With the official launch of Icon China, Telum Media has interviewed Joanne Painter, General Managing Director of Icon and Shufen Tan, General Manager of SPRG in Shanghai. 

Telum Media: The Australian market is notoriously parochial. How do you hope to impact the way in which Australian PRs approach the Chinese market and vice versa?

Jo: Icon China is a dedicated trilingual team of highly experienced PR, creative and digital marketing professionals. We have teamed up with SPRG, Asia’s largest independent PR network, to deliver on the ground and essential cross-border capabilities required for Chinese companies wanting to thrive in Australia and Australian companies seeking to enter the Chinese market.  

More than 1.4m Chinese visited Australia in the 12 months to July 2016 - a new record and now our biggest inbound tourism market. At the same time Australian-made products are very well received in China, particularly products such as food and beverage, beauty products vitamins and supplements.   

The numbers speak for themselves - China and Australia offer each other tremendous opportunities to change some preconceived ideas about how to approach their respective markets.   

While there is no silver bullet for success, there are some must haves, including; the need for high quality, trusted advisory; collaboration and partnership; localising your brand; building cultural intelligence; and immersing yourself in the digital and social media landscape you’re working in.   What works in Australia won’t necessarily work in China and vice versa. Hence the need for trusted communication and PR advisors to help you navigate the landscape.

Shufen: Trust and sustaining communications strategies are the fundamentals that SPRG provides to the clients we serve. Trust is developed over the years with effective communications strategies based on the team's solid understanding of both the client and local market / industry knowledge and insights. With these, the team has a proven track record and expertise to deliver communications strategies with diversified and creative approaches for brands across market segments, leveraging a wide range of local resources and partners.

SPRG possess solid understanding and maintains close relationships with the Chinese media. This wealth of experience, combined with relevant knowledge and creative ideas, has enabled SPRG to deliver successful campaigns time and time again.   

Telum Media: How did the partnership come about? 

Jo: Our partnership came about when earlier this year Icon joined PROI Worldwide, the world’s largest network of independent PR agencies, and SPRG has been a member for quite a number of years. As a result we are able to share best practice and insights with each other. We had a client that needed insights into China and approached us to find a suitable partner. SPRG was an obvious choice. Conversely SPRG is able to use our local knowledge of the Australian market on behalf of their clients.

Telum Media: What do you think the average career path of a PR in your field looks like and what skills become essential?

Jo: With Gen Ys and Millennials there’s no standard career path. Their mobility and adaptability gives them great scope to work across verticals and capabilities that previous generations were locked into. For Gen X and Babyboomers, it’s a case of reinvention and specialisation, tapping into the acquired knowledge to segue into advisory, strategy and managerial roles. Irrespective of the role, however, PR professionals today must be multi-skilled and multi-channel with great foundational writing, analytical and communication skills.  

Shufen: The China PR employment is expected to grow rapidly in coming years. The growth of social media in public relations, an increasingly competitive business environment for both local and international companies is driving demand for these specialists.   With the emergence of digital/social media outreach tools, PR specialist need to be proficient with cutting edge technologies. In addition to the ability to communicate thoughts clearly and simply, PR specialists must show creativity, initiative and good judgment. Broad knowledge with strong analytical and decision-making skills, and comfortable multi-tasking in a fast-paced environment is key to a successful and rewarding career path.  

Telum Media: You both hold senior roles at major agencies in each nation. Where did your communications career begin and what led you to love the work you do?

Jo: I started my career as a tutor at Melbourne University before throwing in plans for a PhD and getting into journalism. It was while working as a Journalist at The Age that I fell in love with storytelling and story sharing. When the digital publishing revolution started I seized the opportunity to follow my other passion, business, and joined Icon.

Shufen: My communications career began in the mid 90’s when I joined a US PR agency as an Account Manager in its Beijing office. One of the fundamentals of a successful PR is being local. The opportunity to understand local culture, political, economic and social environment, amongst a matrix of stakeholders across a broad range of industry / market segments through my client’s business with China’s fast growing economy, makes me love the work I have been doing for more than 20 years.  

Telum Media: Most memorable campaign you’ve been involved with?

Jo: Our most recent breakthrough campaign for NSW Farmers - #standup4farmers - because we genuinely broke new ground and achieved tangible benefits for farmers. I am really proud of our work.  

Shufen: A 5 year long CSR program by the Lions Club International to bring medical teams to the remote villages to perform free cataract operations for the poor and old villagers.  

Telum Media: Where do you get your news from?

Jo: A mashup of sources: online newspapers, blogs, and social media, including Twitter. Radio is also huge as I love driving. Also my kids are a great source of insight into the issues of the day as they affect Gen Z.   

Shufen: WeChat and the apps of several leading media group.  

Telum Media: Favourite blog or online influencer?

Jo: I’m a big fan of BuzzFeed. Travel blogs are my other guilty pleasure. Lauren Bath, a travelgrammer we helped to launch a few years ago, is my favourite influencer as her images are amazing.

Shufen: Tao Li Xia, a famous travel writer and photographer.

This article originally appeared on Telum MediaTelum Media.