David Lian, MD of Zeno opens up about new grads entering the world of PR

Hiring and retaining talent in the public relations/communications field is not easy given its long-hours and its not-so-glamorous starting pay. Today, with the development of technology and evolving media habits, the scope of work for PRs today has drastically evolved.

The average PR person today has to go far beyond media relations, from analytics reporting to content strategy and social media. More and more, PR players need to be more than gatekeepers or fire fighters, and instead be the ones consulted to spot potholes before the launch of a campaign. Speaking to us about how the industry can attract more talent is David Lian, managing director of Zeno Malaysia.

Lian has pioneered social media and digital communications for more than a decade in Asia and today, he leads one of Zeno’s most integrated offices in Malaysia, leading a team comprising PR, social / digital, creative and technology professionals. He has been recognised for his work on clients such as Nokia, DiGi Telecommunications, BMW and Intel.

A+M: When hiring, what are some of the things that turn you off completely?

If there was something that turns me off personally, it is when a fresh graduate is indecisive and unable to commit to a course of action. It is okay to get things wrong sometimes, but being able to be firm on your convictions and make the best decision in every circumstance shows someone who’s serious about their role (not just in work) and with the potential to grow.

A+M: What do you look out for when hiring an entry-level executive?

We look at behavior, values and character traits a lot more than qualifications – academic or otherwise. For example, we look for candidates who show good judgment, a commitment to getting the job done, and a willingness to explore new ideas and fresh perspectives. At Zeno Group, we believe the best people can always be taught skills, but it’s very hard to teach bad people good behaviours.

A+M: What should individuals take note of when negotiating for their pay?

I personally believe that we should pay people what they are worth. The key thing for every employee is to get a good sense of their worth, and be able to articulate why they are worth that salary. On another note, good bosses will always have frank conversations with you about pay – and work with you to build your worth so you can meet your financial goals. It is the best interest of every employer to keep their employees for as long as they can, and so, you’d want to make sure they were happy with their pay.

A+M: How important is word of mouth references from former employers/employees?

For Zeno Group, word of mouth is really how we’ve been able to find and attract talent – and usually if someone within can vouch for the person you’re about to hire, you’d have a better shot at making it work out. We also want our former employees to say good things about us, genuinely, because they genuinely enjoyed working at Zeno. That is how, in my opinion, we can create a virtuous cycle of finding and hiring the best people.

A+M: What skill sets do you look out for when hiring entry-level executives?

This depends on the executive – for a designer, it would be that eye for design. For a developer, naturally coding skills are important. But if there’s one skill that cuts across everything, it is the ability to write and articulate one’s thoughts. In many ways, the skill of writing can be a good indicator of just how far someone can go.