by Katrina Foxe Myburgh
February 18th, 2015

Our senior management team have flown from all around the region – and the world – to Chiang Mai for a gathering of the minds. Attendees are already deep in philosophical thought – thanks to the Star Trek theme – as they ponder the big question: What will it take “to boldly go” into new frontiers this year?

Arriving in Chiang Mai…

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The 2015 Senior Management Meeting kicks off with a blessing

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Our first speaker of the day, Andy Polansky, Global CEO, takes the floor. Andy immediately makes the point that for the PR industry, change is good. Knowing exactly when to make that change is even better. “What makes this firm great is we anticipate market transitions,” he says.

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Next up, Tim Sutton, Chairman, APAC, shares a few words on our growth in Asia. The summary: its been a great 2014 and it is only going to get better in the next 12 months.

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Tim points to the successes of our intellectual property pieces (Food Forward,Digital Journalist and Engaging Cities reports) in driving the agency forward as a thought leader. And, recognising the way that digital is integrated into all we do. “We have a huge opportunity to leverage on complex, large-scale, integrated digital projects”.

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The future lies beyond your comfort zone

A great PR agency recognises the things that make it great, and commits to continually improving on these things. It also knows that to really be a future-forward agency means taking control and taking risks and being daring, according to Gail Heimann, President, Global, who is next on the agenda.

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Gail picks up on this theme in her dynamic presentation. “We have to up the rigor of our ideas, up the velocity”, she said. “In a world that is content driven we can’t have one idea, we have to have many ideas. We need a more rigorous strategy – we have to build our own technologies to get people to engage”.

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Gail notes that in a world which is changing at rapid pace, PR agencies that aim for ‘business as usual’ are doomed to fail. “We engage in a world of pictures. We now live in a hyper-world where everything is changing, everything is dynamic. In order to change results, to address new problems, we have to change the approach. Change the brief”.

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Our digital team on innovation

To highlight this change agenda, our global and regional digital leads now take to the stage to show some of the innovations that are already making a difference to how we do business.

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Chris Perry, President of Digital, Global, tells us we must keep an eye not only on technology, but how people are taking these technologies and doing amazing things with them. “How do we find a way to partner with these emerging companies?” he asks.

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Introducing a new digital approach

“Give us a problem. We love problems” 
Jon Wade, Executive Creative Director, APAC, and Jye Smith, Senior Vice President, APAC, step up to introduce the new integrated digital marketing arm of Weber Shandwick. “We build content with a creative, technical twist. The more creative you get, the more people are probably going to say no to you. But learn to be brave.”

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What do clients want?

Responding to this question is Cathy Calhoun, Chief Client Officer, Global, who is talking about the Global Client Experience. “Clients want more than anything for us to understand their business. They want more connections to resources and each other. They want more sharing, more knowledge, more learning.”

 

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Time for a break

We head off for a group photo and to interview our top thinkers. Here is Darren Burns, President, China, discussing what trends he sees happening in China in 2015.

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Say cheese!

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What’s one word to describe working with us?

Collaborative.

Our HR team is up next to highlight that PR practices serve a practical purpose, but what they should not do is operate in isolation form one another. As the marketing services world works hard to break down siloes, PR should be no different. Stressing the value of internal collaboration, Abby Gold, Chief Human Resources Officer explains that although people experience Weber Shandwick differently around the world, there are aspirations that we will always share.

Innovation from within

Katrina Foxe Myburgh, Head of Marketing, APAC, then steps onto the floor… armed with her light saber. Katrina is banging the drum for what has been an amazing year for the agency. “2014 was our most successful year, ever. We broke our awards win record again last year, and our intellectual property pieces have been particularly great for our site.”

Katrina leaves the audience with a very specific challenge: “We push our clients to be innovative but we also need to be doing it ourselves at a corporate level”.

So what’s next?

Tyler Kim, Managing Director, Korea, then opens up the discussion to the floor, asking the audience: What’s next for us in the region?

Jye Smith is first to raise his hand, pointing out the importance of taking risks. Innovation is only being demanded when there’s an opportunity. The safer option is to go back to what works, but what we need to do is look outside that, and find a way to talk about it. We need to learn to say ‘no’ more times than we say ‘yes’ and find the bravery to be honest with ourselves, with clients. Accept risks. Don’t be safe.

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Ava Lawler, Managing Director, Australia, continues the debate, emphasising the importance of getting out of your comfort zone and putting faith is the great talent we are attracting: “Break down silos that have existed traditionally. Trust your talent. Giving them more access to achieving personal goals. That’s how to retain talent.”

Ian Rumsby,  Chief Strategy Officer, APAC, stresses the need for cross-market collaboration and teamwork: “Taking risks is one thing. Taking risks on your own is difficult. We must take risks as teams rather than as single markets.”

Wrapping up…

Tim Sutton closes the day with a powerful speech.

“This is one business,” he says. “Not one market, not one region, but one business. We have to be brave. We have to boldly go. Success for us is having a terrific group of people, a great team. Get the message out.

“Now boldly go and conquer new galaxies!”

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