Meet Sandals’ Alex Holder
TODAY’S FITC fits the bill of my initial reason behind this whole feature, as it wasn’t until I bumped into him recently, that I began to wonder about his job and what it actually entails.
Alex Holder is the 28 year old Public Relations Manager for Sandals Resorts International and the Eastern Caribbean office, and although I have met him on a number of occasions, as our professions do coincide, it wasn’t until our last encounter that I really started to ponder about the work of a PR person.
I also allowed my mind to wander further with the fact that Holder’s predecessor Dominic Fedee, is now the island’s Minister for Tourism and as you can imagine, this sent my curiosity into overdrive.
When the Guyanese native, who was raised in Antigua & Barbuda agreed to be my subject this week, it came as no surprise that his responses were as smooth as silk yet direct and thorough…just like his personality, which indicated that he was born to do what he does
The VOICE: What does your job in PR entail?
Holder: My Job in public relations, particularly in the context of Sandals Resorts, is mostly centred in media relations which is a core of academic and professional background. For the company I am responsible for the following;
· Coordinating local, regional and international media relations for Sandals Resorts International
· Spearheading corporate social responsibility initiatives via the Sandals Foundation
· Spearheading special events management on Sandals Foundation related activities
· Creating mutually beneficial relationships between resorts and various stakeholders
· Spearheading resort protocol for all resort related events in the Eastern Caribbean
· Spearheading corporate communications for internal and external publics
The VOICE: What qualifications do you have in that field?
Holder: I believe my experiences over the past 10 years in media, corporate communications and now public relations have added more to my development than my academics. But I began my tertiary studies with International Relations at the University of Guyana, then I did Business Management at Nation’s University which offers Cambridge accredited programmes. I moved on to a BA in English and then a MA in Mass Communications. Presently I am pursuing an MBA with a focus in Tourism and Hospitality at Edinburgh Napier University.
The VOICE: One might think that this job is easy, but what does it really take to be a valuable and effective mouthpiece for any organisation let alone Sandals?
Holder: I believe that understanding and appreciating the brand you represent is most important and that forms the foundation upon which you will operate in public, particularly when representing it. Whether the job is considered easy or challenging is relative to the assignment or programme being managed at the time. There is nothing constant in the PR arena, and this is especially true in Sandals PR, with a focus on three properties directly in Saint Lucia and support for three others in neighbouring islands. The nature of the job also allows for your presence on properties outside of your territory, depending on your knowledge of the brand, abilities and flexibility. The toughest part of the job comes through our inability to provide support to deserving individuals and groups on a wider scale. Through our philanthropic arm, we do a lot and spend millions in projects across the island. But there are always the few, that despite your efforts and capital injection, you leave feeling as though you could have done more.
Remaining valuable in Sandals PR in my opinion, takes a little more than it would in any other PR space. So it is understanding your organization’s changes, adapting to them and representing these changes in a manner that conveys it clearly to the press and then the public. This is especially seamless when a PR manager takes the time to recognise and understand the media and industry partners he or she works with.
The VOICE: Now I know that you must always present your organization in a positive light, but is there any time when you think that you are feeding the masses tall tales just to make your company look good?
Holder: When we sit and examine the true extent…economic, social and otherwise, that Sandals makes in the societies within which it operates, I find it difficult to ever contradict my thinking and eventual utterances on behalf of this company. Saint Lucia is not unique though in its thinking that there might be something questionable about the manner in which large companies like Sandals operate. Many (island/small) nations find themselves at odds at one point or the other about large operations that are not “native” to their shores. But I can assure you that there is nothing that cannot withstand public discourse as it relates to the morals and operations of this company.
The VOICE: As the PR person for such a lucrative hotel chain, I can imagine that the company faces its fair share of possible scandals and controversies that demand rapid and sometimes even on the spot statements. How do you cope under such pressure?
Holder: I believe we have an exceptional team in Saint Lucia and throughout the islands as it relates to our public relations management of the company. We are not, in my opinion, a reactive brand but rather allow our work and contribution to the tourism industry and relevant subsectors to speak for itself. Even our hand in community relations and owning up to our responsibilities as a corporate citizen gives us sufficient unsolicited positive standings to hold us over considerably. Issues of controversy are almost always likely to arise even if not for any reason other than the size of the company. For the most part though we try to simply not “react” to these challenges but rather allow for them to play out where the balance and perspective usually prevail. As PR Manager I strive to never have to “defend” the actions of this great company but rather to create relationships and build sufficient awareness that would stimulate positive discussions and allow for unforced and balanced opinions within the public sphere.
The VOICE: Apart from its challenges, I can also imagine that there are numerous joys and perks. What do you love most about what you do?
Holder: Among the highlights of my job would be the reach of the company and how that affects me as an individual. I have always been a “Caribbean man” thanks to my mother, her work and general love for the islands. Travelling between them has almost always been a natural part of growing up. But now, as a professional, the exposure – culturally, politically and from the perspective of business – I have a renewed appreciation for our islands and our collective tourism industry. The ability to meet and engage with journalists and other PR professionals from around the world on an almost regular basis as the company grows along with global interest in this growth, provides more learning than I could pay for. I have learnt, and continue to learn a lot about the islands, the brand and how similar yet separate it all is, and for these I am privileged.
The VOICE: Your predecessor is now the island’s Tourism Minister. Does that mean that this job is a major door opener? And if so, what’s next for you?
Holder: I would definitely agree that this job opens a lot of doors. The relationships that you build span from the man in the street to the man in highest office and everyone in between. It covers all disciplines across professional and sporting platforms and forces you to open your mind and increase your flexibility and understanding of cultures and personalities. It has certainly pushed me to return to the books and while I have a great grasp of the media relations aspect of my job, I still feel there is a lot to learn about the industry from a theoretical and operational standpoint…this explains the focus of my MBA. Going forward I would like to submerge myself deeper in the industry beyond the communications arena and be more involved from an operational perspective.