Telum Talks To... Aaron Liang, Managing Director, KIWI Communications
Telum caught up with Aaron Liang, who leads Beijing-based PR agency KIWI Communications, as he shares his formative experiences as a fashion journalist and how COVID-19 has changed how lifestyle and fashion brands should market themselves in Mainland China.
Before joining KIWI, you were a Senior Lifestyle Editor at Esquire Magazine for five years. What prompted you to leave the media scene and join the "dark side"?
I started to work in the fashion media during its golden age. During that time, I was able to observe brands and the world from the media's perspective, all the while creating and presenting amazing content for consumers and readers. I left Esquire with the hope of continuing to communicate and create value for brands while challenging myself with a new endeavour. Since KIWI's founding in 2013, we have developed rapidly, partnering with some of the world's best brands including Marriott International and some of my favourite hospitality brands such as W Hotels and The Ritz-Carlton.
What did you learn from your time as a journalist that you still find handy in your day-to-day work?
Working in the media as a young man was such a wonderful experience. It broadened my vision, built up my ideas and had a significant impact on my outlook on life. What's more was that the experience as a media practitioner nurtured my keen insight and curiosity towards life, encouraging me to never forget my origins.
The experience filled me with a serious sense of social responsibility, and I’m striving to promote the progress of the industry and society. Given that the primary purpose of the fashion media is to present a better lifestyle to consumers, I am working hard for my team at KIWI to create a better life together. Performance growth and company development are only one of the considerations.
How can independent PR agencies in Greater China retain their local talent?
It is the people that define who we are and allow us to grow. Using Laozi's philosophy of "governing by noninterference", a successful leader should encourage diversity as well as energise and activate each of their team members to their full capabilities and achieve growth together. It is important for agencies to encourage their team members to have individual personalities, and they should do everything they can to boost the personal development of each employee to their fullest and provide each with ample developing opportunities.
Looking back, what was one important thing that you learnt from the coronavirus pandemic?
There is an old saying from I Ching (Book of Changes) that goes "the only thing that never changes is change itself". The epidemic gave us the greatest feeling of uncertainty in the external environment. In an environment of constant changes, no one can always make the correct predictions and forecasts. The effects of the epidemic will continue to occur, so what we need is not only the courage to face change but also the ability to recognise and coexist with it.
In light of shifts in consumer behaviours due to COVID-19, how should lifestyle and fashion brands effectively market their products to the people in Mainland China?
Mainland China is getting ready to start an internal economic cycle from a macroeconomics point of view. For lifestyle and fashion brands, it is now more important than ever to tell a Chinese story. There are two critical factors to achieve this, one is to understand the consumers and meet their needs deeply and the second is to adapt to the digital age, where looking at past experience may not be of much help to the future. The pandemic has expedited the process of digitalisation, as we have seen with the speedy development of new retail live-streaming in 2020. To quote Peter F. Drucker, "the greatest danger in a turbulent era is not the turbulence itself, but still doing things with the logic of the past".
How can one stay ahead of the curve with all the new trends and developments in the market?
This is an era of constant changes and frequent crises. The first and most important step is to adjust our cognition - we need to be open-minded, jump out of our comfort zone and embrace different perspectives. Secondly, we need to persist for the long term and be determined when faced with uncertainty. The fast-evolving world requires us to face the future with a lifelong learning attitude, and I believe that learning is always the source of innovation and the driving force for growth.