What was your first PR gig? Why PR as a career?
I don’t recall my first PR gig – mainly because I didn’t choose PR. It crept up on me. I was in a marketing position (the sole marketer in the company I was in). PR was in my portfolio because, as I was told by the company all those years ago, that “it is one of the 4 Ps”.
I wasn’t about to start challenging Porter 🙂 . It was a good start . Because I started with a[GAO] n balanced perspective of Branding , Marketing and PR, I am always keenly aware of the strategic role PR plays in the company. PR cannot be seen in isolation. It is about how publicity value-adds to the brand image and position and towards achieving the vision of the company. It is critical for a PR strategist to be able to see the bigger, long-term picture while delivering the day-to-day publicity goals.
Though I can’t recall my first PR gig from all those years ago, my most memorable one was when we rebranded what is now NTUC First Campus and its house of brands. A re-branding campaign is not as simple as just changing logos and uniforms. We put in place an extensive strategy to ensure that when the new brand was launched, people would find it believable, and fitting. After the launch, we reinforced and strengthened the corporate brand, and the individual brands in its house. It was an exhilarating ride that truly defined what PR is about – encompassing not just media relations, but also industry and stakeholder relations.
Describe your management style
I believe in thoughtful empowerment. Empowerment is a big buzzword, but I believe that empowerment alone does not do enough to enable my team as PR professionals. To go beyond empowerment, one needs to take the time to understand, guide and grow the individuals in the team. I also believe in taking a personal interest in my team members so as to understand their competencies and characters, I then progressively empower them as they grow.
What would you consider your one big break?
My biggest break was being tasked to take care of PR and communications when I took up the marketing position. From close to the beginning of my career, I have always been ensuring that PR, marketing and communications work in synergy for the brand.
Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?
I believe that as we evolve, we identify different role models as we meet different people while reflecting on the areas we wish to improve in ourselves. In one of my first jobs at a non-profit organisation, I had a manager who would really scold us – she was literally screaming at one person or another every single day. But one day, over lunch, she told me:
“I know I am harsh. But I have to be. In our work, we are accountable to our donors and to our patients. When we don’t do our work properly, we are wasting donors funds on our salaries, which could have been used on a patient.”
Her level of integrity really struck me, a young executive barely a year or so out of school, and I was determined to act with the same integrity in my professional life.
Later, I worked under Mrs Adeline Tan (NTUC First Campus), who was to me both my boss and mentor. It was from her that I learnt the importance of balancing empowerment and guidance, which I am still doing my best to master. Her commitment and her integrity towards ensuring that the best is delivered to our young charges – albeit against popular practice and an uphill task to convey to parents – reinforced to me the importance of always doing what is right.
One thing you would say to a newbie in the PR industry?
To create news, keep abreast of the news. It’s never just about the story you want to tell, but how it is relevant to people, to the world, in the here and now.
Your biggest blunder in your career? How did you resolve it?
In my first job, I was having difficulties with a colleague and wanted to share it with another colleague on email…and mistakenly sent it to the former! You can be sure I always double check my ‘send’ list now!
Harshest thing said to you in your career? Harshest thing you have said to someone?
I’ve been working for a very long time – I think if I were to retain every harsh thing that has been said to me over the years, it would be a very dreary life indeed! I’m not sure about the harshest thing I have said to someone . As the saying goes 说者无意，听者有心，which means that sometimes we don’t mean something in a bad way but it can be taken the wrong way by the one you are talking to. Having said that, I also don’t believe in sugar-coating everything. Sometimes, candour is a necessity in preventing something big and nasty from happening in a very public manner.
What is the hardest part about your job?
The hardest part about my job is not about executing the work, but in grooming talent. I tend to take a personal interest in people – which is a double–edged sword when it comes to talent grooming. Because I know them personally, I am able to better understand their strengths and know where to stretch them, and which are the areas that need more attention. But this emotional attachment also make me more anxious about their growth when they are facing a rough patch – a little like the anxiety a mum would feel as she watches her child struggle.
How has PR evolved over the last five years?
Reaction to news is now so much faster and so much more direct with the multiple online channels. But they are not the only audience, so what’s been interesting is how we ensure that our clients engage their relevant stakeholders who may be on multiple or single platforms.
How do you measure your own personal success?
By how happy I am! And I am definitely happy now – working with clients that we believe in and who trust us. More importantly, I have found an equilibrium between career, family and community which has allowed me to pursue all fronts!
How do you measure the success of the agency?
By the fact that we are confident of many more 20 years! We marked our first 20 years this year, and the party was like a reunion – old clients who have returned to us over the years, long-time media friends who have given their support, new clients who have come on board, new friends whom we have just met. It was an amazing evening, and an occasion that would not have been possible without the support of the clients and media over the years.