Paul Yeung is Director of Public Affairs for JTI-Macdonald Corporation and a Global Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Canada Institute. Previously, Paul has held senior government relations and communications positions at Philip Morris International, the Royal Bank of Canada, and the World Bank Group. He served as Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister of Finance in the province of Ontario. Paul completed his undergraduate studies in history at Wilfrid Laurier University and obtained his M.A. in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
How did you get your start in public affairs?
My first job in public affairs was working on the 1996 Ontario Liberal leadership campaign. My candidate lost--but I was quickly (promoted?) to Christmas card duty for an opposition Member of the Provincial Parliament, and the rest is history. Working in opposition was my introduction to Politics 101. My experience with a number of unsuccessful by-elections provided many opportunitiesto write, taught me about the legislative process, and enabled some lifelong friendships, all invaluable for when I returned to government in 2006.
Having worked in public affairs for almost 25 years, what have you enjoyed the most?
Without a doubt, the best thing has been the friends I’ve made. Politics attracts the most interesting people.
From a professional perspective, I have enjoyed developing and delivering impactful strategic policies in government and the private sector. There have certainly been challenging times – things don’t always work the way as planned — but learning and recognizing mistakes or missteps, analyzing different tactics to approaching problems, and finding a way to win have been rewarding.
What advice would you give someone looking to start a career in public affairs?
Experience in government and political campaigns should be mandatory. Political experience is invaluable. Knowing how the political and legislative systems function in combination with communications is key. You can’t provide advice without understanding how things work – plus a political job is where lifelong friends are made.
Establishing good relationships and respecting others is important in the long term. Disagreeing with other people’s opinions can be done without animosity or creating enemies.
Never drink the Kool Aid, live in an echo chamber, or be angry all the time. The world of public affairs is very small. We’re all just one or two people removed from one another. As my sage and wise first political boss, Bruce Crozier, MPP (Essex), said, “Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you’re likely going to see them on the way down.”
What criteria should people consider when considering a new Public Affairs position?
First, find a good boss and good coworkers. If your boss is a terrible person and/or you hate your co-workers, it doesn’t matter if one is employed by a highly reputable company or you get paid a lot – you likely won’t last. Finding the right fit is key. Asking yourself the following questions: Would you enjoy working with the potential boss? Why did the last person who held the position leave? Can you make a difference in the position? Can you learn something new? Are you interested in the industry? How does this position fit into your overall career plan? I’ve been lucky to work and to volunteer with some great organizations. The few times where I faltered in my career was when I didn’t do enough research or truthfully answer the above questions.
You have served on the PAAC Board of Directors for almost 10 years and will be stepping down in February 2022 – what did you enjoy the most about your involvement with PAAC?
The privilege of working with my fellow Board of Directors is the reason why I stayed involved for such a long time – time flies when you’re having fun. But it is time to let the next generation of public affairs leaders take the reins. It was an honour to work with such a talented group of government relations and communications professionals, to put together events such as the National Conference, speed-mentoring nights, and numerous speakers. One of the positive trends I’ve noticed over the years is that there is more BIPOC representation at PAAC events and at the political staff level. I hope this continues in the future, and our industry becomes more representative of society.