Some celebrities achieve one-name status.
As the Agency’s first staff member hired in Asia Pacific, Maureen Tseng has achieved one-syllable status … “Mo.”
Out of all the decisions Ray Schuster, who launched our AP operation, made over his stint in Singapore, I think he’d agree the hiring of Mo sits at the top of the list.
Reflections on My Life at Hoffman
How do I even begin to write about an experience that has spanned almost half of my life, and almost four-fifths of my career?
On April 17, 2016, I will celebrate 19 years with The Hoffman Agency. Yes, in agency terms that’s several overly long life spans … and then some.
My time at an agency was supposed to be short-lived. After doing time at two multinational corporations as an in-house communications manager, the logical step at the time was to try things out on the other side of the fence for a year or two. “You will have a more well-rounded view of communications, and it will stand you well in your next in-house role,” I was told.
I don’t exactly recall how I came to be sitting at a local restaurant in front of two American gentlemen back in early 1997. Perhaps it was a suggestion from my sister who was working with Hewlett-Packard at the time. “You should meet the folks from Hoffman,” she had said. “They are a good shop and do solid work for HP.”
I had already interviewed with various agencies by then, slick shops with even slicker executives, and I was pleasantly surprised at how different, grounded and “real” these two gentlemen were.
Lou Hoffman and Ray Schuster could not be more different individuals, but lunch with them on that momentous day sealed my career path. It was very unlike the other interviews where I was grilled on everything — from press release writing to classic how-would-you-go-about-handling-crisis-X scenarios. I was instead given a presentation of the Hoffman five-year plan by Lou. I remember being gob-smacked that the president of a successful agency was giving little old me a presentation. I was intrigued.
Although I had trepidations about joining an agency that had a staff strength of one — the VP for Hoffman Asia Pacific, Ray Schuster — I decided to take the plunge. It’s not every day that you get to work directly with and be trained by someone as senior as Ray. It was also an opportunity to learn how PR was done in the epicentre of innovation, Silicon Valley. After all, it was the late ’90s, when HP, IBM, Cisco and Sun Microsystems were the media darlings, and semiconductors were still the in-thing. With Hoffman’s base in San Jose, I figured that I would be learning from the best.
Oh, what I’ve learned, and what an amazing journey it has been!
People may wonder how I lasted so long in one place. I wonder myself too. However, looking back, it has been one heck of a ride with a million different experiences:
I got the start-up experience
From a grand staff strength of two in Singapore, I was involved in growing the business locally and regionally, and played a part in the growth of the regional network. I vividly remember flying in with Lou to both Korea and China to meet with our affiliates and to explore some business development opportunities. It was my first time flying into both markets. I speak for myself, but I’m sure Lou was as excited about the adventure of discovering new opportunities as I was. I learned very quickly about the nuances of doing business in the various Asian markets and the various cultural idiosyncrasies.
I worked with all manner of companies, great and small
The beauty of working at an agency is that you get to work with such a huge variety of accounts. From government organizations to multinational corporations to tiny startups. From clients in technology to healthcare to finance to consumer. I remember working with Google back in the day when there was just one scout who flew into Singapore a couple of times a month to suss out business opportunities. Five years later, I was briefing Eric Schmidt in their swanky office downtown before a media interview.
The beauty of being with an agency was that I was not technically working in one firm all these years. I was working with several companies, albeit vicariously, and in the process, getting real insights into how different companies tick. The one great difference with Hoffman was that if the client proved to be a nightmare, we could walk away.
How this agency values staff comes directly from the top. Have a read of Lou’s post on his philosophy — it will give you an idea why I’ve lasted so long with this shop.
I’ve met some amazing people
I have a feeling that the 20th Anniversary blog will be peppered with stories about the friendships forged. While it may read like an Oscars Awards’ thank-you speech after a while, I can say, hand-on-heart, that you will not find a better group of people at another agency. After two decades, I can safely say that the people at Hoffman are genuine. The real deal. The fakes, corporate animals, backstabbers and other agency caricatures just do not thrive at Hoffman. We look out for each other, and this spans oceans.
I organised a mini-Hoffman reunion when I was at my sister’s place in California in December 2015. Looking at the photos now of that wonderful party, I see an agency history that is inexorably intertwined with my own life story. Freaky, but this is what a good company can do for you.
There are so many more things to share, but this is a blog post, and not a novel. So, to Lou Hoffman, and the agency — Congratulations! It’s been two amazing decades, and I’ve been privileged to be part of an exhilarating adventure. Here’s to many more stories and to more great work. Go HA!