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On the Record: Hill+Knowlton Strategies Hong Kong's Madison Wai

On the Record: Hill+Knowlton Strategies Hong Kong's Madison Wai

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Madison Wai (pictured), co-general manager at Hill+Knowlton Hong Kong, first dipped her toes in the public relations field as an account executive at Strategic Financial Relations, where she garnered experience in financial communications.

Having worked at local agencies, international firms, and with clients from the mainland China and MNCs, Wai believes each experience has strengthened Wai’s sense of purpose in the field of PR. Co-leading the Hong Kong office with her partner Angela Kung, Wai believes that while collaboration is important, trust and partnership are the core values in their management philosophy.   

Find out more about Wai's journey in public relations thus far and who inspires her. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Describe your management style 

I’d say “Modern Missionary”. I’m a determined, participative and empathetic leader. My focus is on purpose and “a sense of calling” rather than purely business success or growth. I believe that without this internal drive, success is superficial.

I am dedicated to fostering professionalism within my teams, along with a strong emphasis on human values, passion for exceeding expectations, and the motivation to achieve personal or career breakthroughs.

While teams may feel the pressure from my expectations, I never compromise the reputation of myself, my team, or the firm.  

Working as a co-general manager at Hill+Knowlton leading the corporate communications practice, collaboration is important. Co-leading the Hong Kong office with my partner, Angela Kung who’s heading up the financial communications practice, trust and partnership is the core values in our management philosophy. 

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MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first PR gig? 

There were so many memorable PR gigs throughout my career – pitching a story to the Wall Street Journal for a small-cap company at my first job, managing the media centre at Standard Chartered Marathon with over 200 media, organising regional media campaign for a resort launch in Macau for over 400 media, and last but not least, running the rebranding exercise for HKEX as my first in-house experience.

While these are just a few remarkable examples, they represent the diverse range of experiences that have shaped my PR career and fueled my passion for delivering impactful results in the PR industry. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Why a career in PR? 

I had no clue nor knowledge about PR when I embarked on my career.

With a background in geography and international relations, PR was an entirely new realm for me. But I’m grateful for the guidance, inspirations and encouragement that led me through various stages and challenges along the way.

Having worked at local agency, international firms, and with clients from the Mainland China and MNCs, each experience has strengthened my sense of purpose in the field of PR.   

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why? 

I’ve been fortunate to work with several exceptional leaders who have had a profound impact on my professional growth. One mentor, in particular, stands out in shaping my career in PR with a focus on corporate communications.

I vividly recall a pivotal moment when he recognised the importance of social media and entrusted me with the opportunity to learn and apply it to corporate affairs and communications. This act of trust encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and explore new realms of communication trends and mediums. This experience not only expanded my skill set but also instilled in me a sense of adaptability and curiosity to embrace emerging trends.

I am forever grateful to my mentor for believing in my abilities and providing me with the support and guidance to explore and excel in new areas of PR. Their influence has not only shaped my career but also inspired me to be a mentor and advocate for others, passing on the knowledge and support that I have received. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Your biggest blunder in your career? How did you resolve it? 

In any career, it is not uncommon to make mistakes or encounter blunders along the way. No matter how serious they are, or how senior you’re in the position, acknowledge and admit it. Taking ownership of the mistake is the first step towards resolving it.

Apologise and communicate with those affected, take corrective action to rectify the situation, and learn from the experience to prevent similar blunders in the future.  

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Harshest thing said to you in your career? 

Would you consider weight control as a means to enhance your professional image? 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Harshest thing you have said to someone?

I’m very mindful of my language and avoid saying anything harsh or hurtful that could potentially damage someone's well-being or self-esteem.

Encouraging and supporting others is a priority for me, as I believe in fostering a positive and respectful environment is so essential for everyone in the teams. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What is the hardest part about your job? 

I think maintaining resilience and a sense of calmness amidst changes and challenges, both internal and external. There are too many meetings and calls to attend, too many business opportunities and networks you want to build and farm, too many people you want / have to meet, too many issues to look around for the sake of clients’ reputation, and a myriad of conflicts to resolve…We have only 24 hours a day, and as an individual, we do have limitations.

It can be overwhelming to juggle all these responsibilities and demands while maintaining a sense of balance and ensuring that I am taking care of myself both mentally and physically. Finding the right equilibrium amidst the high-pressure nature of the job and the desire to deliver professionally can be challenging. 

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MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Biggest misconception about PR? 

People still believe our daily jobs revolve around glamourous events, product launches, working with KOLs, celebrities such as Mirror, attending fancy trips and meals. This perception often leads to envy.

However, we’re not living the glamourous life portrayed in dramas such as “Emily in Paris”, nor do we possess superhuman abilities such as “Superman” or “Wonder Woman”, although having those superpowers would be very helpful.

In reality, we are the ones behind the scenes doing all the project planning and coming up with creative ideas to make things happen, without any hassles.   

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How do you measure your own personal success? 

Personal success, in my perspective, encompasses a blend of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, as well as collective efforts of teams. While external achievements and recognition hold values, I place great importance on internal fulfillment, personal growth, purpose, and dedicated contributions of my team members.

Co-leading the Hong Kong office alongside with my counterpart Angela Kung, we focus on setting and achieving meaningful goals, foster continuous learning and improvement, and making positives impact on both of our teams. I refrain from taking personal credits as I believe success is a collaborative journey rather than an outcome of competition. Cultivating a supporting net and genuine appreciation culture for teams’ contributions is integral to my personal sense of success. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: One thing you would say to a newbie in the PR industry? 

Keep an open mind and heart as you embark on your journey in the PR industry. Stay abreast of the industry trends and market happenings, communication channels, and technologies. Curiosity will fuel your learning and enable you to understand your works deeply.

Don't hesitate to ask questions and seek knowledge from both experienced colleagues and media friends. Be bold in your creative ideas, and don't be afraid to take calculated risks.

While the Hong Kong market may be seen as small and challenging for creative PR, remember that storytelling and reputation management is playing critical roles in the industry. So think creatively, speak confidently, and take actions to deliver impactful results.  

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Have you ever wanted to try starting up your own PR firm? Why/Why not? 

No, this never comes to my mind. Being a part-time florist, I have been approached by friends suggesting that I open my own online florist shops. However, I strongly believe that my passion for floristry should not be compromised by the demands of running a business.

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When this belief applies at my work, having worked in the PR industry for over 20 years, I have developed meaningful relationships with numerous colleagues and friends within the industry. It is important to me to preserve these relationships and avoid jeopardising them through potential conflicts or competition that may arise in a business setting. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How has PR evolved over the last five years? 

The PR field has undergone significant transformations due to various factors, including technological advancements, changing communication dynamics and external disruptions.

During this period, the PR industry has faced profound disruptions, such as polarised social sentiment, the impact of COVID-19 with lockdowns and event suspensions, geopolitical tensions, global economic recession, and the emergence of AI-generative content and ChatGPT. These changes have required us to swiftly adapt and navigate through these challenges with strategic thinking and a clear roadmap.

At Hill+Knowlton Hong Kong, we recognise these changes and adapt our business to focus on purposeful content curation, brand message amplification and activations. We leverage our core communications capabilities to build authentic connections and empower brand reputation for our clients, from startups to MNCs. 

Related articles:

On the Record: RSVP Communications' Celine Cheung
On the Record: Golin Hong Kong’s Carol Yeung
On the Record: RFI Asia’s David Ko

 

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