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A conduit for corporate clients

Published on Friday, 21 Oct 2011
Joanne Wong
Executive vice-president and senior partner, Asia-Pacific
Fleishman-Hillard International Communications (HK)
Photo: Berton Chang

As someone well versed in the workings of the press and public relations (PR), it is no great surprise that Joanne Wong is keen to correct misconceptions. Her particular concern is that too many people still fail to understand the full extent and purpose of the PR business.

Typically, the mistake they make is to assume it is all about staging events, garnering publicity, and devising talking points to support a specific corporate agenda. While there may be elements of that, Wong prefers to emphasise the strategic, consultative aspects. Her focus has always been to provide clients with new business insights and a distinct competitive edge.

"PR is not putting on a party," says the executive vice-president and senior partner of Fleishman-Hillard Asia Pacific. "The real value of what we do is to give clients a better understanding of their own business with relevant data, interpretation and a different perspective. And acting as a conduit, our job is to digest what they want to say and present it in a way people can understand."

She notes that companies often fail to see themselves as others do. Their viewpoint can become one-sided, inward-looking, and distorted by self-promotion. As a result, they lose sight of what customers need - and will believe - and, therefore, miss out on market trends and unseen opportunities.

"We spend a lot of time on research and analysis," Wong says. "So if we go to a client, we can say, 'These are five reasons people make a purchase', or 'This is what your competitors do.' We have information to substantiate the arguments, and that is what makes our job valuable."

To illustrate, a typically diverse week might find Wong in Beijing on Monday, then Singapore on Tuesday and then back in Hong Kong by midweek. "Our business is about dialogue - with customers, government, the community," Wong says. "We are always at the forefront of what is happening and jumping from one industry sector to another."

The pace, intensity and diversity obviously suit her. With early ambitions to be a journalist, Wong took a summer job with a gossip-style magazine in Hong Kong, while studying international relations in Toronto. This led to business-desk assignments with Chinese-language papers when she returned full time in 1996 and, subsequently, to an interest in working in PR. "I applied to an agency as a junior account executive to learn the business. Some young people miss the point - it is not money or the title, but mentoring and coaching that make your career," she says.

Practising that principle, and wanting more international experience, Wong took an effective demotion to join Fleishman in 1999. Though already an account manager with her previous employer, she preferred to prove herself first. Working first with dotcom clients, then financial services companies, and rapidly climbing the management ladder, that clearly turned out to be the case.

Now a mother, Wong sees no need to slow down or change direction. With a supportive family, she believes that good time management, strict 'off duty' rules and a weekly game of tennis are the key to keeping on top of things. "I wake up every morning feeling happy about going to work," she says. "I really treasure what I have and don't take it for granted."


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