Women to watch: Ruder Finn China’s MD Elan Shou

Being one of the first women named on “China’s Women to Watch” in 2012 by Ad Age, there should be no doubt to the capabilities and professionalism of Elan Shou, executive vice president and managing director of Ruder Finn Greater China.

Originated from Shanghai, Shou first joined the company in 2001 and was appointed as head of Shanghai office for four years since 2004. After a short stint away from the agency, she rejoined Ruder Finn Asia in April 2010 as managing director, training and offering of Ruder Finn China. In 2011, she was promoted to managing director and senior vice president of Ruder Finn China.

Since rejoining the group, she has helped Ruder Finn China achieve tremendous growth with year-over-year, double-digit revenue increases, as well as extending its footprints throughout China.

Under her leadership, the 65-year company has now developed to be one of the leading PR agencies in China as well as in the Asia Pacific region.

Marketing talked to Shou to discover the story behind her success.

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How did you get into the industry?
My first job was as an auditor at Ernst & Young. I quickly realised that dealing with figures and paperwork was not for me. A colorful life would fit me better. I prefer communicating with people and working on different assignments with new ideas and creativity. So PR was a natural choice. Twenty years ago, there were only a few PR firms in China, so I checked the phone book and contacted the only PR firm I could find and Jean-Michel Dumont, who was head of the Shanghai office, interviewed me. So that was how I got my foot in the door. And I’ve certainly had no regrets ever since.

What’s the best part about working in the marketing industry?
The creativity and having fun. New things are happening every day to open our minds. There are always great ideas and wonderful campaigns to work on. For example, in a recent Sephora campaign, we launched a new lip balm with a fun claw machine competition that you can play on your mobile. It generated millions of players, creating great excitement and competition among friends through score rankings and prizes. It was so much fun. In the Cartier Chengdu Exhibition, the newly created virtual online exhibition generated huge traffic. The people who could not visit the exhibition physically were able to virtually walk through the exhibition and see the beautiful jewellery.

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What’s the most challenging part of your job?
I believe boundaries are meant to be broken, and certainly by us. There is always something new. Even in a stereotypical situation or in the most traditional media event, we can make it unique to engage the press. I remember at one event, we managed to get the reporters to dive into an aquarium to search for a diamond wedding ring for a proposal. Another was a Breitling campaign. To understand and experience the fun and spirit of Breitling, we invited the media to fly standing on the upper wing of a biplane, like one of the Breitling Wingwalkers. We were really impressed by the number of brave reporters who said ‘yes’.

How would you describe your management style?
Most of my team call me ‘Elan Mama’ in the office because at times I behave like a mom. I am tough but encouraging. I am always willing to listen to anyone but they must have solid evidence to back what they say, not mere words. I will not accept just complaints. Complaining gets you nowhere. I believe if there is a problem, you first need to think thoroughly how to solve it. If it cannot be solved, then forget about it. And then it is no longer a problem.

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Creativity is wonderful, but it should always have a strong strategic foundation. When a team works with me, especially on proposals, they need to work very hard to find the data to back it up. Data needs to come from different sources, allowing cross comparison, with explanations on discrepancies to support the PR strategies. All suggestions or conclusions need to be data-based rather than just by experience, hearsay or instinct.

What’s the best career advice you have been given?
Focus on what you are good at, do it well and enjoy doing it.

What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?
The 2004 Michelin Challenge Bibendum: “Green Car Olympics”. It was the very first time this major international sustainable mobility event was held in China. Thirty Ruder Finn’s staff led four different affiliate agencies and successfully held the event in China. Over 3,000 guests from five continents attended. That was a fantastic achievement and a very proud moment for me.

Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?
I’ve learnt from many people throughout my life, but Jean-Michel Dumont, Ruder Finn Asia Chairman, is definitely the mentor who influenced me the most, especially in the way he treats people ‒ with patience, tolerance and the ability to see the great attributes and potential in them. And that success comes not from a person being smart but from working with great people. In this perspective, I’m very lucky.

What keeps you inspired?
The younger generation. I love their passion, curiosity and ability to come up with fresh, eye-opening ideas to push the world forward.

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What’s the best thing about living in China?
Chinese food. Er… though I have to lose weight. A battle impossible to win.

What is the biggest change would you like to see the industry in 2016?
That all PR agencies will recognise and understand that content is now “3-dimensional” – graphics, photos, videos, hand in hand with words.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out in the industry?
Have fun, but don’t expect fun to come from others. You are the one creating it.

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