PRoust Questionnaire: Helen Slater

The PRoust Questionnaire provides a quick insight into a public relations practitioner’s interests and point of view, as well as his or her 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 Helen Slater:

1. What are your most striking characteristics as a PR practitioner?
Honesty (or integrity) and a good sense of humour–each of these are essential in the business of PR.

2. What is your principal fault as a PR practitioner?
Sometimes being too honest; even after all these years, I do need to remember to take a breath before speaking at times.

3. What is your favourite occupation in PR?
Working with clients and achieving great results on their projects or campaigns. It’s very satisfying, especially working as part of their teams.

4. Why do you work in PR?
If, through my public relations efforts, I can help make change for the better, then I get a real buzz and sense of satisfaction. That, and because I can indulge my need for creative expression.

5. What is your idea of PR nirvana?
When people “get it” about PR. By get it I mean that public relations is about what they do, not what they say. Plus that organisational PR relies on the leadership (and employees) and their actions.

6. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery in PR?
When I see PR people being dishonest and defending the indefensible. And when clients don’t really get PR (see above), instead treating it as an afterthought to marketing. Or they think it’s only about media. Of course those people are not my clients for long….

7. What qualities do you most admire in a PR practitioner?
High-quality thinking and good, ethical practices.

8. What qualities do you most dislike in a PR practitioner?
Dishonesty and unethical practice, both as a PR practitioner and within their own business dealings.

9. Who would you describe as a PR hero or villain?
PR heroes are my close PR friends and colleagues–you know who you are–who support their colleagues; practise PR with integrity and consummate skill; and who completely understand the nature of our industry and what it takes to do it well.

10. What do you most value in your professional contacts?
The ability to maintain contact is a great start, along with generosity of spirit. Oh, and courtesy.

11. Have you ever been influenced by a PR campaign?
Yes. Like Minds, Like Mine. While not strictly a PR campaign, its goal is to change public opinion about mental illness and depression. It is fronted by former All Black (rugby) player Sir John Kirwan, who has depression. It is a long-running and successful campaign that still resonates in our New Zealand community.

12. Where would you most like to practise PR?
If it wasn’t to be in New Zealand, I would love to experience public relations in the USA, as well as in the UK. They are vastly different markets and where everything is writ large compared to our small, beautiful environment where everyone knows everyone.

13. Has a novel, film, play or other work of fiction ever influenced you as a PR practitioner?
No, not really. But the American TV show The West Wing was pretty darned good.

14. Who do you think has great public relations?
Hmmm. Air New Zealand has really good PR in that they understand it’s what they do that makes them successful. And the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

15. Which real, historical or fictional person or brand would you like to give a reputation makeover?
If they’re fictional, then their author will have to give them a talking to and a rewrite.  Historical: Well, staying in the royalty vein, I’d love to talk with Queen Victoria. It’s not that she has a bad reputation, but it could do with a bit of a polish. Of the notorious ones–and keeping in the theme–Oliver Cromwell, I think, has had a bit of a bad rap…so maybe we could lend a hand there, too.

16. Who is your favourite writer?
Bill Bryson. He has a knack of making me laugh out loud, which I don’t normally do with humorous books. Plus his words paint wonderfully vivid pictures in my mind.

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

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?
The Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ). Why? Because it’s the biggest one in NZ, and while there’s stuff that could be better, overall it does things pretty well given its available resources.

19. Where do you most like to do your professional networking?
In the “real” world, where I meet with people I like, who hold similar values to mine (and where they like to enjoy themselves).

20. What’s the best career decision you ever made?
To leave the field of interior design and go into journalism–that eventually led me into PR.

21. What skills and abilities do you think tomorrow’s PR leaders need?
The same ones that have been needed since PR was first formally instituted:

  • an understanding of people
  • flexibility
  • technical know-how
  • common sense
  • to be able to think; and
  • to be unafraid of standing out in order to be outstanding

22. Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to sing.

23. How would you like to end your PR career?
With a deliberate decision to change towards something completely different, just for the hell of it.

24. How would you describe the current state of public relations?
It’s very odd. It’s the only industry I know where its practitioners can’t agree on what it is they do, and then expect their clients and employers to know. How weird is that?

25.What is your PR motto?
Go with your instincts.


Helen Slater is based in Auckland, New Zealand and has practised in PR for more than 20 years. Although, if she’s really honest it started right back when she began in event management in the dark ages, totally inexperienced, organising a fashion parade for around 700 people for the local kindergarten fundraiser. A detour into interior design led to journalism in radio and print for around 10 years, before landing in PR.

Helen’s been self-employed for most of her 20 or so years in PR, with a brief in-house stint in local government. She’s the owner/director of Strata Communications, which is a collaborative agency working with other similarly minded practitioners in PR and allied fields. While she’s worked primarily in the health, local government, property and real estate, seaport and age care sectors, Helen’s client criteria is simply that they appreciate public relations and are great to work with. She’s also a founding member (and is the Asia/Pacific lead) for the management team of the Comprehension Group, which is an affiliate of highly experienced, international PR practitioners.

She can be contacted via Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn or via either of her websites.

Helen Slater’s earlier contribution to PR Conversations (co-authored with Toni Muzi Falconi) is the popular post, Buzzwords: Much sound and fury, but signifying little.

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:

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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