W Communications was set up in 2009 in the depth of a global recession by former Freud director, Warren Johnson – with me being his first employee. Six years on and the agency has over 60 staff, 40 retained clients and has won countless awards. This year W just won PR Week’s Best Medium Sized agency, which is a huge achievement.
W Communications is W’s first Asian outpost. In August this year, after I had been working the past couple of years in Asia for the Banyan Tree Group, W was getting more and more enquiries from clients about its capabilities in the region – so with me being in Singapore it seemed like the perfect time to do it.
Q. How did you end up in PR?
I didn’t set out to work in PR… When I was 18 I really wanted to work in the music industry, and after a meeting with an career officer at school who told me ‘not to get mixed up in that Spice Girls rubbish’ and go to university instead, I decided to buy Music Week magazine every week and apply for every job I saw. My first interview was as for a PR assistant at Slice in London, which was then a music PR agency. I got the job and at 19 I was doing the PR for DJs including Pete Tong and Paul Oakenfold and pop acts like the Vengaboys and Craig David. My dad told me to write a letter to the career officer with a copy of my contract saying ‘Take That’ – but I never did.
Q. What are the major differences working in the Singapore market versus the London market?
The media landscape is a very different; there are some fantastic versions of international magazines and local print publications, TV & radio stations, but digital content and social media is far more prevalent – as is communicating your brand or message through word of mouth opportunities, so working with the right partners can be a very powerful. Even the use of social media differs. Twitter hasn’t made as much of an impact as Facebook or Instagram here, and, of course, there are the Asian social media platforms like Japan’s ‘Line’, which is already huge in Indonesia and Thailand and is starting to take off here.
Also this is the world of mobile content; there is Wifi on all of the MRT (underground train system), so most people consume their information this way – particularly on the way to and from work. Also Whatapp is a strong form of communication here, which definitely helps filter out the deluge of emails that come into your inbox.
On a basic level, Singapore, and Asia in general, has a much more personal approach to business and journalists are happy to meet for a coffee (of which there are many fantastic cafés!), and this, of course, makes a big difference for building relationships.
Q. Biggest career achievement to date?
Quite a few, I would like to think.. Launching Maroon 5 at SonyBMG gained me my first Platinum disk, and being part of the team to launch London landmarks like the Westfield shopping centre and the O2 was very exciting. So was winning PR Week’s best Global Campaign at W for launching the world’s largest digital arts festival in St Petersburg.
My personal favourite was at W, when we launched the Independent’s sister title, i, the first national newspaper to be launched in the UK for 25 years. Everyone thought they were crazy but it has gone on to become Britain’s fastest growing newspaper and we won PR Week’s ‘The Best Use of Broadcast Media’ award. Working with media brands is a passion of mine, especially working closely with editors.
Q. Best thing about working in PR?
Seeing a great piece of coverage come out. I still get the same buzz now opening a business title or a lifestyle web page with coverage the team have secured, as I did opening the latest issue of Smash Hits 18 years ago. Also I love the variety and that different clients allow you to learn about diverse industries, I’ve worked across F&B, music, beauty, fashion, travel, corporate, technology brands and NGOs – so always relish taking on something new.
Q. Biggest PR pet peeve / challenge?
I always think that in PR, getting clients and getting results is the relatively easy bit, the biggest challenge is finding good people – so when you find them you need to hang on to them. W’s second employee, was an intern I recruited in London, she is now a very senior in the company.
Q. How does W Communications differ in its offering in the European market versus the Asian market?
As media has evolved, so has the skill set required to operate in it. Markets like London have seen the PR industry develop to be able to offer expertise across many touch-points, particularly content creation and creative marketing, and places like Singapore are now beginning to rapidly catch up – this is especially important in a region where people now have a less traditional way of consuming media.
So ultimately with Singapore having fewer media outlets (due to its size as well as its nature), a lot of our work here is focused on being even more creative with a big digital and social focus.
Also, we have always been proud to be measured on results way beyond media coverage, with campaigns that consistently exceed expectations, and deliver on the bottom line. Our growth has been built around a philosophy of ‘creative commerce’ – making amazing ideas that drive business value for clients, this is something we believe we can bring to Singapore and to our other future international outposts.
Q. Where can we find you on the weekends? Any favourite places to eat/see/do?
I live in a bit of a Duxton Hill / Keong Saik / Club Street / Tanjong Pagar bubble. I just love the old style shophouses and vibe here, and of course a lot of our clients are local…including, MEATliquor & Oxwell and Co. I think Singapore has some of the restaurants in the world… you can’t go wrong with the Tippling Club tasting menu. And also Capricci for some home cooked Italian style food. Late night is all about Akbar 24 Hour Indian on Tanjong Pagar road and Maxwells at lunch for pretty much any food you want for very good prices.
Also living in Asia I have switched from being avid tea drinker to a coffee monster… so Lokal and the Working Capitol Cafe tend to see quite a lot of me.
Q. Who do you admire in this industry and why?
It has to be our founder Warren Johnson. I worked for him for three years in London and learned so much from him. It’s great after being away in Asia for the last few years, to be back in the W fold. I’ve also always had a a lot of admiration for Alistair Campbell, love him or loathe you’ve got to hand it to him for spearheading Labour’s return to power in the 1990s.
Q. What advice would you give a young graduate about to start their career in PR?
Work hard and when you have finished what you are doing ask for more to do. Being hungry and dedicated is the most important attribute in PR. As is perseverance. I had a boss once who told me I was like a truffle pig.. I was a little bit insulted, but she meant that I didn’t stop digging until I got a result. That’s what PR is like, especially pitching stories sometimes.…You might get stopped by lots of stones and twigs on the way but if you don’t stop digging you will reach your goal. My first boss also told me that PR is 99% percent organisation, there is also a lot of truth in that.
Q. Where will you be in 5 years time?
Hopefully opening up W Communication’s 5th international outpost. Watch this space!