(本文同步於2020/07/28 見刊 Telum Media Alert -EastAsia)
Telum caught up with Joseph Tang, who founded Taiwan-based consultancy Vocal Middle Communications Consultants after several years as a headhunter. He gives an overview on the PR landscape in Taiwan and how Taiwanese brands can enter the Mainland China market.
Founding Vocal Middle is your first ever dip into the communications industry. What inspired you to launch a PR agency?
It begins with why I decided to start something on my own. I was planning to pursue a PhD programme when I got married in 2009. Soon I gave up because we had two lovely baby girls in three years, so it’s definitely not wise to take our small family to the wild west for adventures. And thus the little crazy idea was seeded back then.
Then why PR?
In the very beginning I had no clue what topic I am going to devote myself to but one thing’s for sure is that I will be in the people business – professional service, advisory business, consulting services etc. So what options do I have at hand? Way too many. Therefore I decided to leverage my job as a headhunter to “interview” those executives in said industries. Their wisdom and vision would clear my head. Apart from the people business, since I had worked in tech sector for 12 years, I was also looking for a route that would combine the people business and tech trends. Hence a vivid blueprint came out.
After a year of investigation, I chose PR for three solid reasons:
· it’s a very very very interesting industry, and there are no other industries that can compare with it “IF” we do it right
· it’s in the centre of business intelligence from both ends: enterprises and market. None of any can access all the data and info “IF” we do it right
· it’s an underdog and is totally underestimated. The current players haven’t changed or adjusted anything in past 20 years, so they are less efficient and effective, and their results are less competitive for new breeds like us
So here we are.
Before founding Vocal Middle, you worked at a recruiting firm for more than a decade. What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt from that role that you use in running your agency?
The most significant factor that separates from those well-performed companies to those struggling ones is the ability and mentality to design an organisation in terms of all the soft skills like culture and values, a vivid mission statement, a strong and clear vision and hiring plans. In short, it’s the Founders and CXOs who focus on the people or product. Generally speaking, companies in the US, Europe and Japan put strong emphasis on organisational design and development. While in Asia, we almost only focus on products and services and that turns us into “tools” to other continents so most of the time we ourselves can only compete on relationships and price war. And people know where it would lead to.
This awkward situation is more obvious in professional services nowadays, where most of the firms barely have a clear “image” of how to attract businesses. What do the markets, clients and candidates know about them? The name of their clients, their CEOs and…. nothing more. Thus this gradually limits the bargaining power (clients drive the business) and company size (only CEO matters). It also results in a lack of motivation to invent and to improve, a.k.a. what the future needs, as they spend 90 per cent of their time on what they currently possess. The most scary thing is that as this continues, these businesses become less attractive, and fewer young talents join them, which stops the firms from growing and evolving without new ideas and new conflicts. It’s the beginning of the end.
This is wrong.
What is our response?
We put equal resources and focus simultaneously from the very beginning on three elements: “organisation”, “service” and “market”. We dig in “what kind of markets do we actually work with and how would they evolve in next decade?”. Then according to our research results we drew a hypothesis, then redefined the scope of services (products) that would help us meet the future. To achieve so, we built an organic organisation that allowed us to acquire talents and raise them in our system to turn the beginning of the end to the beginning of everything. After several years of efforts, Vocal Middle now has strong images (brandings) but it all comes down to one: we own the future.
What are a few surprising or interesting things you can share about the PR industry in Taiwan that people might not be aware of ?
The first one concerns Taiwan, but it isn’t something special as it has been very common in any other industries in Taiwan for the past 20 years. The multinational PR agencies basically gave up on the Taiwan market, and their regional headquarters only give Taiwan branches very limited authority. They cannot change any status quo but mostly reply on the milk from mothers. This is very sad because this industry needs more flexibility but now is controlled under cost, and talents are used as tools or functional players, so when employees get older and approach their 40s, they are less valuable to their headquarters. To local firms like us, or to other ambitious MNCs who have yet operated in Taiwan, these present indeed a great opportunity.
The second one concerns the Greater China region (GRC), but it’s also a sad one. Most leaders in the GRC are so-called technical leaders but not people leaders – they can be very outstanding account directors, marketing heads, but they are seldom developed into true leaders, i.e. inspirators that lead people beyond their own expectations. Most leaders put emphasis on “things” so they can “manage” people as well as manage “things”. This common practice shows a strong weakness especially in huge crisis like now, because they are trained to do a specific business and not deal with uncertainty and vagueness, so they fall. Offices are shut down, business are gone, people get laid off and clients have no professional services to help them get through.
How can Taiwanese brands effectively market and position their product and services to the consumers in Mainland China?
Taiwan has a unique history, in that it’s a hybrid of Chinese, American, Japanese, some Europeans and Southeast Asians and now a few Koreans. In the past, the Taiwan market played a role as a stepping stone from other worlds to the Mainland China market. It got weaker in the past 20 years but now Taiwan has regained this role for many complicated reasons. So there aren’t so-called pure “Taiwanese” brands but a hybrid. If the brands can absorb the bright sides from so many cultures, it would find its way in the giant Mainland China market. This is our aim to find, define and inspire the values with our clients.
Secondly, no one would deny that Taiwan will lose its position when Mainland China gets more “capitalized”. However, as the saying “every cloud has a silver lining” goes, this “Chinese-style capitalism or socialism” gives us a great opportunity. For a great number of Taiwanese aged 35 to 50, they are matured, well-educated, open-minded and are very good at integration. These groups of people are also the ones that actually owns the power and resources to make an impact in both the private and public sectors. Mainland China has the market and population, while Taiwan has the capabilities to add values. Taiwanese brands may never take a lead in Mainland China, but this is not their aim – we may be the pioneer in some areas, or the boost to some growing segments, or the strong piece in some alliance. In short, it’s the Mainland China market that should learn how to work with us, and not for us to compete there.
Can you share with us any upcoming plans you have with Vocal Middle?
Vocal Middle has enrolled into its third stage this year (yes, under the bloody climate of COVID-19) in pursuit of every PR business possibility, and we are specifically focusing on three directions:
· Equip the organisation with data : we are going to escalate our efficiency to a higher level with the help of BI and AI
· Equip the services with technologies : all the current services are powered by selected tech and we are going to invent the new
· Equip the markets with international landscapes: operations internationally seek for more business models that require our core values and insights
We view ourselves as a platform instead of an agency. We expect ourselves to be the catalyst in the market instead of tools. We shall be the vocal in the market.
Vocal Middle’s clients range from tech firms to financial services companies toFMCGs. What are some trends or developments you are paying a close attention to in these specific sectors?
I would put my viewpoint in this way.
the boundaries between “industries” are getting vague and competitors may come from nowhere. There’s no more competition purely vertically but more like in ecosystem: you must find your wingman. Vocal Middle spends a lot of efforts and time in bridging clients from different industries. we exchange the valuable prospects toward the future markets so that we all have the chance to learn and to foresee provided others’ experience. This gesture helps our clients and us to see the business in a more 720-degree way. It would shape the new strategy or lead to alliances by resources integration.
In short, what’s the value Vocal Middle offer to clients? We provide:
- Strategy First – examine and link client’s Business Strategy to their Communication Strategy.
- Communication Centric – all tools are good tools only if they work so we don’t limit our services in certain aspects but put what clients’ need in our first aim. They name it, we fix it.
- Network Facilitator – since we can’t do everything that clients need, we build a strong evaluation system that results in an effective network which would allow us be more resourceful wherever and whatever clients are in need.
What drives us to deliver? It’s the methodology we developed named I.M.P.U.L.S.Ethat connects our Organization, Services, and Markets.
We believe this is also what Clients need, a sound and round solution but not just service in pieces.