Today we have selected Robert Wee to take his interview. He is Managing Partner | Business Development at Phoenix Media.
First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?
Very good, all healthy and vaccinated.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?
I moved to Thailand at the beginning of 2012, initially on 4 week holiday from the UK. To prolong my stay, I ended up getting a sales job for a UK SEO Company (operating out of Bangkok). I managed marketing campaigns, then managed sales teams, and became a partner in Phoenix Media in 2016.
How does your company innovate?
We don’t develop our software as an Ad agency, so our innovation is in our strategy. However, we have created tools like this Google Ad Preview tool, which is great for sharing Ad copy with clients and editing and seeing previews. We are also working on a new CRM system that will track full-funnel conversions and be accessible for small to medium-sized businesses here in Thailand.
How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
As a digital marketing agency, we generate most of our new clients from our marketing. We run campaigns on YouTube, Facebook as well as content and SEO optimization. During the worst periods of covid/lockdown, we saw the number of incoming inquiries drop by 90%. Some months we received very few new business inquiries. Our current clients are primarily based in Thailand.
Still, we also have some in HK, China, and Australia, so, fortunately, as some clients had to pause their campaigns in some regions, others were beginning to open up, which allowed us to continue to operate without any staff reductions or salary remunerations. While we had a lower workload, we focused on catching up on our internal jobs, developing tools, adding to our (SEO) resource, providing more training, etc. If anything, I felt we were more busy/productive in these times. The best thing about running a digital agency has the workforce to develop new ideas very quickly.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
We moved into our current office in 2019. Which thankfully isn’t too extravagant, although, in a prime location (Asoke), it’s not huge, so the rent and monthly bills are acceptable. For the last 12 months, it’s only been me, or perhaps one or two others coming to the office, so having low overheads in that regard has been very fortunate.
We also didn’t push any clients to spend more or even spend anything during the tough times. We understood for a lot of cases. Their businesses revolve around audiences or activities that Covid was preventing. In the end, 90% of them have returned to us. Now they can operate again.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
We’re trying to be as flexible as possible, both with staff and clients, which I think helps a lot. We understand everyone is under a lot of pressure, whether it’s financial or personal reasons, so we can try to accommodate any urgent changes by being flexible. We also host and support many websites both here and in China. Having a good support ticket system has been very helpful in managing the workload.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
There seem to be hundreds of new Ad agencies now in Thailand, which seem to have sprouted up over the last few years. I think the main difference with us is we’re an international agency. We could work with any campaign in any market, whereas many of the new Thai agencies seem to be very much focused on Thai clients, with super-cheap packages and gimmicks to make the client feel they are getting value for money.
Ultimately, I don’t see that working long term as low profits will not allow them to employ (or keep) highly trained staff, or poor performing campaigns will result in clients canceling.
Your final thoughts
Overall, I’m thankful to be in the digital marketing industry. As now more than ever, businesses are turning their efforts online. Having a business that can fully operate with relatively low overheads allows us to be flexible and cope with the changes which covid has thrust upon us.
So generally, very thankful for where we are and appreciate it’s been very tough for many people/businesses.