Telum Talks To... Ruby Fu, President, China, Zeno Group
Telum recently caught up with Ruby Fu who shared her experience working in various markets and her take on employee engagement, corporate purpose and 2022 trends for the PR industry and for Zeno Group.
You’ve held senior roles in-house and at agencies all over East Asia throughout your career. How has your approach to running the business differed in Mainland China to other markets?
I have worked in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China. Taiwan is my home market, so resources and experiences are relatively easy to obtain. Hong Kong is a developed market with well-established working practices. Both markets tend to follow and align with global communications strategies, with communications teams focusing on campaign stewardship and creative execution.
Mainland China, on the other hand, is moving fast, and the growth of the market in the past decade has been unprecedented. It’s an entirely different macroeconomic and political environment, requiring a stronger focus on cultural differences and societal sentiment. Consumer behaviour changes and evolves constantly. We need to stay on top of where and how target audiences are getting their information, how supply chains work and the unique ecosystems of the industries we serve. So we, communications professionals, need to move equally fast, make good use of data and analytics, listen to our teams and others on the ground. We need to have the courage to try new approaches with calculated risks, and always be prepared to learn from the most recent experience.
It has obviously been an unprecedented 18 months for our industry, but Mainland China appears to have bounced back quicker than most. How is the PR industry shaping up for 2022 so far?
We see integrated agencies prioritising expanding their PR capabilities and recruiting senior leadership with PR experience. Data and analytics continue to play an important role in strategic planning. We’re also seeing an increasing need to build out creative and production capabilities to tell more compelling stories across earned, owned, paid and social media.
Keeping employees engaged and motivated has never been more important than during COVID. Talk us through some of your experiences with Zeno during this time.
Mainland China was the first market to be hit by the pandemic, and the first to resume a new normal. So for us more than most, we were going into unchartered territory. But while the experience at times was overwhelming and unnerving, Zeno has never lost sight of its core value: to be human. We rolled out several initiatives aimed at keeping the focus on work-life balance when working from home, and increasing the team’s knowledge base.
The China team participated in global “Fearless in 15” training sessions, where team members around the world share professional knowledge in 15 minutes on a regular basis, subjects were related to the market and included China 101, and AI, influencer marketing, branding and many others.
We also diversified our “Be Kind to Your Mind” initiatives, with colleagues in India running virtual yoga classes and other markets offering meditations for employees. I’ve been amazed by how our teams have pulled together, locally, regionally and globally, and we’ve emerged a far stronger and closer organisation.
Has there been any regional nuances to the way you’ve approached employee engagement? What have you found worked well?
One aspect of our engagement that has worked particularly well has been the deeper and richer interactions between the team in China and our colleagues overseas. Zoom and Teams have brought China closer to the rest of the world and have helped out teams in China broaden their horizons to think regionally and globally - as well as help our international teams understand China better.
Talk us through Zeno Group’s corporate purpose, and how you’ve defined it in the Mainland China market.
At Zeno we champion the courage to achieve something better for humankind, a purpose that resonates well in China. We have the courage and entrepreneurial spirit to build our brand in China, while advancing a culture that nourishes and challenges every colleague both personally and professionally. Our fearless spirit encourages bold ideas and storytelling to solve problems, which is reflected in the work we do helping our clients build and protect brands, contributing to sustainable businesses, economy and society.
Should every PR agency and / or business have a corporate purpose? And how can staff be encouraged to share those values?
When businesses - whether agencies or any others - articulate a strong purpose and operate in alignment with it, they are substantially more likely to be successful. The power of purpose goes far beyond conventional ideas around ESG and CSR: the recent Zeno research in Asia revealed that consumers are almost eight times more likely to buy from companies and brands they believe have a strong purpose, almost 10 times more likely to recommend that company or brand to friends, and, just as importantly, more than six times more likely to support the company or brand if it becomes subject to public criticism.
For employees to share corporate purpose and values, it has to be authentic. That means using research to truly understand the internal and external context of the business, and ideally involving a broad cross-section of team members in the articulation and definition of the purpose and values, as well as mission. A strong top-down direction from the leadership of the business can be incredibly valuable - but it has to be balanced with bottom-up input from the team.
What’s on the horizon for Zeno Group in the coming months, and into 2022?
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Zeno has become stronger, with double-digit growth both globally and in China in our financial year that ended in June. We’ve seen our China growth accelerate into our new year and are looking for more fearless, entrepreneurial, collaborative and kind people to join us!