The Agency opened its doors in Asia on Oct. 20, 1996.
It has been an amazing, fun, torturous, weird, satisfying, frustrating and enlightening run.
This blog celebrates the looming 20-year milestone, lending a voice to all the people who contributed to our success in the region.
I made my first trip to Asia in 1994 as part of a press tour for Hyundai Electronics (now known as Hynix). After researching PR resources in that part of the world, we engaged with a Hong-Kong-based agency focused on the tech sector — I’ll leave out the name to protect the guilty — that positioned itself as pan Asia Pacific company with feet on the street in all of the major markets. It took ownership for the press conferences, securing journalists, venue, etc.
Talk about a press conference hustle.
We staged five press conferences in five days, hitting Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Not everything went according to plan.
At our first press conference in Tokyo, no one had bothered to mention that the format for overhead projectors in Japan – yes, LCD projectors were still a curiosity back in 1994 – was different from the format of the overhead projectors in the U.S. Our client put his first foil on the projector ready to sing the virtues of the latest MPEG-2 chip only to see roughly 20 percent of his content cut off at the screen.
The journalists reacted with a gasp … and then absolute, utter silence. They were embarrassed for my client.
My client wasn’t embarrassed.
He was angry.
The only thing missing from the Tokyo press conference post mortem was a single light bulb and the client offering me a cigarette.
Eventually, I was “released,” but something of consequence went astray at every “tour stop.” After finishing up in Singapore and stocking up on knock-off Hermes scarfs, I figured out that this agency partner of ours wasn’t really a pan Asia Pacific tech agency at all. It was a HK agency that secured multi-market assignments in the region, then doled out the spoils to its affiliates taking a cut of the action. That’s why the press tour was so disjointed, and I felt like I was dealing with five different agencies.
I was dealing with five different agencies.
It got me thinking, there’s got to be a better way.
That was the genesis for launching in Asia Pacific, that we could bring the best of both worlds to the table. Existing international agencies had the dots on the map, but not the maniacal focus on tech. Tech-focused PR agencies existed in major markets in Asia, but they didn’t have infrastructure outside their home markets. We would bring these two elements together — a multi-market infrastructure and focus on tech.
In striving for lift-off in the early going, I traveled to Asia four to six times each year. I think it’s fair to call my wife Heather the invisible hero. She manned the household with one kid in diapers and a second getting the hang of walking. There’s no way Asia happened without her support.
Fast forwarding to today —
Our Asia Pacific operation has shaped us as a company. We have more staff in Asia, and the largest percent of our revenue comes from Asia.
It’s a revealing exercise to plot our global revenue numbers and Asia revenue numbers on the same chart.
One doesn’t need to be a data scientist to see the importance of Asia Pacific in driving our overall business.
Of course, the numbers only tell part of the story.
It’s the people, the collaborative environment and the friendships that make the difference. This flow of energy goes all directions within the region and across to the U.S. and European teams. You might think that this dynamic exists in all international PR agencies, but that’s not the case. Their individual office P/L rewards silo behavior. Without this legacy weighing us down, content, thinking and yes, connections, naturally move across geographies.
The venture capitalist Randy Komisar pointed out in his book “The Monk and the Riddle” that companies “are like the laws of physics, neither inherently good nor evil …”
I’ll take this a step further and say that companies at their best enrich employees’ lives. These interactions across geographies not only serve the client, but often do enrich our employees’ lives. At the very least, they add an interesting twist — like European MD Mike Sottak parachuting into Hong Kong for a “train the trainers” workshop on storytelling. Or four of our senior folks from Asia — Shawn Balakrishnan, Jenny Chan, Cass Cheong and Masaya Takahama — spending a week in our Silicon Valley office exchanging best practices and getting to know each other. The point is, the Asia energy touches everyone in the organization, not just those based in Asia.
So how did we end up here?
What happened between entering the Asian market in 1996 and today?
That’s where the contributions from all the people who have “touched” our Asia Pacific operation over the years come in. Together, these posts will create a tapestry of our Asia Pacific journey, at least that’s the hope.
I don’t know what others will say.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
As noted earlier, “tortuous” is one adjective that describes the journey.
But it’s never been dull.