Leadership Spotlight is a series exploring the innovative strategies employed by Weber Shandwick personnel throughout the Asia Pacific region.
In this edition, Vanessa Ho reflects on the challenges of inspiring a client-centric culture and building valued client experiences. Vanessa is Managing Director of Weber Shandwick Singapore, Weber Shandwick’s Asia Pacific Chair of Client Services and the firm’s Global Client Experience Leader for Mastercard – a client she has worked with for fifteen years.
Like many PR professionals, Vanessa Ho didn’t begin her career with PR in mind. Originally, she studied English Literature and Linguistics and worked as a journalist (occasionally moonlighting as an editor of travel guidebooks). But, unlike many PR professionals, it actually took her a couple of years in the field before she felt genuinely compelled to pursue it as a career.
“I am inspired and amazed by a lot of young people today because they’re so directed about their career. They’re so clear about what they want to achieve in life,” she says with a laugh. “At the time I attended university, I certainly wasn’t expecting to have the career that I’ve had. It might sound a bit silly to say this but, coming into PR, I really didn’t understand how the jigsaw puzzle fit together.”
“It was only after three years that I actually had that ‘aha!’ moment. I suddenly understood where PR sat in the greater business order and how important our industry is to so many different organisations. It really was like a bolt of lightning moment. A genuine epiphany,” she says. “And, from there, I really powered ahead. I knew what I wanted to do. But, it took me three years to figure it out.”
Since then, Vanessa has worked in a variety of roles throughout Hong Kong, Singapore and New York; the majority of them with Weber Shandwick. However, despite 25 years of (considerable) success in the agency world, she actually still feels somewhat like she’s only just begun to showcase her true talents – via her role as Weber Shandwick’s regional Chair of Client Services.
“Having been at Weber Shandwick for sixteen years, I feel this work really brings all of the experiences I’ve had with this company to a kind of fruition,” she says. “It’s become second nature to build and develop relationships. With this position, I can use all that I’ve learned over the years to help drive the culture of client-centricity, creativity and collaboration that we’re building here.”
It’s a challenging role. While Vanessa is aware of her own approaches to building long-lasting client relationships, her role necessitates finding a way to both codify and replicate those approaches – transforming something born from intuition and decades of experience into something that can be practiced and understood by PR professionals around the world.
“Well, a really client-driven focus has always been a part of Weber Shandwick,” she counters. “I think that’s why we have always had so many long-standing clients. You know, we’ve got quite a number of clients who have been with us for five, ten, fifteen years. We’ve even got some clients who have been with us for twenty and twenty-five years. While we don’t stop to think about that much, it suggests we’re doing something right.”
“But, I think what we really want to do in codifying and developing our practices is to help bring that experience and knowledge to all of our clients – around the region and across the world,” she clarifies. “While also helping us to better understand and appreciate what’s unique to each client relationship. With each client, we want to have a relationship that’s strong – and responsive to their specific needs.”
Vanessa’s other roles as Managing Director of Weber Shandwick Singapore and as a Global Client Experience Leader for Mastercard, heavily inform her approach. Like many leaders throughout Weber Shandwick’s Asia Pacific offices, Vanessa believes that there are insights and learnings that can only be gained through working hands-on with clients and employees to deliver excellent campaigns and experiences.
“To me, our client experience and our employee experience are two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, if our employees learn faster and are more engaged with their work, they’ll be in a much better position to deliver innovative solutions for our clients” she explains. “That’s one of the reasons why I find my two roles so complementary. They inform each other.”
It’s the interplay between Vanessa’s local, regional and global roles that inspires her work. For example; one of the key programs she is developing with other specialist leads to spur client growth is to bring cross-disciplinary teams to proactively develop solutions to client business challenges – to bring to life Weber Shandwick’s Client Experience Promise to be ‘in’ client’s businesses and to strive to go beyond the expected.
“Cracking the nut on how we drive that superlative client experience is where I really feel I’m making the most of my tenure with Weber Shandwick. With these ‘Solutions Sessions’, for example, we create teams that include the best people for the brief – not just the best people from one practice or one country. They can come from anywhere. So, here’s where I really call on my relationships,” she smiles.
“Every client we have should really be able to access the breadth of the agency and our talent, if that’s what’s needed – and seamlessly delivering that is really what sets us apart.”