Kim Spear, director at Newgate Communications, has helped her clients build brands in China and also worked with sponsors during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In this interview, she discusses what it’s like to work in PR in Asia, what it takes to build a successful brand and how to stay on top of an ever-evolving industry.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about PR throughout your career?
The biggest lesson came in the early days of my career when I realized I was a procrastinator. It’s probably the worst trait to have in this game so I had to focus on being friends with my deadlines and my time management tools.
When I started getting ahead of my schedule and shaking out my inner procrastinator, I kind of went the other way in that I became slightly obsessed so things never fell through the cracks.
Does that mean I never have moments of panic? Of course not, but like everything, planning has its place, as does a wonderfully executed strategy that comes together at the last minute.
You’ve worked in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and more. Does PR differ across countries? If so, how?
The principles of PR remain the same for client work in whichever country you operate. I think the difference comes from the clients themselves and how established they are in that market.
For example, a PR program for a multinational corporation (MNC) setting up a new retail chain in China is very different from working with a government department to promote a new destination within a city.
Every PR program needs to take into consideration how familiar a client is with the market and what the market knows about its past and future journey.
What was it like to work with sponsors during the 2008 Beijing Olympics? What did you learn from that experience?
It was amazing to see an entire country and its people get behind China’s bid to turn the 2008 Olympic Games into the biggest coming-out party of the decade.
One of my clients at the time was a top tier Olympic Games sponsor and despite the uncertainties being played out on the international stage, the sponsorship program plan in China went off without a hitch.
For me, it was a unique opportunity to see the special relationship between PR, business and the communities where “making dreams come true” was more than just a tagline. Creating platforms for employees and customers to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience and be involved in the Olympic movement was really very special.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
Returning to work after six years to have children is hands down the biggest challenge. The traditional agency environment remains very inflexible for women returning to work in terms of finding a reasonable home/work/life balance.
However, I feel I have won the professional job lottery in my new role at Newgate Communications with managing partner Richard Barton. He has developed a flexible agency structure that considers client needs first and foremost, and if those needs are met, a consultant’s schedule can be as flexible as they like.
What do you think are the keys to building and protecting a brand’s reputation?
Be locally relevant, build trust, be mindful of your tone of voice and don’t underestimate the power of relationships. Building a brand in Asia can be a delicate dance that needs a considered approach rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that many multinational companies assume is just like home.
It often means getting serious about building a brand in this region and having a local spokesperson, some local thought leadership and a platform on which to tell the brand story and how it is evolving in each market.
How has PR changed over the years?
What has changed drastically is how fast messages can be delivered and the array of platforms on which that content can land.
I don’t think the ability of PR practitioners or the core skill set has changed that much, however, our workload has increased to ensure we get our arms around the digital opportunities and know how to manage them.
Do you have any advice for those looking to start a career in PR?
PR evolves and so should every professional in the industry regardless of their level. We should all be thinking of ways to update our skills in a variety of ways. Do a digital marketing program, get involved in a CSR campaign for the community, write a blog, read books and keep writing – these will eventually define you as a PR practitioner.
I personally would love to see more young communicators who are well-versed in both traditional and digital communications as well as analyzing that information.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be…an inventor of skateboards that float and swoosh around on a cushion of air.
2. My biggest pet peeve is…listening to complaints and not solutions.
3. My daily newspaper of choice is…the Financial Times for everything that relates to Newgate’s clients and for myself, I love Huffington Post’s Weird News section.
4. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…my alarm clock with its torturous song and the thought of my first coffee.
5. My guiltiest pleasure is…taking a few hours off for my kids’ sports days or activities…oh the guilt, but I am learning to deal with it.
6. My most prized possession is…my Kindle that allows me to read in the dark, on the running machine, on the bus into work and almost everywhere else where holding and seeing a regular book seems insanely difficult.
Image via Kim Spear
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