Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Geoff Tan

When Geoff Tan finally closed his chapter at Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) last year, he ended 34 years of memories with the broadcasting company. Throughout his time there, he helmed a variety of portfolios, from head of content marketing and MD, luxury and custom publishing to VP of ad sales and ad director. Tan told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE previously that he had an absolute blast and enjoyed every minute of his time at SPH. A few months later, Tan joined B2B property management platform Really Singapore as its chief ideas officer, taking with him decades worth of experience in marketing, advertising and ad sales. 

While Tan might have spent a significant amount of his career in media, it was not the first industry he started out in. In fact, he was first an ad man, entering the world of advertising as an account executive with Meridian Advertising. In the latest podcast episode of Life After Advertising, Tan said his entry into the adland was an accidental one. Find out what the happy accident was and his thoughts on his time at SPH.

Listen to the full episode here.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Why did you choose to join Really Singapore?

Tan: I left SPH after a 34-year tenure across multiple portfolios. July last year was a time of reflection as to be what I could be doing post-SPH. In that period of a few months, I was approached by three companies to consider taking up a relationship with them. But I felt that two out of the three were wanting to take from me in terms of either the experiences that I've gone through or the partners that I am familiar with when it came to business development and opening up new business relationships for them.

There was only one company - Really Singapore - that offered me a proposition where I could basically give and also take, in a way. Give as in based on my experiences, and take and learn from Really Singapore the fact that it was also in the area that I was not as familiar with, such as AI and smart tech. I felt this was an area that I could benefit from in terms of learnings after my career in the media publishing business.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Why did you choose to enter the real estate industry instead of, say, the ride-hailing or eCommerce industry for example?

Tan: I've always been the champion of the adage: "Don't just think out of the box, burn the damned box”. For the very reason being, if you think out of the box and the box is still in view and you hit some roadblocks, such as management decisions and cumbersome infrastructures, you'll look behind and think that if this thing is not going through, after a few of this knockbacks, I can quietly climb back into the box and just exist in SPH, and still get paid for what you do without ever reinventing anything new ever again.

So my process of sharing this with my staff and enthusing myself with this adage is the fact that if I adopt the mentality of taking that risk and burning that box and leaving that behind me, without the security blanket to climb back into, then even if we hit the roadblock and things don't go well, you just have to look for new opportunities and not go back to the old algorithm.

When I was approached with this proposition, firstly I knew it was promoting property technology and I knew this was the way it was structured, but I never thought that this could always remain as it is. Because startups are always augmenting themselves, and there's no stopping them in seeing opportunities in other areas or finding some insights down the road somewhere and pivoting to those insights should those insights be able to fine-tune the way the product is being propositioned.

I learnt that during my stint at SPH when I was mentoring the startup companies in the SPH's Plug and Play accelerator programme, which we worked with the developers at Silicon Valley and the authorities here in Singapore. When I was mentoring, I had a lot of opportunities to be able to sit with the start-up entrepreneurs themselves over at One-North, being able to see how they iterate and change their propositions either through research or other kinds of insights they got from the ground.

I've taken that in my learnings as well into this new company, and I also know that the propositions of this new company will never always be the same. We are looking at iterations on a daily basis in terms of tweaking the formula that we apply, to be able to service the requirement from the market. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: You said you joined advertising by accident. What was the happy accident that landed you in the ad world?

Tan: When I graduated, my first want was to join a market research company. At that point in time, I really wanted to get into qualitative and quantitative research. I had applied to a company called Survey Research Singapore, and when I got in my first interview with it, the first thing the company asked me was whether I could do qualitative interviews in Chinese. And because I had been away for the longest time, my Mandarin was not the best, I was not given the opportunity because that particular role that they had available was more a qualitative researcher. I was supposed to have conducted focus groups in Mandarin, and because I lost out, the next best position I could find was an account executive position in Meridian Advertising, which was where I started my career.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Will you ever return to advertising?

Tan: I don't think I'm ever out of advertising. At Really Singapore, we have electronic screens situated at condominium projects across Singapore. We've basically tied up a partnership between Xaxis and GroupM to champion the cost of these screens. COVID-19 has accelerated the traffic across viewability of these screens because people are working more from their homes rather than from the offices, that the condos with those electronic screens are able to also take in the advertising propositions that are alongside the screen.

Advertising has always been in my blood and I don't think it'll ever leave.

Currently, even in this proposition where it's more software-based, I'm still looking into how connectivity with customers of choice can be enhanced. and very soon, when we introduce our app that helps condo residents book their facilities and communicate among themselves, that particular mobile screen will become another opportunity of media; and at some point in time advertising. At the end of the day, I think, an ad man is always an ad man at heart.

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