Guest post by: Najib Ahmad, Account Manager, WE Singapore
When I first applied for WE’s Global Exchange Programme, I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to visit one of the most vibrant cities in the world: New York City. With American media being as pervasive as it is across the world, I wanted to find out what it was like being a PR practitioner in one of the most influential nations today.
When I was asked to establish goals ahead of my trip, I had declared my intention to understand the media landscape in the US and adopt some best PR practices that I can apply in my day-to-day work, as well as understand how some of the WE clients are managed – particularly the consumer client base.
In addition, I was presented the opportunity to catch up with my team in Austin and Houston on the back of my New York trip. Never mind that I would forgo a few days of R&R, I was ecstatic to meet with my colleague Keely Johnson, whom I communicate with on a day-to-day basis.
The Human Connection
I felt that this was one of the most valuable takeaways from the Global Exchange trip. Getting to meet colleagues that I work with across time zones makes all that difference. Advancements in technology mean we can cut back on travel and get the job done even if we’re based across cities, but the one thing I’ve discovered is we should never underestimate the power of face-to-face interactions. Getting to meet my team mates in New York and Texas was highly beneficial, as it enabled me to understand their personalities and working styles. Just chatting about things in general over lunch and drinks enabled us to be more comfortable in each others’ presence, and that paved the way for a more fruitful and effective working relationship – even when I would return to Singapore and the long-distance communication starts all over again.
The Consumer Connect
The one thing that intrigued me about the New York office was their strength and creativity in running the consumer practice. Through my 1:1 sessions with our team lead and my exchange buddy Jeremy Bridgman, I got a chance to understand how they ran successful consumer PR campaigns. One of the examples that was highlighted to me was for a successful client brand with products that are seen in most households around the world, but had challenges around highlighting innovation, even though brand awareness was not an issue. Jeremy had worked with Maloney & Fox to get Project Runway winner Irina Shabayeva to create a line inspired by our client’s brand that made the runway at New York Fashion Week, and eventually the headlines. This is awe-inspiring, and reinforces my belief that there should be no red lights when it comes to creativity because the best, most groundbreaking ideas in the world were conceived by people who were willing to think outside the box, go against the grain and push the envelope.
The Power of Social Innovation
For me, the Social Innovation practice is something I was completely unfamiliar with. The only thing I knew about it was that it had something to do with corporate social responsibility, and I was keen to get to the deeper layers of what it entailed. Kerry explained how she worked with companies to help them become good corporate citizens by creating economic opportunities and facilitating development, promoting the use of clean technology, supporting the global movement for a healthier world and providing access to information. She shared with me an interesting story about how Unilever managed to break into a largely untapped market – rural Bangladesh – and be in contribution to the community at the same time. The company had wanted to sell their products to women in the remote areas and found that their gallon-sized packaging had not gone down well with their target consumers. They began to repackage these personal care products into bite-sized containers or packets and enrolled women to become entrepreneurs in their communities by selling these products. The results were explosive. Not only did Unilever mange to penetrate a hugely challenging market, they also created jobs for women who would otherwise never have had the opportunity to set up their own micro-enterprises.
This session with Kerry got me thinking about how we can help our clients in Singapore be more active corporate citizens and make a difference in the communities they operate in. Eventually, I hope to be able to be part of the Social Innovation team and help grow that practice in Asia.
Sharing a Slice of Singapore
During my exchange in New York and Texas, I was privileged to deliver a brownbag session on Singapore as a microcosm of media pressures in Asia. I shared with my colleagues in North America the media system that defines communications in Singapore and how it impacts us as PR practitioners, an overview of the Singapore media landscape, and client expectations and attitudes towards PR and social media in the country. Those who participated in the two sessions (New York and Austin) provided feedback that they found it educational about how content in the Singapore media is largely influenced by government interests and how it’s an imperative tool in nation-building.
Overall, I feel like I’ve gained a fair bit of knowledge during my trip to New York and Texas, and being able to visit other WE offices and meeting fellow colleagues was certainly an worthwhile experience. It dawned on me how well-connected we are as an organisation and how we can rely on each other for support if needed regardless of time zone! Thank you WE for affording me this fantastic opportunity!