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Start-up thinking results in sponsored formal ball for niche magazine

By Geoff Tan

SPH Magazines

Media Centre, Singapore


One of the key fundamentals in a successful media organisation of the now is the ability to “think like a start-up and act like a start-up,” despite being housed within a large and cumbersome legacy infrastructure. Looking back at the past to plan for the future is a futile, destined-to-fail strategy to that doesn’t consider today’s nimble, digital-first, technology-empowered world we live and play in.

The diplomatic ball gave advertisers access to their target demographic.
The diplomatic ball gave advertisers access to their target demographic.

Getting approvals for large budget injections are harder and harder to come by these days. More and more businesses that are being devastatingly disrupted have adopted drastic measures to upright themselves via strategic interventions and augmentations. Intensive new revenue-streaming strategies, organisational restructuring and delayering, ideation training, value-chain monetisation, and more are par for the course.

The business development role is no longer confined within a team, unit, or division. Business development must be the new blood type in all of our staff’s DNA, across all job functions and hierarchy. Crowd-sourced ideas among communities have evolved into staff-sourced ideas within organisations.

Everyone has a definitive role to play in the success of our business. No more gentle free rides. No more comfortable air-conditioned coaches. The bootstrapping mentality is the new normal.

If you don’t see yourself thinking and acting like a start-up, then you are probably doing exactly what you have done before over and over again — much akin to putting your daily routine on auto-play and repeat. The more proliferated this is across the organisation, the quicker you will watch its demise.

One of the things I’ve written about before regarding business building has to do with actively pulling more than merely pushing. I cannot emphasise this enough. Media companies, advertising agencies, publishers — we are all comfortably used to selling “commodities” rather than sharing “solutions.”

For far too long, we have been touting, “Here’s our new front cover ad unit,” “Buy our digital banner and skyscraper ad,” “Invest in our electronic direct mailers.” Our archaic way of selling is founded on either jamming a proposal down the throats of our clients or sitting back waiting for a brief to be issued.

Pushing requires strategically engaging our esteemed advertisers even if they have not yet accorded us a brief. It requires researching on our own and doing due diligence on how we can play a significant role in helping them fulfill their business objectives.

Thinking like a start-up also means we keep that ideation bulb constantly lit — empowering and enabling a regular avalanche of fresh, new, and innovative ideas that resonate with what brand owners want to be associated.

A case in point: The Peak, a luxury title, has been the preferred magazine of the diplomatic and consular corps in Singapore for more than three decades. Monthly copies of the publication are delivered to all embassies and high commissions. However throughout this long history of involvement, there has never been any form compelling engagement involving this distinguished community.

In June of last year, an ideas discussion between the Dean of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps and me birthed the idea of Singapore’s first-ever Peak Diplomatic Ball

My obsession became getting this proposition off the ground. We decided on the event’s positioning and the date, which we decided should be in January. What better way to kick off the calendar year than by having a cohesive community of excellencies — ambassadors and high commissioners — symbolically representing the world coming together integrating with an esteemed audience comprised of corporate business leaders and captains of industry? Together, this event allowed them to convene for a delectable evening of conviviality, community, and charity.

To help fund this bespoke encounter, we involved an excellent array of strategic brand partners that have a strong affinity toward the ball’s esteemed audience and were very excited to be a part of this inaugural extravaganza.

The event was presented by Shangri-la Hotel Singapore, the official card was American Express, the official fragrance was Montblanc (Interparfums Singapore), and the official car was Audi. We also incorporated a charity element, where we asked each guest to contribute a minimum of S$100. We raised S$31,000 for Mainly I Love Kids (MILK)

The event also raised a significant amount of money for a local charity.
The event also raised a significant amount of money for a local charity.

This is just but one example of how start-up thinking can positively impact a business. The same old, same old does not quite cut it anymore. Business development is not one department in your organisation. It is a culture that should be rightfully resident throughout the entire corporate populace.

I’ll leave you with my interpretation of the well-known Steve Jobs quote, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Never be fully satisfied, never be complacent, always push yourself, be constantly curious. Do the things people say cannot be done. Make unconventional decisions. Discover hidden gems.

About Geoff Tan

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