are not familiar with the original 19th-century Proust Questionnaire, please see details at the end of this post.

PRoust Questionnaire answers from Gregor Halff:

1. What are your most striking characteristics as a PR practitioner?

I like to shut up and just observe; one learns so much about people, organisations and businesses from what they choose to disclose about themselves.

2. What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?

Evening events in our industry have a tendency to bore me–and quite quickly, at that.

3. What is your favourite occupation in PR?

My current one as an academic in business schools. This position means  I can insert communication best practices into management education. As well, I can nurture management best practices in the communication industry.

4. Why do you work in PR?

Because I can think of few professions with such a wide quality gap between the top practitioners and the bottom tier; I believe academia can help to change that.

5. What is your idea of PR nirvana?

PR nirvana is where the organisations listen better and communicators measure more.

6. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR?

Having to deal with internal corruption (similar to other professions, such as the legal one, or accounting firms and rating agencies).

7. What qualities do you most admire in a PR practitioner?

The practitioners with the ability to spot specific opportunities when bringing organisations or people together for the first time.

8. What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner?

Being absorbed with “The Message” and forgetting all about the specific context of the communication that is needed. I also find too much self-promotion a bit distasteful.

9. Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain?

Anne Frank is a hero for preserving her story in written form (yet hoping that she might live to tell it). Ever since her diary came to public attention posthumously, it has helped in the fight against discrimination.

I don’t want to name specific villains, but offer the observation that they tend to dress more sharply than their (perhaps poorer?) more ethical colleagues.

10. What do you most value in your professional contacts?

Diversity. The reason I say this is because when people with wildly different backgrounds and lives come to a common understanding in a professional setting, that’s your best chance of your group of contacts arriving at a winning formula.

11. Have you ever been influenced by a PR campaign?

Yes. I spent parts of my childhood in Trinidad, where–in the late 1970s–there was a ‘No Liming!’ campaign, which used a slang word (specific to Trinidad). The initiative focused on telling young (and older) people to be productive and not hang around. That line still pops into my head when I think I’m having too much fun. 

12. Where would you most like to practise PR?

In good conscience.

Geographically speaking, I would also enjoy practising public relations in an emerging economy nation like Kenya or Vietnam. What I know about how PR is practised in those countries, I find fascinating.

13. Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?

All of Virginia Woolf’s works have protagonists who are in the eye of the storm, yet still feel slightly removed.

That might not be a bad recipe for a PR practitioner!

14. Who do you think has great public relations?

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde.   

Why? Because both are centre stage of some major struggles, but remain accepted as key to the solution of problems with a big P. (That’s not easy to pull off.)

15. Which real, historical or fictional person or brand would you like to give a reputation makeover?

Deng Xiaoping. During his many years of political leadership (1978-1992) he had a number of faces, but was above all the architect of economic reforms that lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens out of poverty.

This aspect of him is not known enough, including the fact that he continued to advocate for these reforms even after retiring from political leadership.

16. Who is your favourite writer?

I would name Joseph Conrad, V.S. Naipaul and Christa Wolf as my favourite writers.

All three manage to describe ambiguity in very certain terms and lead their heroes (or villains?) on discovery trails around or right through that ambiguity.

Oh, if only we could invite the last surviving of these authors to speak at one of our PR conferences or evening events–I certainly wouldn’t get bored!

17. What one thing is essential to your PR life?

Access to a broad range of quality journalism is essential.

I enjoy reading local newspapers (or digital properties) from wherever in the world I am working, but also make sure to get my daily dose of the famous “salmon-pink newspaper.”

18. Groucho Marx is quoted as saying he’d never join a club that would have him as a member. Which PR club, association or tribes do you belong to—and why?

I currently chair the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (GA)–we search for a fine balance between having global standards in PR and accepting differences across the world.

Sometimes we even hit that sweet spot!

19. Where do you most like to do your professional networking?

 In a Finnish sauna and at the Global Alliance’s World Public Relations Forum. (Note that they don’t have to be one and the same place.)

20. What’s the best career decision you ever made?

Two decisions: Leaving a toxic work environment and removing a destructive person from my team.

These decisions taught me that one always has a choice about the big things that impact your professional and personal life.

21. What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?

I believe we need to learn to rely less on prose. Instead, communication based on data will require much more mathematical skills than the “Oh, I’m not a math person” generalisation (given in western countries).

At the same time, likely visualization will become a key talent for listening and speaking skills.

22. Which talent would you most like to have?

How much space do I have?!

I can think of time travelling abilities, frugality, econometrics, making proper milk-foam for cappuccino, driving a car….

23. How would you like to end your PR career?

By (foolishly) thinking there’s nothing new to learn anymore.

24. How would you describe the current state of public relations?

Nearly there, nearly there.

In an age of hyper-transparency, we have the opportunity to become a crucial link between organisations and society; however, we need to become better at analytics, accountability, listening, not to mention continuing to speak truth to power.

25. What is your PR motto?

One-size-fits-all is always a hoax, isn’t it? (Remember that school uniform when your were 11-14?)

Perhaps that’s why I don’t have a personal motto, because they tend to be suspiciously uniform.

Dr. Gregor Halff is professor of corporate communication practice at Singapore Management University (Singapore) and visiting faculty at the European School for Management and Technology in Berlin. Additionally, he is the current chair of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.

Before joining academia, Gregor, who is Dutch, was managing partner in Germany at Publicis Groupe and co-founded Publicis Public Relations (now part of MSLGroup).

The best way to connect with Gregor Halff is by email or via his Twitter or LinkedIn accounts.

The PRoust Questionnaire was originally designed to reveal one’s personality. Its name and popularity as a form of interview has roots in the responses given by the French writer, Marcel Proust. His first set of responses came at the end of the nineteenth century, when he was still in his teens (from an English-language “confession album”).

For PR Conversations we have adapted this original idea with questions that offer a public relations’ perspective. It is fun to compare and contrast responses as the series grows. (See below.)

If you would like to be invited to complete our PRoust Questionnaire for posting on PR Conversations, please visit our Crowdsourcing suggestion form.

Earlier PRoust Questionnaire respondents

Tina McCorkindale

Andy Green

Sean Kelly

– Helen Slater

João Duarte

Catherine Arrow

Stuart Bruce

Fraser Likely

Jane Tchan

Sean Williams

Al Clarke

Léa Werthman

Estelle de Beer

Don Radoli

Toni Muzi Falconi

Richard Bailey

Jane Jordan-Meier

Nelly Benova

Peter Stanton

Mat Wilcox

Anne Gregory

Markus Pirchner

Heather Yaxley

Judy Gombita

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7 Replies to “PRoust Questionnaire: Gregor Halff

  1. Thanks for stopping by, Tory and Katie! I am in agreement that Gregor’s answers are very interesting–they certainly don’t conform to the usual “PR” stereotypes!

    Katie, what Gregor means about me being a “tenacious” interviewer needs some explanation, as the questions have not changed since the first respondent (which happens to have been ME) took it.

    Simply put, whereas sometimes I have to work with the respondent to whittle down PRoust Questionnaire answers (which are supposed to be reasonably short), with Gregor I invited him to “expand” on some areas. An example is Q10. His original answer was one word:


    I thought it would benefit the readers of PR Conversations to know what kind of “diversity” did Gregor mean. I figured if I (as editor) didn’t know, how could anyone else? (The second-attempt answer is fabulous!)

    This was the case for three or four questions (certainly not all of them). But Gregor admitted that when he went back to the well (so to speak), the longer answer was definitely more reflective of his point of view and thoughts.

    Personally, I was amazed at how “global” has been this Dutch-born man’s personal and professional life. We could have a reader’s question: How many different countries do you understand Gregor to have lived and/or worked in?

    1. Thanks Gregor, sounds fantastic!

      And thanks Jude for the explanation! I’m grateful for said tenacity as the extended answers were most interesting 🙂

      It’s that journalistic style probing since our ‘meeting’ which led to me interviewing John Paluszek on the 2012 WPRF rather than Judy herself, who saw it as an interesting opportunity to see practitioners from competing agencies come together for the greater good of promoting the industry – if you like, you can see it here:

      Lastly, I’d guess five countries from the post: The Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Singapore and Trinidad and Tobago – how’d I do?

      1. Thanks Katie – working with John Paluszek is a joy, isn’t it? Rare to find people who have a bird’s eye view and still see details sharply (as he did in your interview).

        Well, the Netherlands is a small and crowded country, so we really need to venture out to avoid bumping into each other. My parents were in the Foreign Service. So they’re the actual globalists; my effort in all of this was minimal and usually not much more than than facing yet another ‘first day at school’

  2. Many thanks, Katie (Judy is a tenacious interviewer ;-).

    Happy to be in touch when I’m in town!

  3. Thank you Gregor and Judy for this insight!

    I really enjoyed reading your colourful and varied take on the industry, your idea of PR nirvana resonates with mine! If you are ever lecturing, speaking or visiting Melbourne, Australia, I’d love to have a coffee with you.

    Thanks again!

  4. Thanks for answering the questions and providing some food for thought. I like your answer about doing PR in Kenya and Vietnam.

    I like questionnaires like this; they help to elicit thought in a structured way that you typically don’t do otherwise.

    I think I’ll go and answer these questions for myself.

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