18 Years of EASTWEST Public Relations in Asia

09.06.13 01:32 PM By Jim James

June 14th 1995 I arrived in Singapore to open the communications agency which has reached 18 this year, formerly eastwest communications and today known as EASTWEST Public Relations. I had GBP3,000 as start up capital, two large green suitcases and a borrowed Toshiba laptop. In those days there was not the Internet, email, nor mobile phones. The offering to clients was 'Access to Asia,' solving the issue of the remoteness of the region to those manufacturers trying to build their brands in the far east. A press release would be sent by fax, each one manually fed into the machine which stood in the 10ft2 office on Telok Ayer Street. I had two desks but not enough space for 2 people to sit at them at the same time. I took a leap of faith that Asia would be the future. I sold my house in Manchester, left my job as marketing manager at AMS Neve Plc and opened the agency. An old lady from Hong Kong who lived in the same Sussex village as my grandparents helped me to select the word 'Tong' - to communicate or go through - as the central design element for the logo. It was hand drawn and lasted a good two years. An initial cashflow crunch left me with GBP100 in the bank after 3 months - a case of over trading. I had never worked so hard in my short working career. The first person I hired, Suki Murugaiyan, was a life saver as she enabled me to travel to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand to service clients, answering the phone, sending faxes and arranging printing. The lesson was also, that with one employee the owner no longer works for themselves, but for the company and its employees. There is now a responsibility to provide for others.  
EWPR's Anniversary Photos album on Photobucket
We had a small team with Suki, Stefanie Goh and Nick Tymms and got a great deal done. It was fun. It was hard, profitable work. In 1997 we reached GBP400,000 in revenue and incorporated as a private company with a team of 8. A large party was held on the beach. It felt like we were on a roll. Then the currency crisis of 1998 enveloped Asia, and we had to struggle to survive. I tried a merger with another local agency, fortunately not relinquishing any equity and later finding them to be incapable of cost control. Another 'quick fix' which caused more bleeding than healing. Part of my solution was to start an internet business, go-events.com which was a search engine for business events. We all got caught up with Internet fever. I raised US$500,000 of financing. It was an ambitious and heady time. The PR business was run by the very capable Derrick Koh with Nick Tymms. It was only later that I was to find out a large scale fraud had been taking place as the accountant had siphoned off monies by duplicating expense records. Once I sold go-events.com in 2001 I had to return to regather the agency. We had a large staff exodus as a result. We had a deal with Brodeur of the USA to become part of their network - a deal which never transpired. 2001 was the year that China entered the WTO - and when customers started to want to work in China direct, and not via Hong Kong. In 2004 I travelled to China to study in Beijing, and to have a look around at the market. Sonya Madeira and Derrick Koh ran the agency ably, but costs were also getting high and the market reaching saturation with over 130 registered PR agencies. The Internet was decimating the print publications and websites starting to replace traditional positions of communication held by agencies. When I arrived in Singapore in 1995 there were 14 tech publications. By 2004 there were 2 left. One of the key trends was the Internet, and of knowledge management. With a good friend and mentor, Hisham Isa, I wrote a 9 chapter manual called "The EASTWEST Way" which included philosophy, templates and tools. This was to solve the supply chain issue - carrying as it were the entire agency with me but as an online portal. It meant that I could hire staff in China and in effect they had all the knowledge and information of the past 10 years. It also had media contacts and a distribution engine for personalisation of emails to the media. This saves a great deal of time and is still in use today. On my birthday, 25th January 2006 I took an Air China flight again armed with suitcases but this time with my own laptop. This was the start of EASTWEST China. I lived in Jian Wai SOHO, and bought myself a cheap bike, part of an overall economy measure. We were starting this business with a bank loan of S$50,000. Screen Shot 2013-06-09 at 3.23.51 PM Norman Tebbit would have approved   In 2007 I was fortunate to have my first daughter, Amity with my Shanghainese bride to be, Erika. During this time Sonya Madeira was Associate Director, and she decided to negotiate an equity and salary package which were unaffordable. The Agency was not profitable. Sonya lead an exodus to form Rice Communications with EASTWEST staff including my long trusted accountant and the majority of clients. It was my fault of course as I had failed to give them sufficient guidance while occupied by China and fatherhood. I had introduced her husband to his employer in Singapore which enabled him to stay in the country; this act of wilful damage to me challenged my sense of charity. It was the nadir of the Agency, and it broke my heart. The only solution in situations like these, I have learnt, is to focus on the customers in hand. We were fortunate to have in Michael Costigan at AVNET a steadfast friend and client. We were working hard in China to build our brand, holding events and in 2008 I founded the British Business Awards. It was my way of speed building a network. In PR our connections are what clients are paying us for. I was also fortunate to meet Alex Dodkin of E ggplantDigital during the Business Awards. He is a bright, talented young entrepreneur. I was in a position to provide capital, space and a legal infrastructure to him which meant that EASTWEST would have a sister company; we can offer both content creation and the means to share that content via the web and mobile applications. Slowly but surely we restored our business. In Singapore with thanks to the loyalty of Melinda Ilagan who continued to have faith in my leadership, and I in her ability to deliver great work for clients including Avnet. I will always be grateful to Melinda.  In China were blessed to have Christian Dougoud join us who had ample ability to add process into the business. After 10 years and many ups and downs, some mental exhaustion sets in. In 2008  Richard Robinson and I founded the Beijing chapter of the global Entrepreneur Organization; an peer group for entrepreneurs which gave me a tremendous support and source of new ideas and energy.  It enables me to see the Agency as a business and not just an extension of my own personality, strengths and weaknesses. With the birth of my second daughter, Halo Mulan, the extra time and connections which EO provided was invaluable. The vigour and innovation of the new blood which has arrived to EASTWEST, embodied now in Kelvin Chen in Beijing, gives me inspiration which puts the past injustices into perspective. EASTWEST PR in 2013 EASTWEST PR in 2013 Over 18 years of EASTWEST, the concept of 'access to Asia' has been replaced by 'adding value with every communication,' faxes have been replaced with smart phones, but the basic role of the communications consultant has remained central to needs of companies everywhere. With offices  in Singapore, Beijing and now London, the team are able to help clients all over Asia and Europe, almost instantly, via digital communication in many languages. Today in Beijing I am a fortunate person. I have a talented wife, and two beautiful daughters. My brush with ameloblastoma appears to have been a one time only.  EASTWEST is being ably run. Eggplant teaches me new things everyday. I am able to start and build the Morgan Cars import business. All of them rely on communication in Asia. One of the recurring lessons from 18 years and many ventures, some successful and others not, is that business is still about loyal, capable people. I am grateful to have met so many who have helped me fulfil my dreams since arriving in Singapore in 1995, and in China in 2006. I pray that all of them, regardless of our encounters and where they are now, enjoy good health  and prosperous futures.