First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Terng Shing CHEN: We’re doing well. It was a tough time at the start, but we’re starting to see a recovery in some of our markets. Thankfully, we’re all staying safe and healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SYNC.
Terng Shing CHEN: I started the business at the beginning of 2017, basically after a decade of working for people. Having worked with numerous startups and corporations for most of my career, I noticed there was a gap in the industry around the startup community specifically. My industry – public relations and content – basically ignored or underserved that industry.
Having worked with startups, even to the point of being Chief Marketing Officer for a funded startup, I decided to create a company that caters to their needs, provides quality, and is scalable. That’s why I created SYNC, distilling over a decade of work into my business with new and evolving work processes. We now have a growing team with members in four markets – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.
How does SYNC innovate?
Terng Shing CHEN: Well, we innovate in many ways, but the two main areas are the measurement of PR’s success and the scalability of our services. Both of these are not feasible in the traditional business model that the vast majority of agencies follow.
With the measurement of success, we follow the digital marketing model but utilize historical data and comparisons to justify the return of investment or ROI for PR campaigns – this allows us to peg the quality of services to real tangible business goals such as revenue, inbound lead generation and more. I’ve spoken about this in detail in this article about measuring PR and the ROI.
For scalability, we look at fine-tuning business processes and consultant management to create a modular system of work. Coupled with a strong tech stack – we are aiming to build our own CRM to complement this – we are able to provide the same quality of work and outcomes as larger agencies but scaled across a larger client base with lower manpower requirements.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Terng Shing CHEN: We lost about 60% of our business and almost 100% of our sales pipeline within the first month of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. This was devastating, and we had to resort to creative ways to ensure the company stayed afloat, and we supported our team.
The first thing we did was expand our services to include supplementary digital services like SEM, digital advertising, and SEO to tap into the wave of online businesses while exploring new industries to generate reviews during this period. We also did not cut back on marketing but increased our spending slightly to drive as much new business during this period. Though the cost of acquisition skyrocketed during this period, we were able to bring on new clients and keep the company in the black.
We managed to weather the storm by being nimble and quick to respond to the changing ecosystem with no COVID-related lay-offs and a balance sheet that is starting to look better each month.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Terng Shing CHEN: I had to make so many difficult choices, and it was a serious setback to the aggressive expansion of the company that was already underway. We had to put on hold a few deals with vendors and partners, which is not something I am comfortable with.
We learnt quite a few things – mostly about our extended ecosystem of partners and contractors. By being communicative and accessible, we were able to delay all ongoing commitments during the pandemic with the full support of our partners. Their support was crucial in helping us divert funds to marketing, staff salaries, and critical expenses.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Terng Shing CHEN: Badly. Haha, I have to deal with each day as it comes. One thing that I do, which has been quite helpful, is to put things into perspective. For example, when we lose a client or waste hours of hard work on new business that goes nowhere, it can ruin a whole day or lower team morale. But literally taking a deep breath and considering our situation helps us realize that it is just one client in a growing economy that will bounce back. We just need to learn from our mistakes and move on. I also encourage having an outlet to vent your frustrations – I genuinely started a podcast called Business Over Drinks to help us discuss real business issues and be an outlet for the frustrations that we face in business.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Terng Shing CHEN: We don’t compete against the traditional PR agency and do not plan to, at least for now. So, I have a feeling that my competitors have not yet started, as we are at the beginning of a new way of doing PR. There are other agencies that do provide the same services but still maintain the same old business model and work processes that are cumbersome. They stay afloat by charging higher retainer fees or reducing the quality of the work.
I am confident that we will continue to build on our lead in the industry and stay the leader by focusing on what has made us successful – innovate and adding value. We don’t chase revenue. We chase quality and profit margin, which do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Your final thoughts?
Terng Shing CHEN: The world is changing rapidly, and we need to be open to change rather than cling to the hope that things will go back to the way it was. Honestly, if the business world can falter on a global scale due to the pandemic, there was probably something wrong with it.
Be open to new ideas and constantly learn – there should be no point in your business career (or in life) where you are the smartest person in the room all the time. This stunts growth and evolution.
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