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Grab moves MP Tin Pei Ling to 'corporate development' role after social outcry: PR professionals weigh in

Grab moves MP Tin Pei Ling to 'corporate development' role after social outcry: PR professionals weigh in

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Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling will be moving to a corporate development role at Grab Singapore following debates on social media about her appointment as the company’s director of public affairs and policy. The news was announced by Tin on her social media accounts as well as in a statement by Grab that Tin posted on her page. Tin wrote on her LinkedIn page that following the recent public attention, she discussed the issue with Grab and agreed that it would be best for her to move into a role that did not involve any government relations in Singapore.

The company said it had come to a "mutual agreement" with Tin on her revised role, after discussions on her career aspirations and evaluating her experience against relevant open roles. “I understand and have long come to accept the public scrutiny that comes with being an MP. But I would never want it to hinder my ability to serve my constituents well as MP, or to do my job at Grab effectively. And this would be the case if my intentions and actions in the future are always called into doubt, whether justified or not,” Tin wrote. She then announced that she will be moving into a new role as director, corporate development.

She added that it is a role that is aligned to her career interests and that will also tap on her past experiences in consulting and corporate strategy.

Don't miss: MP Tin Pei Ling joins Grab Singapore as public affairs and policy director

In her new role as director of corporate development, she will "not be involved in public affairs and policy work in Singapore, nor will she represent Grab in public policy discussions with Singapore Government officials", said Grab in the release.

"Her duties will include realising synergies across our investments and acquisitions, as well as supporting strategy development," it added in its statement. Grab also added that Tin will be expected to continue abiding by the rules of engagement the company has put in place to declare and avoid any possible conflicts of interest, and operate in the same manner as other MPs holding private sector roles.

In a post by the People’s Action Party on Facebook about Tin’s appointment, it affirmed that MPs are expected to conduct themselves in their duties and responsibilities with utmost propriety, to uphold the reputation of the Party and the integrity of the Singapore system. “While performing their MP duties, they are expected to declare potential conflicts of interest, and recuse themselves as appropriate from decisions, discussions and positions where there is a risk of such a conflict arising,” it wrote.

The news comes just days after it was announced that Tin would join Grab Singapore as its director of public affairs and Policy as confirmed to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE by a Grab spokesperson.

However, will this change appease the public and industry? The numbers seem to suggest otherwise.

 What are netizens are saying?

According to media intelligence company CARMA, the social conversations about Tin exponentially rose to a 198% increase in volume of mentions as of 1 February when her appointment as director of public affairs and policy was first announced.

“Looking at social sentiment from in the first week of her appointment, there was a 33.7% negative sentiment and only 7.7% positive sentiment,” noted a spokesperson at CARMA. She added that while some users applauded her hard work as she took on two jobs, many also found her responses to questions regarding the conflict of interest “surprising” and “disappointing”, with a few suggesting “boycotting Grab”.

While conversations seemed to taper off in the days following her appointment, it rose again by almost 800% this weekend when her position at Grab changed, according to CARMA. Unfortunately, it would seem that Grab’s attempt to appease the public backfired because sentiments towards Tin remain largely negative at 30.1%. There were also only 9.6% positive comments expressed by netizens.

“Netizens questioned her “merit” and asked “what [ministers] actually do to deserve being paid millions a year”, according to CARMA.

Public relations experts weigh in.

Public relations experts in the field that MAREKTING-INTERACTIVE spoke to also agree that Grab needs to do more to regain the trust of the public and clients while affirming Tin as a valuable addition to the team.

“By all accounts, Tin has seemingly been a good MP despite a rough start to her political career. And while it's surprising that the conflict of interest in her previous role should have been somewhat obvious immediately, I think it's a case of better late than never,” noted the general manager of Strategic Public Relations Group, Singapore, Edwin Yeo.

He continued by saying that optics aside, there could be a realisation internally that the existence of a sniff of conflict might hamper Tin’s ability to perform for Grab in government relations situations, as civil servants might be more wary of how it would look when they deal with her.

True enough, despite Grab trying to take the sting out of its announcements, it has yet to address the issue of fair hiring, according to Jose Raymond, the director of strategic advisory at Precious Communications. “If the role and job description is completely new and Tin Pei Ling will not be involved in kind of public policy lobbying, then shouldn’t Grab have also opened the role to other potential candidates? What makes Grab so sure that she’s the top candidate for this newly minted role?” he asked.

Adding on, Tarun Deo, the founder and managing director of Progressive Communications noted that all parties involved failed to gauge public awareness of what is clearly a conflict of interest in terms of what a Public Affairs and Policy Director job entails. "They also failed to gauge the willingness to accept, at face value, Tin being absolutely clear that when she discharges her duties in her capacity as MP, her constituents and Singapore come first," he said.

What does Grab think?

While the jury is still out on how Tin will perform in her new role, Grab remains confident that she will be a valuable addition to the team and that her hiring was above board.

When MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out for a statement, it added that the team worked closely with her “months in advance” to ensure that her hiring and the scope of her expected responsibilities were in line with the rules governing her duties and conduct as an MP.

“We also established rules of engagement where Pei Ling should not be advocating for Grab’s interest in her capacity as an MP, and correspondingly, she should also not be advocating for her constituency and party in her work within Grab,” Grab said.

It concluded by thanking the public for its feedback and asserted that it will continue to hire talent based on a combination of the right values and skills sets while supporting their professional development. 

Prior to joining Grab, Tin, who is the MP for MacPherson, served as the chief executive officer at Business China, a local non-profit organisation that aims to foster Singapore-China relationships. She was in this role since 2018. In a LinkedIn post two months ago, Tin announced that she was leaving Business China but that she would be serving on its board and continuing to walk alongside the organisation in the years to come.

Tin also served as the keynote speaker during MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Digital Marketing Asia 2022 conference. During the conference, she noted that the upheavals in the tech scene can be somewhat unsettling. She said that although the world is experiencing "very painful times of deep crisis at this moment", there is always hope and tech industries and firms should take heart.

During the conference she also shared that she is optimistic about the growth of social commerce and the positive impact it had on smaller brands and the entire ecosystem. Tin acknowledged that there could still be some challenges ahead that brands need to consider. According to her, one of the critical success factors of social commerce is to effectively understand and precisely engage the target customers. 

"In today's context, social media and eCommerce platforms rely heavily on large amounts of data and analytics generated. However, data protection regulations and the possible mainstreaming of Web3 could significantly affect these platforms' ability to collect and analyse customer data intelligently," she said.

Before this, Tin was the group director of corporate strategy at Jing King Technology Group, which is now known as Adera Global. The company manages fintech solutions and smart technology. She has also worked at Ernst & Young Advisory as a business and management consultant. Tin also joined politics as a grassroots advisor under the People's Action Party in 2011 and became an elected member of parliament just months after joining. She retains her role in parliament till today.

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