What’s next? This time, it’s my turn to be interviewed …is this good PR?

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

As the world emerges from the shadows of a pandemic, we’re all wondering what’s next. Has our experience in lockdown altered the future we expected or has it simply accelerated ongoing change? What’s in store for us over the next few years? That is the introduction to Andrew Clark & Suzy Goulding‘s podcast, which I was invited to be a guest on. On their podcast, they invite leaders across Asia working in marketing, communications, and lifestyle, and they ask one simple question, "What’s next?." 

I shared that I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 27, and it all began when I got on a plane and went to Singapore to start the PR firm EASTWEST PR. In 2006, I went to Beijing to start the agency. While I was there, I bought a Morgan sports car and imported it. To cut the long story short, I became the importer for Morgan sports cars. Where Andrew and I crossed paths was in Singapore on an aeroplane going to the Philippines in around 1998. In China, we crossed paths again, because I started the British Business Awards in 2008. I worked as the Vice Chair of the Chamber of Commerce and kept the EASTWEST Public Relations agency going.

Thanks to the lockdown, it created an opportunity to start from scratch again. Moving from Beijing back to the UK, I only have the essentials, a desk, chair, computer, microphone, and camera to I can connect with the world, and I do this from what I call the ‘tardis’ or a little shed in our home. I’ve been able to use the time to reinvent and restructure what I’m doing, and I’ve been able to focus on on a couple of things. One is the SPEAK|pr program, where I share my knowledge and skills from 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur running agencies in Singapore, China, India, and the UK. I’ve had a global network of agencies, and still do. I’ve worked with a lot of clients that I can now build that methodology and offer that to entrepreneurs. SPEAK|pr is a podcast that I operate six days a week, and on that, I share tools, technologies, and tips for business owners on how they can get noticed. I’ve also built some tools that are online and available at EASTWEST PR on SPEAK|pr. There is a five-stage methodology which is Storify, Personalize, Engage, Amplify, and Know. With that, there are tools, a Message Home, a Story Planner, and a Technology Applications Directory, which has over 100 applications that business owners and entrepreneurs can use for free to create stories, engage audiences, amplify their message, and measure the performance.

EASTWEST PR as a virtual agency

EASTWEST PR is an agency that has been remodeled to be employee-free, or what I call a virtual agency where we are everywhere virtually. I realised that when I ran an agency with offices in Singapore, China, India, and the UK, I spent as much time looking after the people as I did after the clients, because the bigger the agency gets, the less time you get to do what you started off doing well in the first place, which is giving strategy and counseling to clients. A few years ago in Beijing, I decided to make the agency knowledge-driven and geography-independent, so rather than hiring consultants and trying to engage them on their work, I only hire people that want to do the work, and they do it on their own account. This can be likened to what Uber and Airbnb have done. They’ve built hugely valuable businesses by focusing on their clients’ needs. They’re letting the service provider turn up to work, but those people are motivated as a self-employed person. They’re not motivated with the incentive that they’re given an office, a laptop, a brand, 20 days holiday, and if they don’t like it, they can get a better job somewhere else. At EASTWEST PR, we work with the client on the strategy that needs to be done, and we provide the legal infrastructure and the business platform using Zoho for knowledge management. Then, we bring together specialists, the best the best of whoever it needs to be. Instead of trying to hire and recruit someone and do all those things with an LLC, we find the best people for the job, tell them what the client needs, come up with a price, and make it a deliverables-based agreement.

Suzy said this COVID experience is showing that this is the model of the future. Typically big agency models have been broken for a long time, so this notion of bringing together teams of specialists to work for a client is definitely the way that things are going. Suzy sees it in her own agency network, and she says that what I’m doing is way ahead of our time. Andy says there’s two words he can describe me and my agency. The first thing is lean, because it’s basically me working from my shed. The other thing is nimble, where I’m able to change quickly and adapt to the needs of my clients or a landscape changing around me. As companies making use of the technology available today, it allows us to become better at meeting the objectives. Clients are becoming much more results-based, and the payments are becoming much more results-based as well. 

The benefits of going virtual and the impact of COVID on both employer and employee

Core competency at EASTWEST PR is this idea of international communications for business-to-business clients. This means doing more with less. This liberates time and enables us to focus. Because I’m no longer managing 30 people yet still making just as much revenue, this is freeing up more time which I can spend with my children or getting healthy. If done right, this also means making less of an impact on the planet, being less wasteful, and creating surpluses of time and energy that are fundamentally a positive output. Running a zero-employee, global PR company with clients all over the world and a business model to match that is really transparent and allows people to come in as specialists and do their work is really cool, Any says. There’s so much to learn from that in terms of the way people run their businesses. 

An effect of this pandemic is that companies have now had to consider going fully digital when possible. Also, individuals are starting to think about if they’re happy doing a 9-5 or working in an office all the time, so more and more people are changing the way they work, some due to necessity, but quite a lot due to choice, and it’s important for business owners to take these into consideration when planning for the future. It was a pleasure speaking with Suzy and Andy today. Suzy says we’ve covered so much ground and produced many interesting thought-provoking things for Andrew, Suzy, and their listeners to ruminate over. I’m grateful for the chance to share my story with others, as I do on my SPEAK|pr podcast. It was also refreshing to be on the other side of the mic this time, having been the interviewee instead of being the interviewer. 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from What’s Next?

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