By Kelly Trom, Senior Account Executive
After six countries, two cross-Pacific flights, 2,479 photos, 83 days and too many rounds of dim sum to count later, I’m officially back on U.S. soil. When I landed in Hong Kong this past February, I was a little apprehensive about joining an entirely new team, working with clients in different industry spaces and navigating a foreign country I knew little about.
However, time and time again I’ve been shown that the best way to actually learn something is to throw yourself into the deep end and out of your comfort zone (my alma mater, Cal Poly, calls this “learn by doing”). Luckily The Hoffman Agency thinks that this same approach is valuable and sent me off to Asia for two and a half months where I was able to learn about how our company operated in the APAC region, travel to different countries, as well as make new ties with my colleagues across the Pacific.
Even though all that travel didn’t quite quench my wanderlust (if anything it’s been stirred up more), I did come back to the San Jose office with many new experiences and ultimately a new perspective. Read on for the top 8 lessons I learned while abroad, a mixture of professional and traveler’s tips.
1. Tight collaboration across markets with different native tongues IS possible.
As a temporary member of the Hoffman Hong Kong office, the Agency’s APAC coordination hub, I got to see firsthand how accounts that have needs in multiple markets run. Luckily for me, English is the common language that ties all of these countries together in the business world. Google spreadsheets are a lifesaver to collect each market’s recommendations, case studies, media lists, etc. This ensures that all messaging is both consistent and relevant to the local market. Besides English, love of food is also a common “language” and was always a factor when I visited with colleagues from other Hoffman offices in Asia. The picture above shows some team members from Singapore and me right before we devoured the nation’s famous dish, Chicken Rice.
2. The “Wild West” world of cryptocurrency really is a new frontier.
Not only did I have to navigate new cultural mannerisms (i.e., bowing when handing someone a business card), I also had to learn about a completely new industry to me: the mysterious world of cryptocurrency. Upon arriving to Hong Kong and being assigned a number of cryptocurrency clients, I gave myself a crash course on crypto and blockchain technology. I quickly learned that the timing of announcements is essential as news like partnerships, exchange listings and more affects the price of alternative crypto coins in real time. And being on top of regulation news is more important than most industries because cryptocurrency is so new and governments are constantly coming up with new laws and official positions. Finally, the community of supporters invested in the coin and crypto products is on the next level compared to even some consumer super fans. These crypto fanboys are better than some journalists at digging up news and are almost always online.
3. Korean food is my new go-to food genre.
While I’ve always had an affinity for what we call “Korean BBQ” in the U.S., the cuisine in South Korea was on a whole other playing field. (Side note: locals will have no idea what you are talking about if you call it Korean BBQ). During my time in Asia, I had the pleasure of working out of the Seoul office for a day where I was treated to bibimbap, a mixed rice bowl with vegetables, beef and a fried egg, during a welcome lunch there. I later indulged in gogi-gui (the correct term for KBBQ), where you grill deliciously marinated meat, usually beef, pork and chicken, right at the dining table. I highly recommend giving this a try if you ever visit South Korea and washing it down with some soju while you’re at it.
4. “Translating” an announcement for an English-speaking audience is about more than just language.
During my first month in the Hong Kong office, I had the wonderful experience of traveling to Taipei, Taiwan, to assist in writing an English press release for a new client. Although the company had already written a release about the event in Mandarin, they requested that Hoffman write another version of the release that would engage an English-speaking audience rather than just directly translate their copy. After attending the event, the team and I brainstormed ways to change the text so it that would make sense to our target audience. This meant ensuring that the logic flow, main headline and more were appealing and also were accurate when compared with the original materials.
5. Hong Kong isn’t just a bunch of tall buildings.
If you’re a nature lover like me, you’ll be pleased to learn that bustling Hong Kong has a large number of preserved country parks with countless trails that you give you gorgeous views of both the city skyline and the coast. While working in the high energy Central district of Hong Kong was invigorating, it was always nice to get some fresh air over the weekends to recharge in nature. Some of my favorite trails included Dragon’s Back, Lion Rock and the Sai Kung Peninsula Hike (pictured above).
6. The sheer volume of events in APAC is overwhelming.
Partially due to the smaller geographic area of Hong Kong, events hosting media members and consumers and other businesses alike are more common among our clients in the APAC region. In order to support these events, our teams send out massive amounts of media event invites, help find suitable venues, recommend event emcees and even at times find models to walk around the event displaying new consumer products.
7. Music makes for some excellent team bonding.
A few weeks before I left, the Hong Kong office took one Thursday afternoon off to fulfill our inner dreams of becoming rock stars. The team spent a few hours at a music school in Causeway Bay learning how to play different instruments and recording two songs, “Price Tag” by Jessie J and “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars. It was a fun way to discover some natural music talent hidden in the office, learn to work together in a creative way and generally lift spirits and celebrate all the hard work that had happened over the month.
8. Clients in Asia aren’t fans of email.
While the majority of our client communications in the United States still take place over email, I learned that in Asia messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram are king. Clients expect a more instantaneous, albeit less formal, response to their inquiries. Conversations that happen this way are generally more tactical, “right-now” actions rather than after the fact reporting. This fast-paced communication style took a little getting used to, but I did enjoy being able to get quicker responses from clients on the flip-side as well.
The past two-and-a-half months were a whirlwind of professional lessons, new and tasty cuisine, cultural experiences and so much more. The Building Bridges program opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about public relations, facilitated strong professional relationships and friendships with my colleagues in the Hong Kong office, and allowed me to explore parts of the world I never thought I would go. While I’ve said 拜拜 (bye-bye) to Hong Kong for now, I’m excited to take all that I learned all the way across the Pacific and back to the San Jose office.