IPRS was privileged to host Georgette Tan in the second webinar in our Purpose Series. The former Senior Vice-President and head of Mastercard’s internal and external communications and CSR efforts in Singapore and across the Asia-Pacific, today spearheads a different purpose – being a champion for women empowerment and gender equality in Singapore. Georgette sits on the board of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation and is the chair of board gender initiative of the SCWO. She also serves on the task force of family violence, chaired by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and Home Affairs. On 24 September 2020, Georgette will be honoured with the “Individual Achievement SABRE Award” at the Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards.
Moderated by IPRS Vice-President, Nisar Keshvani, the half-hour discussion explored Georgette’s journey as a gender advocate and her take on Communication’s potential to do good. Here are highlights of the conversation (check out our video for the rest!):
1 . Could you share with us some of the various roles you held in the public and private sectors?
Georgette: I have a somewhat long career and I have been fortunate to have some amazing roles and also working in some amazing organisations, both in Singapore and overseas. I have a chance to work in other markets and gained experience and built a career that have been fulfilling for me. I started out in the public sector. I am extremely grateful for that because it gave me a good grounding and it taught me discipline, understanding and a kind of strictness I guess in how you look at things, and the analysis that one is required to have. I was fortunate enough to be able to move from public sector to the private sector to the corporate life where I worked for a couple of organisations who have evolved with the years too. I was part of that evolution, part of the change and I like to think that I helped in the change a little bit. More recently, the move from the corporate space to the non-profit space because that is really where my passion has been. It was while I was at MasterCard that I had the opportunity to develop the CSR strategy for the region and aligned it obviously for the business but it was something that was extremely good from an internal perspective and from the employee engagement perspective too. That was where I had the chance to take a look at what was available in the non-profit space and focused my attention on women’s empowerment because this is what I am most passionate about. Despite Singapore being a very progressive place, great opportunities for women, there are still work that needs to be done. What better opportunity there is but to work in this environment to do what we can to better the space that we live in for women and particularly young girls as they start to take their journey, their first jobs and their careers.
I was a bit of a latecomer to the CSR space, to the giving space the non-profit. That said, I am trying to make up for it right now. That’s what I do now, I devote my time and I am really loving it. I consider myself very blessed that I am given the opportunity.
2 . Could you share your observations on the trends of Communication and PR over the years and also now in the Covid-19 environment in the last few months ?
Georgette: When I came into the Comms and PR space, it was all about external PR. It was all about what coverage can you get, what publications can you be seen in, at the right publications. Clearly, that was obviously the main focus and that’s changed and evolved over time. The medium which is media news where information is consumed, that’s changed. Technology has played a huge role in which people consumed information, the way people are informed, the way people make decisions around buying, all those things. Technology is obviously a huge player and a leveler because technology then makes it available to everybody, not just a small minority of people who can afford it. Technology has levelled that playing field, it has made all the communicator easier, but also more challenging in some aspects too because you are always on, everything is real time, responses, reactions, there’s no pause and no lag time in between. You are always going to be on your toes and you need to be able to pivot all the time very quickly. You need to be prepared and you prepare even more, before you put anything out. Technology is definitely a huge factor.
There’s been a shift too and it’s not just external comms. I think Internal Communication, employee engagement, employee communication has become so critical and in many ways, a differentiator for many businesses. To be able to attract, to be able to retain in businesses, it’s about employees and how they feel about their organisations, the work that they do and the level of loyalty. I want to work for a company with the right stuff, that it has a good purpose and it’s doing things for the community and has the right people. That’s important. Internal communications, the working with HR collaborating with senior management, to get that across I think, has become really important as a function. So the internal function is important. But I also think that there are other factors that have come into the space of comms. that are also just as critical. Things like data analysis, statistics, Math are really important. If you’ve got a grounding in that, you have a huge advantage. You’ll be able to understand and read data, develop stories, pull nuggets from data, that makes you a more valuable communications person. If you have a technology background, you’ll be able to understand products, the technology and the sciences behind it. Think how much more valuable you are in conveying product information and making it simple, that’s key.
The common denominator in all of this whether it’s technology, internal versus external communications, is always about language. Sometimes, we get caught up in “how do we make this pretty”? You should strip that away and how do you actually make it simple so that the message gets across. I am always reminded of the advice the global communications team received from Ahjay Bunga, the CEO of Mastercard: “When you write a press release, make sure you show it to your grandmother. If your grandmother can understand what you are trying to say, you have succeeded. Otherwise, start again. I thought that was super valuable, and we forget that. Some of us may have forgotten this along the way.
3 . Could you share with us your advice in the area of reputation building?
Georgette: First and foremost, it’s not just the veneer that you put on, not just the icing. No amount of good comms can do that. You’ve got to have the right values at the start at the very very core and the right people who believe in it and who are devoted, dedicated and committed to living those values. It starts at the very top and it goes all the way through. People need to be empowered to feel that they have a right to also speak up and do and live those values too. So it starts there, and then and only then can you work with that and build a strong reputation from there. And then you can add and you can leverage on the strengths of the people, the assets, the products and services, the environment and the work that you do. Absolutely communications and CSR can lend itself to projecting that putting across the messaging at the very core of the right stuff.
4 . What can organisations do to create a ‘city of good’?
Georgette: The first thing is to get involved and take an interest, find what your passion point is. For me, it happens to be women empowerment, women gender equality so I was able to home in on that. Find what you are most passionate about. It may be about children. It may be about finding cures for diseases. It may be around conservation, about animals, eliminating plastics in the oceans, there are so many causes. They are good causes that require, demand and deserve respect and attention. If you find that sweet spot and your passion, step up and find ways to get involved. It could be anything from being a member of that organization to being a volunteer of the organization. Find out where an organization needs help. It’s not just about making donations. There are many things that an organization needs not just funds. Everyone is an influencer within their organization, community, or family. Step up and support it. Use your own expertise to make things happen such as skills-based volunteering which is very important. All organisations need this. Whether you are a marketing or digital expert, website designer, fund raising, helping with marketing collaterals, proof-reading, helping with an annual report, there are so many things that an organisation needs, let alone work with partners. Introducing partners from some of your clients who may be looking to support an organization. Every organization would love an introduction, to potential supporters, sponsors and stakeholders. Everybody has a role to play.
5 . Do you have any words of wisdom to share with aspiring PR practitioners?
Georgette: Do what you love. Work for an organization that you believe in and be prepared to go the extra mile. It will then bend backwards for you. I have a ‘5S + 1’ guide that I use throughout the years:
- Seek – Seek knowledge and seek to improve yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the space of your work. You should read widely on a range of issues. Be like a sponge. It makes you a stronger person and a better communicator if you understand the world that you live in and its issues.
- Share – Share in good and bad times. It’s about volunteering and giving. Find what you are passionate about.
- Support – Support those around you and don’t be afraid to ask for support for yourself if you need it. Speak up if you need support. You’ll be surprised there are people who will come forward to help.
- Save – I cannot stress this enough. You never know when you need this little nest egg. Consider it your own “business continuity planning”. Savings are not just for a crisis. Many great opportunities may come your way where you can leverage your savings.
- Self – Sometimes you must be a little selfish. You must invest in yourself, and look out for yourself, because only then are you in a position to help others.
- Sleep – Most recently though, I have added this ‘S’ to my guide. The restorative powers of sleep cannot be overlooked. So please get your sleep.