Editor’s note: In a new, ongoing series, INMA is profiling our most engaged members — our super fans. At a time when we have less face-to-face time, we hope this gives members a chance to learn more about each other. Today we profile Eugene Wee, SPH Media Trust’s chief customer officer.
In the eyes of Eugene Wee, chief customer officer for SPH Media Trust, competition in the news media industry has given way to cooperation: “I get the feeling that everyone in the news media industry is cheering everyone else on and wants everybody to succeed. You can see this based on the very deep sharing done by INMA members during various Webinars,” he said.
“I can’t imagine another industry where everyone is so willing to share their winning strategies with competitors.”
When he isn’t working, Wee enjoys building electric guitars and basses. “There’s something very Zen about shaping wood with hand tools such as chisels, planes, files, and sandpaper. I’ve built four so far, am working on a fifth, and have enough wood for another two or three to tide me over the next few years.”
INMA recently caught up with Wee to learn more about him.
INMA: What big lesson have you learned over the past couple of years that helped shape your plans for 2022?
Wee: Over the years, I’ve come to learn that whenever possible, choose to do experiments instead of surveys when you need to find out the preferences of your audience. I’ve noticed that surveys tend to be a lot less accurate because respondents often give polite rather than honest answers — and their behaviours may not be aligned with their answers. Experiments cut out the middleman and give you data based on actual behaviour. Even quick and dirty experiments with MVPs tend to be more accurate.
For example, rather than ask, “What type of newsletter would you sign up for?” it’s better to create a fake door experiment allowing users to “sign up” for a variety of newsletters and let users tell you through what they click on. So going forward, we are spending a lot of time working with our tech colleagues to get better and faster at running experiments at scale.
INMA: If you had your career to do over again, what would you want to know in the beginning?
Wee: Nothing. I think part of the adventure is in the learning, bruises and all. Getting a little battered along your career journey is all part and parcel of growth. If you know all the lessons and pitfalls at the beginning, you’ll have a smoother journey, but you may not have as much personal growth, especially in areas that help deal with adversity and failure.
INMA: What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?
Wee: The thought that something I do that day may make a positive impact on someone or something.
INMA: What is the craziest job or project you’ve ever done in media — and what did you learn from it?
Wee: It was probably when I was made the editor of The New Paper and had to oversee a massive revamp in 2016 that included changes in the paper’s design, target audience, content mix, and business model — all at one go. Changing one thing is tough enough, but doing it all at once was a huge undertaking, and we had three months to do it. But as I learned, when you have a great team around you, anything is possible.
INMA: What success within your company are you most proud of right now?
Wee: The fact that we are able to punch above our weight and stand toe-to-toe with many established global titles when it comes to the number of paid digital subscriptions we have (about 400k) as well as journalism awards.
INMA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Wee: Take good care of your team. Look after their careers, welfare, and mental health, and results will often follow. To me, this is the difference between managers and leaders.
Managers are often focused on output (revenue, amount of content produced, sales targets, etc.) and work backward from there in the way they look after their teams. Leaders are focused on people (training, developing their careers, mentoring, getting them to believe in a common vision) and work forward from there to deliver the output.
INMA: If you hadn’t gone into news media, what was your backup plan?
Wee: I might have joined the military. I was offered the chance to take up a military scholarship when I was serving my National Service commitment in Singapore. I am still active in the military reserves and I put on my uniform at least once a year to serve.
INMA: What is your favourite thing to read?
Wee: Usually very practical things like how-to guides/manuals, whether it is thought leadership pieces for work or recipes for cooking or the finer points of guitar making. Anything that helps me be better at what I do.