It isn’t often that we cover industries like PR – not because it isn’t important, but because it hasn’t really changed in a while. What is there to discuss that hasn’t already been discussed a million times before.
This is why it was interesting when we got a pitch to speak to Terng from SYNC, a self-professed PR and content marketing startup. The message was clear right from the start – something is fundamentally flawed with PR right now and SYNC is aiming to fix that by building a company that is undeniable when it comes to success.
With over 200 clients in the last three years and a volume-based business model, SYNC is definitely doing things differently. They have clients from all walks of life including early stage startups, government agencies, multinational businesses and their main clientele – businesses in growth stage. They are headquartered in Singapore with teams in Malaysia, Indonesia, India and partners across the rest of Southeast Asia.
We spoke to Terng to find out more about his journey and what exactly is wrong with PR in the region.
So, you came out strong with the problem – maybe you can elaborate on what is wrong with PR in Southeast Asia?
Ha, I knew I had to come out strong if I wanted to grab your attention. There are quite a few things wrong with PR, but I’ll stick to a few fundamental issues that I think affect the industry is the most.
As an industry, we shy away from absolutes most of the time. Every form of marketing has tangible KPIs for the most part, but with PR we mostly use ‘PR value’ and brand equity to measure success. While that has its limited merits, most companies look at the bottom line – if I spend $1,000 dollars, how much revenue can I generate. We avoid that conversation like the plague most of the time.
Terng discusses how to measure success when it comes to PR campaigns.
The other issue is the lack of training and development. Most PR consultants start off fresh and bright-eyed only to get beaten down by a rather merciless industry that does not value outcomes as much as they should. In my experience (I moved around a lot), there is limited training and a lack of proper processes in place to allow flexibility and creativity to shine in PR. There is also no support or training to allow PR consultants to understand businesses and how they work – how do you provide value to something that you have no idea of how it works.
I could go on for ages, but I’ll stop at these two for now.
How do you think SYNC is solving these issues that you mentioned?
I don’t think we’re solving anything just yet, but we’re trying to do it the right way for now. What will come out of that is that the more successful we are, the more likely the industry will start to copy us. Right now, we’re growing quickly and we have strong foothold, but we are by no means in a position to lecture larger businesses on how to run their own business.
What I can say is that the success we’re seeing and a very healthy number of return clients means we’re doing something right.
So what does SYNC do different compared to other PR agencies?
That’s a tough question to answer without being able to provide a thesis worth of context, but I’ll do my best.
We offer our clients a measurable way to use PR to generate real business outcomes. By real, I mean something that can be directly attributed to the bottom-line. From inbound lead generation, web traffic to even SEO benefits that have long-term implications for businesses.
Where we really shine is that we do our best to really understand how businesses work – because that actually does matter when it comes to doing PR in a way that really benefits the company. Take for example, developing a strategy for a business that requires very specific targeting and a nuanced message (this is more common that you would think) – if you don’t understand how businesses acquire customers and how they monetise, you can’t really develop a PR plan that works for them.
Why call yourselves a startup? Are you really?
We are a startup in every conceivable way, even when it comes down to the tech. We were actually building a platform for us to automate our work, but that has taken a hiatus as we continued to invest our funds into aggressive growth.
But the main reason we are a startup is the fact we actually have a dynamic business model – so we are always evolving our business model and offerings as we better understand what businesses need and develop new services quite frequently.
As a data-driven business we try to make the right business decisions and not stick to preconceived notions – this gives us an edge over most PR companies our size.
What’s next for SYNC?
Expansion, a lot of expanding in the region. 2020 was a tough year, but we rebounded and closed the year off in a good fashion, so we’re raring to go in 2021. There are markets like Vietnam and Thailand that have a lot of potential and we’re keen to strengthen our positions there.
We are also putting a bit of resources into building our own content channels for different industries from our podcast Business Over Drinks to a new travel platform Travel Wanderlust. It makes sense to integrate the PR and content in a transparent way. We are looking to expand our content arm aggressively throughout the next 12 months.
Apart from that its business as usual, though I expect 2021 to throw a few rocks our way as well.
To be transparent, Terng and his team work with us and are our partner for specific content projects, but this is the first time we have had the opportunity to discuss this the industry in detail. This was an unpaid interview.