Pursuit of consumer happiness
Barbara Liang decided to work for Procter & Gamble (P&G) after attending a campus recruitment talk featuring the global consumer product company in the United States where she was pursuing an MBA degree.
“I learned about the many P&G products that helped improve women's lives,” says Liang, director of external relations for P&G in Taiwan and Hong Kong. “We were the first to launch products like sanitary napkins with wings, and combined shampoo and conditioner, not to mention our introduction of the modern diaper.”
Liang started her career as a marketing professional before switching to external relations. In her present role, she manages a team of 20 in Hong Kong and Taiwan, covering public relations, regulatory affairs, consumer relations and science communication. The latter involves supplying information about the business to colleagues with a technical background, who then explain the science of the products to consumers.
Tell us about your career.
After completing my bachelor's degree [in Taiwan], I joined the marketing team at Hitachi. Yet, I was looking for something beyond the salary “I wanted to be involved in products that improved others' lives. I realised I was also interested in beauty care. I would spend a lot of time in supermarkets watching how people chose a shampoo. I wanted to develop my strength in communications and enjoy the products I am involved in.
After two years, I decided to do an MBA at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I wanted to learn more about strategic thinking, which is about making good choices and applying them to every aspect of life.
After three rounds of interview, I was offered a job with the marketing team at P&G in Taiwan. That was in 1999. I had the opportunity to work in various aspects of marketing, such as upstream marketing, where I worked with research and development experts in product design. I also spent a year in Hong Kong, gaining experience in delivery marketing. During that year I picked up Cantonese and made good friends. I switched to external relations in 2004 and assumed my current role in 2009.
Why made the switch?
I did a lot of soul searching when I was in marketing, and realised my passion is in communications. Also, I wanted to gain exposure to new things and new challenges. So I asked the company if I could transfer.
What does your daily work involve?
I work with four teams. PR is the pillar of the company’s brand building efforts and entails interaction with the media, while consumer relations involve improving services and handling complaints. I also work with colleagues in science communications, who have a technical background and whose role is to bridge the gap between products and consumers. I supply them with the business perspective so that they can feed insights to consumers.
By working with the regulatory people, I need to know what the external environment is like. For example, the Consumer Council is the main contact for our regulatory team in Hong Kong. We need to provide technical evidence and data to prove that our products are safe. The regulatory team is really the unsung heroes behind the scene.
My job entails frequent travels. I come to Hong Kong every month, staying four to five days each time. But nowadays the world is flat, and you can communicate very easily with people from around the world.
What have you learned as a manager?
The importance of being open-minded. For example, with a background in marketing, I admitted that I didn't know anything about regulatory affairs. It's ok to acknowledge that you don't know everything.
You also need to build trust with your manager and your team. Let me give you an example. Rather than saying everything via e-mail, you can talk about something over the phone. You wouldn't know the instant response of the other party in an e-mail and there is no interaction. It's not enough to send out an e-mail saying others have done a “good job”. It's better to show your emotions on the spot. Building trust is especially important for me when I'm working remotely. I need a strong team in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
What challenges do you face at work?
I face new challenges every day. For example, Taiwan and Hong Kong used to be separate operations, yet they are now integrated. The challenge is to maximise the effectiveness of each member of the team and figure out how to simplify the working model. Each employee has to find a way to do his work better.
What’s the best part of your job?
I love working with the people here. I feel very comfortable working in a place of trust. As a matter of fact, many of my best friends are P&G or ex-P&G employees. This is a place where you can form lasting friendships. Also, P&G offers more than a job; it offers a career. As such, the company attaches a lot of importance to work-life balance. For example, employees at P&G are allowed to work from home a day each week. A company would only do that when it trusts its employees.
What's your advice for young people wishing to go into external relations?
Make sure this is something for you. You should enjoy communicating and engaging with people. You also need to be in touch with what's happening on Facebook and other social media platforms, and know what the latest hot topics are. If you don't read the news every day, it would be difficult to keep up with the changing trends.
Understanding what's happening isn't enough. You will have to establish a link between that and the business. In order to know your company's business, you need to speak with people from different departments and learn about their work.
- Hongkongers are more straightforward and transparent than the Taiwanese, Liang says
- Hong Kong is a homogenous place while Taiwan is more diverse. “You need diverse strategies for different consumers.” Liang says.