A familiar face in the entertainment industry, Denise Keller carved a niche for herself, kick starting her career as a model, and then venturing into the music space by becoming a female face for MTV as a VJ. Her hard work has allowed her to take on more opportunities in sectors such as fashion, travel and lifestyle. One of her recent pursuits include conducting interviews at the Oscars.
Some clients Keller has worked with include Mastercard, Audi, BMW, Canon, Breitling, Sisley, Rimowa, Bosch and many more.
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"I have a strong affection for German brands being half German," Keller said in a conversation with Marketing. In this edition of Now following, Keller chats with Marketing on how she adapted to keep up in the social media revolution.
Marketing: What is your “claim to fame”?
I was 20 years old and based in Hong Kong as a model. A friend insisted I audition at MTV for the female VJ position in Singapore. Travel wasn’t easy at the time because of the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, but I managed to audition after a couple rounds of quarantine.
The rest, they say, is history as I secured the highly coveted VJ job.
Becoming the female face of MTV Asia is my “claim to fame” but I wasn’t popular overnight. It took years of constant filming, live hosting and many late night shows to have my own audience and build my following. I liked a lot of rock and I liked a lot of 80’s music. Girl and boy bands were dying and a new wave of alternative rock started trending: Kasabian, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Gorillaz etc were becoming big and I rode that wave.
Marketing: How has your transition been like for someone who has gone from being a model, to a host and now a celebrity influencer?
Transitions are like grey zones for me. Sometimes they are smooth and sometimes they really are grey.
One thing I can say though is that I’ve been blessed with very significant moments in each career milestone.
My early stepping stones being a model taught me how to work with a camera and in a team. My humble beginnings as a host opened doors for me to travel and now as an influencer I get a chance to finally get to talk my fans and do more interactive things. We didn't have social media during my MTV days. We had snail mail. Connecting with fans was a choice i.e. sending out autographed postcards and posters etc.
I started my Facebook Page a while back for fun and only discovered Instagram very late. I was really busy traveling the world making travel shows for Discovery TLC.
I’m very new as an influencer but I love that I can engage with my audience now, and everything is instantaneous.
It feels wonderful to get reactions from the public about my shows and events and sometimes, helpful suggestions and feedback are very welcome too.
Marketing: How has your experience with marketers changed?
Nowadays it’s important to connect with marketers personally and try to understand where they are coming from and the objectives behind each campaign. Collaborating closely to help get the messaging right and achieving the right objectives are crucial.
My recent gig with HBO Asia for the Oscars was interesting because it was a live event.
We had a very short lead-time to get the interviews uploaded in time so that people back home could watch the Oscars at breakfast. We also had an exciting prelude to the Oscars where we engaged the public to build hype and I worked with several designers to select the final dress to be worn at the Oscars.
Marketing: How different are client demands now?
Nowadays it’s important to meet clients directly, which I love because I can hear from them directly. It cuts out a lot of talk and confusion and going back and forth. For me personally it’s easier to understand what clients wish to accomplish.
I also prefer to propose integrated campaigns (on-ground/online/on-air/social) and not just ‘star’ in something or simply hold a product to my face. I think clients are more open to these ideas because it creates a better sense of reality to my audience.
Marketing: How do you deal with difficult clients?
What difficult clients? I’ve been pretty lucky I have to admit. But if I had difficult clients I would deal with them with patience and communication. I’m a strong believer in mindfulness. I don’t think clients are difficult for the sake of it. Once you understand what they are looking for, you would get along just fine.
Marketing: Favourite brand assignment?
Starring in a Priceless campaign for Mastercard in Asia.
Marketing: What are some of the challenges of being an influencer?
It can be challenging at times when clients ask you to do a lot more work for less. It’s not as straight forward as doing an above the line advertising campaign.
The best way to do this kind of work is to agree in advance what you are required to do and how. Some clients are vague and others very specific.
Marketing: Any outrageous demands you have gotten from clients?
Most of my clients are very good at what they do and treat me with a lot of respect and integrity. I get into more trouble when I work for a ‘friends rate’ with people who aren’t used to working like professionals. There are some who even offer me “exposure” as payment, in other words: work for free and you will be exposed.
Marketing: Any silly/funny boo-boos you have made in your career as an influencer?
Thankfully none yet. If there are any, I’m sure Marketing would be the first to hear about it!
Marketing: What should clients take note of when it comes to working with celebrity influencers?
Brands and influencers must be a good fit together. People want to relate to a story or a narrative. Taking a photo and plugging a brand sometimes doesn’t necessarily do the trick or convert the exposure to sales. Tying up with the wrong influencer for your brand just to capitalise on the influencer’s following is not the right way to promote your brand too. It becomes predictable, false and sometimes “fake”.
Creating internal workshops to collect more ideas together with marketers will always make it better. You get to know each other and you both get to a better understanding of what you can achieve together in a campaign. Win-win.
Marketing: How important is a social media following today in the eyes of client marketers?
It really depends on the marketer’s objectives, of course. Some have a benchmark of numbers that they want to see before they engage with an influencer. But we’ve also learnt that these numbers are not necessarily accurate. I believe that being an opinion leader or influencer is more than just numbers. If you have very low interaction or conversion rates despite having a ton of followers, what’s the point?
Marketing: Which social media platform garners you the most engagement?
I have the most engagement on Facebook without a doubt.
Marketing: What do you do to strike a connection with your followers and fans?
When I’m on a social media project, I ask my audience if they’re game to be part of the journey. I like writing to my fans. When I worked at MTV we used to get bucket loads of written fan mail. It was near impossible to write every single fan. Now, my fans are connected with me through Facebook and I get some really funny ones. I like engaging with them on FB and now on IG.
Marketing: How were the Oscars?
Awesome and nerve wrecking at the same time! Ha. I was very worried I wouldn’t get anyone big time. You know, the A-list. You really got to hustle and make yourself heard and get down to the grind to get those interviews. Luckily I did and managed to pull Jackie Chan, Octavia Spencer, Andrew Garfield, Dev Patel, Denzel Washington and even Nicole Kidman winked at me.
What was great about the whole experience is that you are surrounded by pros (people who have been reporting the Oscars for 17 years) and newbies (people who have never been, like me!) and they’re all happy to share their tricks of the trade. I had a wickedly funny radio reporter next to me. Everything that came out of her mouth was so politically incorrect and wrong, and I loved every minute being by her side. It was so much fun! She diffused a lot of the stress!
Oh and I wasn’t the only one doing FB live: Every network was reporting live on FB in between their camera takes. I thought that was super cool and such an exciting atmosphere to be in!
Marketing: What is next for you?
I’m working on an exclusive helicopter concierge service at Wings Over Asia. I’ve always been an avid fan of helicopters (first helicopter flight was with WWF Msia for my Passage to Malaysia show, always tried to factor a helicopter for production etc) and now partnering with a pilot that I’ve been working with for quite some time now. It’s an exciting new venture and I can’t wait to share more about it once we launch the service.
Yoga has also consistently been a big part of my life and I have been working hard on my training and teaching classes. Yoga is awesome in so many ways and I’m delighted to be able to share this major piece of my life with everyone.
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