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Truescope Talks: Lena Soh-Ng

Truescope Talks to Lena Soh-Ng, Senior Advisor and Founding Partner of Distilleri Singapore

We spoke to Lena Soh-Ng about the PR industry in Singapore, her top tips for communicators and what her proudest achievements have been so far.

Lena Soh-Ng has over 25 years of PR and media experience. As Founding Partner of Huntington Communications & Distilleri, she has counselled industry giants including 3M, AkzoNobel, IKEA, Fuji Xerox and Watsons. She has also conducted leadership training in media and crisis communications for Volvo Trucks, School of the Arts, Philips, Singapore International Festival of Arts, Frasers Centrepoint and AkzoNobel.

1. You’re a leader and industry advocate for research and data-driven communications, how important is this for today’s practitioners?

Data has made the Communications role even more interesting. We can find out not just what influences stakeholders, but also what inspires them and empowers them to take action.

The Marketing folks have used MarTech for years, and it resulted in their access to bigger budgets. We started using data with our client Tourism Tasmania about three years ago and delivered double-digit growth in tourism visitation for the island in the south east of Australia. We used data to form insights into ‘travel thinking’ and then create the most compelling content, to achieve buy-in from consumers.  

The area of data-driven insights and analysis is still in its infancy, because previously we relied on the columnists and journalists to provide those perspectives. We’re exploring the data models for crisis communications and have a compelling model to track sentiment, conversations, touchpoints, and more, importantly to measure our work on reputation recovery.

We must find time to sit down and think, to get away from the clutter and see not just where the data leads, but how it can be used for advocacy and building corporate character.

2. What makes the Singapore market unique?

Many global companies base their head offices for the region in Singapore. So, we’re receiving briefs from clients for SEA or APAC work. At Distilleri, we can support it as a group of independents through the PROI network. There’s a lot of high-level expertise as owners/partners run the agencies in each country whether it’s Malaysia, Indonesia or Australia.

That’s the client side. On the resource side, Singapore is talent rich. At least seven tertiary organisations offer Communications Studies.  This provides a good base level of talent for the industry. Further training is provided by the PRCA South East Asia which started in London and rolls out almost weekly courses for mid-level executives. The Institute of Public Relations Singapore (IPRS) offers networking opportunities and the Singapore government supports training with generous grants of up to 80%.

Singapore has the ecosystem to attract the best from anywhere in the world, as long as they understand Asia. This doesn’t preclude Singaporeans too, of course.

3. What communication tips would you recommend to your clients to ensure they future proof their business?

Purpose.

Many organisations are clear on their purpose goals, but not all articulate them well.  An Accenture report has shown that 43% of consumers will walk away when disappointed by a brands’ words or actions on a social issue. When there’s product parity, the choice will always be for the purpose driven brand.        

Corporate Strategy needs Communications thinking at the Centre of the Enterprise, and a larger team. While the last three years have been focused on content and digital strategy, we need behavior scientists and data analysts too.  The goal posts are shifting ...we need analysis on how behavior is likely to influence future behaviour.

Focus on the soft skills.

Technology has enabled us to manage functions from content and campaign automation systems to collaboration platforms. Now, we must focus on the soft skills; corporate character shaped through brand stewardship. Brands under threat will also emerge, and there’s much to be done in the influence spheres, both within and outside an organisation.  

4. What would you consider your biggest achievement?

There are many.  

Let’s start with the people. Former staffers have gone on to head other agencies, and many are heads of Comms or Marketing divisions in global companies. To know I have nurtured some of the best in the business is very satisfying.

When I started, there were only a handful of Singaporean companies which practiced Public Relations and these were mostly international agencies. International clients were unhappy with the type of counseling they were receiving because work was being passed down after the account was won, which is not how independent and mid-sized agencies operate. At Distilleri, our structure and service delivery model is one of our strongest assets.

Looking at the landscape today, the mix of International and Singaporean companies in our space is about 50/50 and local agencies are competitive and winning awards alongside these international agencies.

I’m also proud of my clients for expanding their businesses, reaching the top of their divisions or securing regional roles. Our clients came to us because as a company of senior managers we understood their business concerns well enough so that we could contribute to their business outcomes.  

My other achievements include working with PROI. I wanted to see what the practices outside Singapore were like, and our partnership with the organisation over the last five years has been an inspiring one. I’ve been on the global Board of Directors over the last four years and there’s nothing more energising than seeing global best practices. In the time that I was a member, PROI expanded their ASEAN and APAC offices so that we’re now 16 companies in this region, from about eight, and the number of shared clients is growing.  

Prior to the merger to become Distilleri, I’m also proud that Huntington Communication’s work has been recognised through awards. We’ve won SABRE gold for Crisis Communications, and many others for Corporate Comms, Corporate Social Responsibility and Branding. I’m thrilled that Distilleri will start out with a proven banner full of stars.

5. What are the biggest opportunities for PR practitioners in Singapore?

This is an exciting time for Communicators. With data, we have a window into mindsets – who the stakeholders are, what matters to them, how they can be reached. Combining this with behavioural insights, we can engage and not just influence.

Comms professionals have a duty to get beyond articulating corporate character, they can shape it in ways that have never been seen before.


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