Connect with your customers

Memo to SMEs: Don’t shy away from connecting with your customers. Put yourself out there and make sure they can reach you, a New York-based PR specialist tells FOO YEE PING.

WORKING with people like chef Anthony Bourdain and a senior executive of Marvel Comics has taught Ng Aik Wye about being sincere in the relationships you build – something small businesses can learn from.

“What struck me is their professionalism,” says Ng, who is vice-president of Finn Partners, a New York-based communications agency which was named “Best Midsize Agency” in 2015.

“They are passionate about their craft and spend a lot of time researching and understanding the depth of their subject. They are sincere in the relationships they build and careful about how they lend their names, and the environments in which they wish to work,” he adds.

According to Ng, 34, Bourdain and C.B. Cebulski, senior vice president of creative & creator development for Marvel Comics, were “amazing storytellers who can weave facts and visuals into one great tapestry.

“And they really understand their audiences. They are smart business people as well as creative.”

Penang-born Ng, who has been working in public relations in New York for the past 13 years, says SMEs should be mindful that PR is not merely about sending out a press release or making calls to the media to pitch a product.

“PR has evolved where it now involves branded entertainment marketing and developing influencer partnerships,” he explains.

For SMEs with a limited budget, Ng has outlined several cost-effective ways to put their name out there:

1. Develop messaging on your website for consumers to know the latest company news.

2. Distribute newsletters to inform customers about your business and the latest industry trends.

3. Work with influencers to endorse your product. A picture says a thousand words in the world of new media. Use Instagram to share news about your business.

4. Videos are key to getting attention. Your website and other channels such as YouTube should constantly be populated with visuals.

“If SMEs can effectively tell their story so that consumers learn intimate details about their business, then a sense of trust and loyalty will develop,” Ng says.

He is emphatic about consistent and quick response to consumer feedback.

“It does not matter if it is responding to a complaint or a commendation; always make sure there is a way for your consumers to reach you. Don’t be silent. Consumers want to be heard and helped. You should be honest and speedy in your response.”

Ng says SMEs in Malaysia should combine the best of both worlds – our Eastern hospitality and Western out-of-the-box thinking in terms of PR outreach.

“In this digital and globalisation era, we should try and understand each other better, learn from each other, pick up the best practices and act less defensively when confronted with criticisms,” he advises, adding that he used to take criticism badly when he started working in the US but soon realised that people took it as a way to better themselves.

“It reminded me what my grandparents taught me – be humble.”

Indeed, Ng takes time to credit people who have shaped his character and career.

He is grateful to his parents for giving him an education abroad at State University of New York, from which he graduated with a degree in mass communications.

“Otherwise, I would not have had the opportunities to test myself in such a competitive PR sphere as New York,” he remarks.

An uncle who is with the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong and Macau, taught him management skills.

“I cut my teeth on PR work under Tengku Zarina at Hong Leong Bank (where Ng did his internship). She was a kind boss who was very patient in teaching me the ropes about PR and corporate affairs,” he points out.

Ng, who graduated in 2001, joined M. Silver Associates (now a Finn Partners company), one of the top travel and lifestyle PR firms, the following year as a junior account executive.

PR is not merely about sending out a press release or making calls to the media to pitch a product, says Ng.

“I was fortunate to have the chance to work for them, thanks to the founders, Virginia M. Sheridan and Morris Silver, who saw some hope and perhaps talent in me. When I started working in the US, the one thing that caught my eye was how good work ethics is usually rewarded.”

Ng says the North American media landscape is constantly evolving, especially with emerging new media.

“I have learnt so much in terms of crafting effective public relations plans and media pitching skills.”

As for Asia, he says there is a lot of innovative and refreshing PR and marketing best practices.

“I have seen some really cool PR programmes and creative products from businesses emanating from Penang, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia and Vietnam.”

Singapore, he says, had been very effective in developing their attractions and making them appealing to a wide base of travellers seeking quality and a “new” experience. Hong Kong has been innovative in building partnerships with influential brands like Art Basel.

As the VP, Ng’s task is to provide strategic counsel for clients, create PR action plans, develop branded entertainment/broadcast partnerships, and handle day-to-day media relations.

The accounts he handles now include Capella Hotels and Resorts (Capella was founded by Horst Schulze, former president of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company) and Crystal Cruises, which is one of the top luxury cruise companies in the world.

Ng says companies must focus more on corporate social responsibility these days.

“It is nothing new, but more and more consumers are becoming more socially conscious and if a business can share their CSR practices on a regular basis, that would be a good way to reach their audience as well.”

In concluding, Ng again cites his grandparents’ words: “We are all in this world together, so it is good to help out when you can and be nice to each other.”

Central Region , Ng Aik Wee