Telum Talks to… Jim James, Founder and Managing Director, EASTWEST Public Relations
Telum got the chance to speak with Jim James, Founder and Managing Director of EASTWEST Public Relations as he shares more about his experience and advice on the PR industry, and what's next for him.
You’ve been in the comms industry for many years, what’s next for you?
I am looking to give the opportunity of a lifetime to an entrepreneurial pr person. I've been running EASTWEST PR since 1995, and now it's time to find a worthy successor in Asia now that I am in the UK permanently.
What are some tips you can give to someone who is looking to manage their own PR agency?
Add value with every communication. That's always been my philosophy. Start every day with the mindset of adding value to clients and to those who work within the agency, and the media and partners.
Mind the cash-flow. This business is essentially an outsourced of personnel to clients, and whilst employees need to be paid every 30 days clients will often expect 45 to 90 days. Agencies operate on average with a 30-40% gross margin and so managing cash flow is particularly important especially when adding more staff or fixed costs.
Leverage technology. Outsourcing isn't the only solution to work, as over 8,000 martech applications offer AI writers, amplification, automation and more which relieve temporary bottlenecks in finding staff.
What is important for a person to know before taking on business in the PR industry in the APAC region?
Focus on a niche. The region is large, diverse and dynamic. It is also competitive. So the boutique agency needs to know its focus and be sure that it can add value. Beware intercultural miscommunications. In Singapore cross-cultural communication is remarkably easy, not least due to English being the common language. Once moving to different markets, even an hour's flight or ferry ride away, each market displays its own characteristics, and we have to be mindful of those.
Monetise diversity. For the client, the diversity of Asia is why they need an agency who is able to engage local media and create relevant content for them. Make your own agency as diverse as possible so that every aspect of the region is considered within the client strategy.
What are some of the challenges you encountered when you first started the business?
Digitalisation. Back in 1995 Asia was an up-and-coming region, with over twelve IT titles alone. By 2000 the Internet had destroyed print but the dotcom bust of 2001 left the markets short of money to launch Internet only titles. We had to teach clients the importance of having a website (yes...really), and over the years to transition from media relations to content creation.
Skills. Today there are courses in PR at Universities, but in 1995 the IPRS was the sole provider of courses and PR was a nascent industry. It was hard to find any Singaporeans with more than 2-3 years of experience. SPH was also paying better money than PR agencies.
Cost of Technology. I invested S$20,000 in blade servers and another S$15,000 in a xerox digital colour printer. We had companies like Cyberway and Pacific Internet just starting, but we didn't have wi-fi and I carried a pager as mobile phones weren't available until 1997-1998. The costs of early technology made being a start-up expensive. Of course now a mobile phone has more power than all my blade servers combined, and no one prints presentations any more.
Volume Two of your book, the UnNoticed Entrepreneur will be launching in July – tell us more about it.
Fifty entrepreneurs share how fellow entrepreneurs can get noticed, without an agency! On the UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast I have interviewed over one hundred guests on the topic of overcoming being overlooked, including Tim Williamson of Telum Media, and Volume Two is the next anthology. My guests share strategy, case studies and marketing tech tools. The goal is to give proven practical tips and tools which an entrepreneur can use as they build from a six figure to a seven-figure business. It will be available on Amazon in print on demand and kindle versions.