Telum Talks to ... Justin Then, Managing Director, Lumos Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Telum Talks to ... Justin Then, Managing Director, Lumos Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Following the integration between LUMOS PR and Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Malaysia last year, Telum caught up with Managing Director Justin Then to get his thoughts on the merger.

Lumos PR and Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) merged their operations in May 2019. What made you decide that was the right time to join hands?
Well, one day, I heard opportunity knocking on my door in the form of emails and WhatsApp texts. So, I opened it and listened to the possible opportunities that could drive the growth of LUMOS PR. I thought it was going to be a challenge, but I knew my team was ready for it.

When I first started LUMOS PR, I always envisioned that our boutique firm would expand beyond Kuala Lumpur and into the region. Even throughout LUMOS PR’s nearly two-year bittersweet journey, we were already collaborating with various affiliates from different countries. Therefore, H+K’s knock on my door came at an opportune time.

How have things been going since the merger?
No one told me there’s no back button! But honestly, it’s been an extremely exciting journey since day one. Any integration takes time and may sometimes take longer than expected; but I’m glad to see that both sides are integrating smoothly in only less than a year! We also structure our client servicing team to have a mix of team members from both sides - this way, all our team members get to learn and try out new things, as well as complement each other with their specific skill sets.

What were some of the challenges with the merger you encountered, and what do you hope for Lumos H+K Strategies to achieve in the near future?
I initially had reservations about integrating both agencies and teams, perhaps because of the pre-conceived notion that they could be different (local vs global agencies). But to my surprise, they are getting along pretty well both during and after work.

When we first moved into a shared office, I encouraged everyone to spend some time getting to know each other outside of the working environment; it’s as simple as having lunch together. Now, my team members not only have meals together, but some of them even go on leave at the same time to do things together. I have no explanation for the latter.

You’ve managed both local and international agencies. How do the experiences compare? 
The advantage of an international agency is that you have a wide network of resources and support as well as global experts to tap on. Running a local agency requires one to be more resourceful, hungrier and being brave enough to take risks. Ask any owner of a startup agency and they’ll tell you the entire experience builds character.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed throughout your years in the communications industry?
I would say the shift in the global and local media landscape. I started my career as a tech journalist nearly 30 years ago and the evolution of the media landscape is rather significant, especially with the rise of digital and social media platforms. Every one of us can be a newsmaker today.  

What are some of the issues that the comms industry in Malaysia needs to address?
Talent and the proliferation of fake news. The comms industry needs to actively engage educational institutions to ensure that comms grads that join the workforce are equipped with industry-relevant skills. Too often, what they learn are too theoretical and their internships are too short for them to really gain any real work experience. Fake news … need I say more?

Can you share a memorable campaign or experience from your career?
I can’t talk about most of them because of NDAs, but one that I can share is my journey with McDonald’s Malaysia in 2014 at the height of the boycott against the brand. Changing mindset, countering fake news, winning over the skeptics, engaging the voices of reason, and accepting that there are those who will never want to believe you despite the overwhelming facts were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we had to work on day in, day out. It was a steep learning curve for the client and the agency, but we have emerged stronger than ever. Confidence in and acceptance of the McDonald’s brand is at an all-time high today. Amazing client to work for because they truly embrace you as a partner and not just another agency.

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