Telum Talks To… Jin Ooi, Managing Director, Distilleri

Telum Talks To… Jin Ooi, Managing Director, Distilleri

Last September, PR agency Huntington Communications and creative agency Paprika Global, announced their merger to form Distilleri, an independent strategic communications consultancy. Telum caught up with Managing Director, Jin Ooi as he shares more on the agency’s experiences dealing with uncertainties and rapidly changing conditions.

Can you share with us how the idea of merger between Huntington Communications and Paprika Global came about?
It was something that happened organically. In the past few years, we had more and more clients asking whether we provided marketing services outside our purview - Huntington had clients asking for creative services, and some of Paprika’s clients were searching for PR consultancy services. We had collaborated on projects and enjoyed the working relationship, because we discovered similarities in values and working styles, and realised how we could leverage on each other’s strengths.

We saw the benefits for both agencies and our clients if we could provide more a more holistic suite of services. Beyond capitalising on economies of scale, this ‘marriage’ would also help us evolve and future-proof ourselves by hybridising our teams. It was literally the whole being bigger and better than the sum of its parts.

In recent years, what kind of changes have you seen in terms of demands coming from clients?
Some clients have become savvier, especially those who have moved in-house from agencies. These tend to be more in sync with the changes in the media landscape and understand digital transformation and its effects on business and communications. In keeping up with trends, they also know what kind of strategies and approaches work to deliver outcomes that drive tangible results. These clients are a delight to work with.

More progressive clients have also realised that working in silos where information is compartmentalised was not an effective way to work. As a result, more and more clients are adopting a multi-disciplinary perspective and approach omni-channel marketing issues on a more holistic level. This collaborative mindset and upfront alignment have helped to reduce churn and costs, and increase operational efficiencies.

These are changes we are embracing - the comms department and agencies have traditionally been left at the bottom of the food chain and the last to be looped in, when it’s usually too late to provide feedback to effect positive results. We hope this is the beginning of a long overdue revamp of the industry and the way we work.

One of the challenges PR and comms agencies are facing amid COVID-19 is uncertainty. How is Distilleri dealing with this?
We have structured ourselves to be nimble, so that we can be more efficient and effective. To cope with uncertainties and rapidly changing conditions, we have adopted an agile organisational structure instead of a traditional hierarchical one. We have split bigger teams into smaller ones, and are training them be independent and self-sufficient. Most of our staff are hybrids, trained and functional across multiple disciplines. This cuts down the time we take to respond to client needs.

We are also encouraging them to upskill themselves to broaden their horizons, so that they will be better equipped to handle the unexpected. As long as we are able to deliver quality and create value at a speed faster than our competitors, I think we will be in a better position to help our clients cope with whatever COVID-19 may throw at them.

COVID-19 is also seen as catalyst for change across industries - as an industry veteran, do you think the pandemic has led any positive changes to the PR industry?
More than a catalyst for change, this great disruption has accelerated industry transformation, forcing clients and agencies to adapt. It has forced us to rethink the outdated practices that we have been clinging on to just for its sake, not serving any purpose other than providing false security and comfort. Clients who have long insisted on evaluating results based on PR value / AVEs have come to realise that it doesn’t prove effectiveness - not when the decline of traditional media has been expedited by the pandemic.

It has shaken us out of our complacency, forcing us to anticipate rather than react. Those who predict accurately and plan contingencies will survive. Unfortunately, too many clients have realised too late that their crisis management protocols are inadequate. I anticipate that before the dust settles, more of them will engage us to help them re-examine and prepare for future crises.

It has also made us pull our collective heads out of the sand, proving that some things we thought impossible, like working remotely, are actually not only possible, but are actually a better alternative. Perhaps the best outcome - physical distancing has forced clients and agencies to work closer together, both internally and with each other. Even then, meetings can be made more efficient and there are some processes that could be streamlined.

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