Public relations is a challenging business, says Ogilvy Taiwan Managing Director Fupei Wang, but as long as you are an effective communicator, find interest in your clients’ work, are adaptable in your approach, and like people, success comes naturally. This is something she’s learned during her 25 years as a PR professional at Ogilvy.
Wang, who also currently serves as Vice Chairperson of AmCham Taiwan, took time out of her busy schedule in March to talk to TOPICS Senior Editor Jeremy Olivier about how she got started in her career, her views on Taiwan’s PR environment, and what she’s learned in her many years helping to lead the Chamber.
Before starting at Ogilvy, you got your MBA from the Rotterdam School of Management. How did that prepare you for your career at the company?
Actually, my undergraduate degree was also in business management. After that I worked as a teaching assistant at my alma mater, Fu Jen University, and then as a reporter for a business magazine, which was an enjoyable experience.
I then went to study for my MBA in Rotterdam in 1995. It was an English-taught program – a very well-known one – where students from 30 to 40 different nationalities gathered to study business. I learned a lot during that program.
When I came back to Taiwan, I initially didn’t plan to work in PR, but during my job search, I met Joseph Pai, the chairman of Ogilvy PR at that time. He told me that with my background, PR would be a good career choice. Whereas most people in the PR business majored in communications in college, my industry reporting experience meant I already understood business very well, and I knew how to talk to managers. That was 25 years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.
What would you say makes for a successful PR professional?
In my view, there are five major characteristics PR professionals working in an agency must possess to be successful. First is communication ability, which does not only mean being able to speak and convey yourself well, but also to be able to listen to the viewpoints and pain points of your clients.
Secondly, PR professionals need to have a sense of curiosity. Working in this industry for so many years, I have met all kinds of clients from different industries, and in order to really understand their needs, you need to be interested in what they do.
The third characteristic, which is connected to the second, is a willingness to learn. If a wind power firm or a semiconductor company comes to your agency asking you to help them educate your market on their importance to it, you need to be ready to dig into all of the technical information and terms and really learn about their field.
The fourth is agility because clients are constantly changing their minds. You need to be flexible enough to adapt to their needs and adjust the direction of the campaign at will.
And lastly, you need to be people-oriented. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, but you need to have an interest in people and human behavior.
How would you describe Taiwan’s PR environment?
I would say that this market is very international in that there are a lot of multinational companies, which know what PR is and how to use it to their advantage. Yet there is also a need to recognize and deal with the local context, to have the on-the-ground connections. Many international PR firms have come and gone in Taiwan, but Ogilvy has stuck around because it is able to have both an international perspective and a deep understanding of the local situation.
To give an example, one of our clients is an offshore wind developer. To create a successful PR campaign in Taiwan, we needed to take into account and engage with all of the relevant local stakeholders – not just the media, but also the government, industry and business associations, environmental groups, and fishing associations, among others.
One important facet of our work – not just in Taiwan, but worldwide – is the change from traditional mediums to social and digital channels. In the past, PR firms did a lot of their work through face-to-face meetings with stakeholders and reporters, but more and more of the work we do nowadays leverages social media. We even use LINE and are exploring how to use Clubhouse, which is turning out to be quite a powerful platform.
What are companies’ biggest needs for PR assistance – and are they aware of those needs and open to such assistance? What are the main differences in how multinational and local companies approach PR?
In the PR profession, we are invariably helping companies with pursuing one of two major objectives: one is to promote their image and the other is to protect it. The first involves things like product promotion and getting people familiar with the client’s brand, while the other refers to crisis management.
Now, company image can also involve different things. One aspect is what we call employer branding – building up the organization’s reputation as a good place to work. This is important in Taiwan, where finding the right talent is becoming more of a challenge.
Another aspect is thought leadership – crafting an image of the head of the company as an informed opinion leader and an authority in their field. This may include strategic placement of articles written by the leader, as well as arranging for interviews and speaking opportunities.
More recently, an important part of a company’s public image is its corporate social responsibility (CSR) – nowadays increasingly referred to as sustainable development goals (SDG). Doing good for the community and for society helps the company build awareness and a good reputation among the public.
Whether companies are aware of their PR needs depends on the type of organization. I would say that multinational companies are generally more knowledgeable about how to work with PR agencies. They probably already have a small PR team, and they hire us on retainer to fulfill any other PR needs.
Local companies may have an idea of what PR is for, but in the early stages you really need to educate them. They usually have a larger PR department and are probably coming to us for project-based work or for PR training.
Most of the time it’s just a matter of communication – starting a dialogue with the client to determine what their needs are and how we can help them.
How would you describe your approach to management? What do you consider to be your strengths? What areas would you like to improve?
I would say I’m a very positive thinker and quite open-minded. When my staff come to me with suggestions, I’m always open to dialogue and to listening to their opinions. I’ve been told I’m quite sincere in my interactions, so that despite my seniority at the company, employees are not nervous when they need to come talk to me.
However, I am also very focused on efficiency because that is important in our industry. We are similar to a law firm in that all of our work is charged hourly, so being efficient equals good results for the client and good business for us.
The emphasis on efficiency is also an area I’d like to improve on as a manager, though. I’ve become very good at recognizing clients’ issues and coming up with solutions very quickly. But doing this every time discourages my staff from thinking critically about the problem and coming up with their own solution – it limits their room for growth. So, we as senior managers sometimes need to take a step back and let our employees become more involved.
You’ve served in several different leadership roles at AmCham since 2012, including your current role as a Vice Chairperson and Board Governor. What about the organization has kept you committed over the years?
This is a very good organization to be involved with, and through serving on the Board, I have been able to meet and work collaboratively with a range of senior executives.
In addition, the boards of directors of multinational companies are usually based in the U.S. or Europe – not at the affiliate or subsidiary in Taiwan. So, before I began my leadership roles at AmCham, I didn’t fully understand how a board operates. This experience has been very instructive for me in that regard. As I’ve served in this capacity for almost 10 years, I can contribute my knowledge and experience to AmCham’s board as well.
Being in AmCham has also really opened my mind to issues regarding international trade and business. As country managers, many of us focus on company-level issues and don’t really get into the details of the trade relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. This position has helped get me more familiarized with those issues, which is something I’ve benefited from.
How do you like to spend your leisure time?
I like being active and staying in shape. I really enjoy taking Zumba and dance classes, and I also go to the gym quite often. I would say I exercise at least four to five times a week.
On the weekends, I like to go to see art and museum exhibitions or read books. Sometimes, I get invited to give presentations or speeches for local universities or NGOs. That’s my personal CSR!