GROWING up in Lowlands, Tobago, Avian Parks once dreamt of becoming the Oprah Winfrey of the Caribbean.
For as long as she could remember, she has always admired the renowned talk show host and was intent on emulating her.
“I used to practice reading in the mirror a lot and worked hard on my pronunciations and intonations. I really wanted to be a talk show host,” Parks, communications director in the Office of the Chief Secretary (OCS), Tobago House of Assembly (THA), told Newsday.
But she was also fond of award-winning broadcast journalist Christiane Amanpour, whose work has taken her to some of he grittiest parts of the world.
“I found her to be such an excellent interviewer so I didn’t mind becoming a renowned journalist just to be able to do high-profile interviews.”
Ironically, Parks was not even “a television person” back in the day. Even now, she said, “I am rarely found sitting in front of the television binging on programmes or shows.
“But I’ve always loved talks shows. I really enjoy seeing people being interviewed and sharing their stories. I admire a confident and professional interviewer who is comfortable drawing out responses from someone and taking charge of their interview. I never really liked the news but I was always drawn to talk shows.”
But Parks recalled a personal trait which she felt, at that time, would have prevented her from fulfilling her dream.
“During my teenage years, I had a deep voice for a female and sometimes I got teased and laughed about it and was called ‘man voice.’ However, over the years, my pitch got a little higher. I am not sure if it was natural or whether I was intentional about it. But I know I purposed in my heart from a very young age that one day I will be on television hosting my own show and talking to crowds of people.”
That dream came to fruition when she started hosting Let’s Talk Tobago at the Department of Information (DOI) and later produced and directed her own talk show, Keepin It Real, which tackled taboo topics. Parks did two seasons of Keepin It Real, one of which was at CCN TV6 and the other on Tobago Channel Five.
Those experiences laid the foundation for her development as a respected communications professional.
As OCS communications director, Parks’ job covers a broad spectrum of activities.
Essentially, she manages the DOI, a diverse area with approximately eight units encompassing communications, speech writing, photography, television production, engineering, graphics, radio production and social media.
Parks is primarily responsible for spearheading the image and branding of the THA through internal and external communications and policies. Additionally, the DOI is responsible for media and communications for the OCS and THA.
“Therefore, my role spans overseeing policy creation to involvement in television and radio productions, co-ordinating media conferences, community meetings and overseeing the overall dissemination of THA/government information.”
On Tuesday, she is expected to host the third instalment in the THA’s executive council district town hall series at the Parlatuvier Multipurpose Facility.
For Parks, an average day involves several meetings, sometimes exclusively with DOI staff or other THA divisions and external stakeholders. Planning is a crucial component of her work.
She said planning for a production such as the Tobago Day Awards usually requires a pre-production meeting to co-ordinate an approach and establish, by consensus, a desired result. Roles are assigned and the necessary mechanisms put in place to ensure that the production flows as hiccup-free as possible, she added.
She said her involvement in the Scarborough and Bon Accord Methodist churches as a young girl kindled her interest in public speaking.
“I credit my introduction to the field of public speaking to my involvement in the Methodist church as I was always doing recitations/poems or being master of ceremonies for church functions and events.”
Parks entered the media shortly after leaving Signal Hill Secondary School. She worked as a reporter at Tambrin 92.7fm before moving to Republic Bank Ltd.
Parks also worked several clerical jobs while pursuing a certificate in media practice with Birkbeck College, University of London, United Kingdom.
In the UK, she also did a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and communications at Goldsmith’s College and later, an executive masters in corporate communications with IE University, Spain.
On her return to Tobago, she worked as a television producer at the DOI for six years and did some freelance work producing and directing, Keepin It Real. She later managed a multi-purpose facility before accepting the job as communications director in the Office of the Chief Secretary.
Parks began acting in the role in September 2017 and was subsequently confirmed in the position.
She described her six years in the job as challenging but enjoyable and rewarding.
“You always have to be ready in corporate communications. You’re required to be able to mobilise at very short notice, be constantly creative and there is also very little room for error given that we are responsible for media and communications for the highest office in Tobago. Therefore, there is a lot of responsibility and very high expectations from everyone.”
She added, “One of the things I have had to get used to very quickly is the unpredictability of this industry. While we understand we have to plan as a unit, we also have had to learn that your day may not always go as planned and we have to respond and mobilise once required. In this role, you have to be flexible. If you are not you will create a lot of unnecessary stress for yourself and those around you.”
Since assuming the role, Parks said, she has had the good fortune of presiding over productions that have generally been well-received both at home and abroad.
“However, there are times we choose to push the ‘corporate envelope,’ for example with the Chief Secretary’s addresses, which traditionally are pieces that are characterised by a very serious, corporate, simple, straight, standing behind podium look and feel. We are never too sure how the creative concept will be received. We pray for the best because if it is disastrous, the repercussions can be costly. Balancing creativity and meeting or even surpassing expectation is a challenge in and of itself.”
Still, producing the Chief Secretary’s messages, Parks said, has been the highlight of her job, thus far.
“I have always loved the production aspect of media and communications and so I use the opportunity to go back in the field, in the heart of operations and be intimately involved in the production process. The process of producing, recording and editing these messages is quite rewarding and I thoroughly enjoy the teamwork involved in each of the productions.”
Parks enjoys being in the field.
“I understand that management requires you to be more in the office but because my passion has always been and will always be production, I take any opportunity I get. I also like that when we’re doing a production, I’m no longer necessarily the boss. All hands are on deck, people get to function in their areas of expertise. Everyone contributes to the creative process. We have fun and we’re all on the same page, wanting the best possible product.”
Parks dismissed the perception among many people that communications is a glitzy industry.
“It may have its glamorous moments but it is also long hours, almost a 24/7 industry and one where you are always competing with yourself and challenging yourself to better your craft always.”
To those who believe the field is easy and does not require much, she said, “This couldn’t be further from the truth. Co-ordinating a community meeting takes days to co-ordinate and plan. It includes liaising with village representatives, suppliers, mobilising publicity, arranging a site visit, co-ordinating the branding of the event, setting up equipment, which takes hours and then breaking down the equipment after the event, which also takes hours.”
Parks said even the production of a simple, 30-second advertisement with a combination of shots from different places, spaces and events can take days to capture the ideal image, edit and package.
“The end product hardly every reflects the work that went into it.”
Despite her gruelling schedule, Parks still finds time to jog and visit the gym, go to the beach and enjoy nature. She also enjoys travelling, watching football and lawn tennis games, listening to music and reading informative articles.
Parks, who said she would love to provide communications training to young people one day, advised women considering a career in communications to think carefully and strategically.
“Media and communications is a very fun and exciting industry but also a very demanding one. Having a good support system is crucial, especially if one is a parent or thinking about becoming a parent. It is not a 9 am to 5 pm industry. You family will have to be very understanding and patient.”
Parks said working on holidays and special occasions is part of the territory.
“It can’t just be for a pay cheque because the demands can become overwhelming at times. However, once you’re passionate and love the field, you don’t feel like you’re working when you’re creating and that certainly compensates.”
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