Q. Tell us the Hume Brophy Story?
Hume Brophy was founded by John Hume and Eoin Brophy in 2005, so we’ll celebrate our ten-year anniversary later this year. We now have more than 90 people in our five hub offices in London, Brussels, Dublin, Paris and Singapore. We offer a full suite of public affairs, public relations and investor relations services, and we’re particularly strong in financial services, TMT, healthcare, energy and environment, and aerospace and defense.
What differentiates our firm, I think, is the caliber of the team, which is a direct reflection of our strong corporate culture. I joined the firm at the start of 2015, and the team spirit was a key factor in my decision to join. The firm has historically had a remarkably low turnover rate for a fast-growing PR firm. As a result, we’ve built up a very experienced, committed team, and as we grow we’ve been beefing up our global ranks with some excellent senior hires in recent months.
Our Asian operations are quite new but we’re already growing quickly. We have built up a client base across the region, including here in Singapore, in Hong Kong and in Mainland China.
Q. How did you end up in PR?
I studied communications in university, but almost ended up as a computer programmer. After a brief, though surprisingly enjoyable, sojourn writing programs that calculated insurance premiums I knew I wanted to do something more creative and more people-focused. I was lucky to get an opportunity to work in the corporate PR department at Guinness in Dublin, which was one of Ireland’s biggest brands had one of the best PR teams in the country. It proved to be an excellent training ground.
My path to working in PR in Asia was more accidental than intentional. I originally went to China on what was meant to be a six-month working holiday – that was in 2003, and I ended up staying for the next 11 years. Fairly early on in my time in China I was offered an opportunity to work with Ogilvy PR in Beijing, which was the biggest PR agency in the country, and from then on I was hooked.
Q. What are the major differences working in the Singapore market versus the China market?
A few years ago, it would have been easy to say that the Chinese market was less sophisticated than Singapore. But that is changing, and quickly. The Chinese market is evolving so rapidly that in many areas – social media, for example – it’s just as sophisticated as other markets, and perhaps even more so. That said, practices like government relations in China remain quite opaque and unpredictable.
At the end of the day, whether in China or Singapore, you need to commit the time to understanding the market dynamics, building a solid network, and really getting under the skin of the market.
I will say that Singapore has the distinct advantage of being geographically much more compact which makes some of this a bit easier – I don’t miss the two-hour commutes to meetings in Beijing.
Q. Biggest career achievement to date?
In terms of client work, I have been fortunate to work with lots of very interesting people and companies on some really fascinating projects over the years, but I’m a firm believer in David Ogilvy’s maxim that “to get between the client and the footlights is bad manners.”
On a personal level, I’m glad to have had the chance to build and run successful PR teams in Beijing over the last several years, and I’m really enjoying the challenge of doing that again here in Singapore. Secretly, I’m most proud of having learned to drive and passed my driving test in Chinese on the streets of Beijing.
Q. Best thing about working in PR?
This is a business where it pays to be curious about a massive range of topics, which suits information and news addicts like me down to the ground. Often the most successful PR people are those who know what’s going on across a huge swathe of industries and geographies, and with a broad network of people, and can tie those various strands together in a way that delivers success for their clients, or for their own business.
Q. Biggest PR pet peeve / challenge?
One thing that I’m hearing more and more often from clients and in-house contacts recently is: “The agency that pitched me didn’t understand our business.” I think it’s absolutely essential that PR agency professionals spend time to really get under the skin of their clients’ businesses and industries. Doing a media sweep isn’t nearly enough – you need to take briefings from people in the industry, really analyze the financials, the analyst reports and the call transcripts, you need to go out and use the client’s products or services. There’s really no excuse for going into a meeting underprepared.
Q. How does Hume Brophy differ in its offering in the European market versus the Asian market?
Our Asian operations are relatively new, but we’re determined to maintain the standards of quality and counsel that Hume Brophy is known for and that have driven the success of our European operations.
As such, one area we’re particularly focused on is finding areas where we can leverage the strength of our European team to help businesses in Asia. For example, our Brussels team has one of the strongest European parliamentary teams of any firm in Europe, with very senior former MEPs like Olle Schmidt, Gary Titley, Brian Simpson, and George Lyon. Their experience and expertise has great relevance not just for EU-headquartered businesses, but anybody doing business in Europe.
Q. Where can we find you on the weekends? Any favourite places to eat/see/do?
I moved to Singapore at the start of this year and moved straight into an unfurnished apartment. So for the last few months you would have found me spending an inordinate amount of my weekends traipsing furniture stores. Thankfully, I now have all the sofas and side tables I need but I have yet to spend much time discovering the best spots in Singapore. As such, I’m very much in the market to receive rather than give suggestions on what to eat/see/do!
That said, on weekends you’re very likely to find me outdoors enjoying the fine Singapore weather or taking up some new hobbies. Last weekend, for example, you would have found me attempting to home-brew a batch of pale ale for the first time. I’ll let you know how it turns out in about three weeks.
Q. Who do you admire in this industry and why?
I admire anyone who sets really high standards for their work and can hold themselves and those around them accountable to those standards, while still ensuring that their teams enjoy doing the work.
Q. What advice would you give a young graduate about to start their career in PR?
These all fall into the “Do as I say, not as I did” category, but nevertheless …
Be humble and be curious. Speak up, ask the questions you think might be stupid. Get to know everything about the work you’re doing, what your colleagues are doing, and help out wherever you can. Most importantly, get to know what your client is doing. You must know your clients’ businesses and industries inside out.
Build as many connections as you can, and work hard to maintain them. By building connections I don’t just mean “get a business card” – you have to invest time and effort in establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships.
Be generous to colleagues, clients and contacts. It always comes back around, and in the long term those who understand this always do better than those who don’t.
And finally, I was trained long ago to always use my clients’ products and services over their competitors’ whenever possible. I think this is one of the most useful pieces of advice I ever received.
Q. Where will you be in 5 years time?
I’ll still be in Singapore. And most likely still trying to master the art of brewing a pale ale.