What does it take to start your own PR firm in a country like Singapore and how do you scale your business across the competitive APAC market?We speak to Terng Shing Chen, CEO and founder of award-winning PR and content marketing startup SYNC PR to understand the answer to these questions and more.

Terng has over a decade’s experience in the PR and content marketing industry. With SYNC, he is helping the smallest startups and SMEs, as well as MNCs, share their brand story with their target audience across Southeast Asia and beyond. He is also the co-founder of Business Over Drinks – a business podcast and a travel platform called Travel Wanderlust.

In this interview, he opens up about his journey so far, future plans, passion projects and more.

TVM: What were you like as a child? Growing up, did you always know that you’ll be an entrepreneur one day?

TS: I was actually keen to be a veterinarian because I love animals and working to get them better was something I thought I would love to do. My complete lack of skill when it comes to anything medical set me on another path, which turned out to be entrepreneurship and PR.

TVM: As a child, who was your role model? Was there anyone close to you that inspired you to become an entrepreneur? 

TS: That’s always a tough question for me to answer, because I never looked at one person and thought ‘this is who I aspire to be’. I tend to look for things I can understand, resonate or aspire to be from a lot of different influences around me. So I don’t think I can point to a single role model, but I’d like to credit almost everyone I met for providing me with bits and pieces that I took to become the entrepreneur that I am right now.

TVM: In a recent interview with Startup Info, you said, “I am an entrepreneur who took a chance and started my own PR and content marketing startup.”

  • What inspired you to take this chance and how confident were you when you took the leap? Can you walk us through the events that led to this decision?
  • Was there ever a Plan B? Should there be a plan B?

TS: So, I took a chance and started a PR agency in Singapore because I felt like I did not have a better choice. I had worked for over ten years in agencies and in-house across the region and even further than that, but I felt mostly unfulfilled. 

I think one day, I just woke up and realised that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do and I wouldn’t be able to if I was working for someone else. So, I started to plan and gain experience in things I wasn’t good at. I ended up waiting another three years before I started my own agency, but it has been worth it.

One of the reasons I’ve been so committed is because I didn’t really have a proper backup plan. I felt I needed that edge to keep me engaged and focused on making the business successful. 

TVM: What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you overcome those challenges?

TS: There have been so many challenges. Even before we started, there were issues with a lot of money being wasted and mismanaged by previous partners. This led to me striking off on my own and bringing in a sense of stability and feasibility to SYNC. It was all about being disciplined at the start to get the agency to a stage where we could afford to take more risks and focus on growth.

When I set up the Malaysia PR agency side, almost immediately after I set up the Singapore side, we faced a lot of challenges with finding the right staff to carry out my vision for the brand. I travelled to Malaysia every single month to get things started and had to upgrade our processes to centralise a lot of our work. It actually helped us create a more scalable system for our PR work.

TVM: You’ve been in the industry for over a decade and have been running your company for almost four years now. How has your approach towards PR evolved over time? Also, can you name one thing (or more) that you do differently as a PR startup founder than a PR  company employee?

TS: My approach hasn’t changed that much, I always had a sense of where PR should be versus where it was at the time. So, I always tried to work with the future in mind when it came to how I approached PR. What has changed is the speed and the depth of understanding about what we do and the impact of what we do. I’ve seen too many people try to be PR or public relations executives, rather than be a business consultant that uses PR as their main vehicle to help their customer achieve their goals. 

If we’re comparing how my outlook has changed, I now focus on the bigger picture a lot more than I used to. I used to get so caught up in execution and developing killer strategies that I never even stopped to think about what’s next and how to add the most amount of value over a longer period of time.

TVM: SYNC has a presence in four different countries in the APAC region, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. These markets are extremely different from each other and the way they function varies significantly. How do you navigate through these differences?

TS: Always have people on the ground. I don’t claim to be an expert in any market – even Singapore and I live here. I do know that there are differences and I know enough to identify where we have gaps that need to be filled. At SYNC, we keep the quality and strategy centralised, but ensure that execution is done at a local level because it is the most effective way to do things.

Here’s what clients say about working with SYNC:

TVM: In today’s time, what is it about the PR industry that excites you the most? Also, how has the pandemic affected your company in terms of business as well as team management?

TS: Everything excites me about PR and content right now. I feel like we’re coming to the tipping point for PR, where we are going to see some serious changes in the next few years. While for content, I believe we’re already on the upward arc and I have no idea how far we have to go. 

Like every other business out there, the pandemic was pretty a swift punch to the guts of the business. However, we were lucky enough to weather the storm and come out on the other side stronger than before. It did force us to pivot slightly and really be more introspective when it comes to our aggressive growth focus. As a manager, I needed to stop spreading my focus so wide and really put some thought into future-proofing the business and creating a buffer so that we wouldn’t be taken by surprise like we were with COVID-19.

TVM: You have also co-founded Business Over Drinks– a business podcast with your friend digital marketer and author David Bobis who is based in Australia. Tell us more about the podcast- who is it for and why should people listen to it.

TS: The birth of another podcast from the ruins of the pandemic. You can blame COVID for this one. Dave and I just threw caution into the wind at the start of the pandemic and decided to start a podcast about business based on our experiences talking business, life, love and more, over a bunch of drinks in a noisy bar. 

Cut to over a year later with over 30 episodes up and running, we’re still going strong. We interview great guests from across Asia and Australia, pretty much talking to them about life, drinking, business and more. It is great fun for us, but also hopefully, a learning experience for our listeners. We want to share the fun and the lessons we learned over the countless nights hunched over drinks talking about business and more.

TVM: The idea of co-founding a company with a friend located in a different country altogether is in itself quite interesting. Can you walk us through the process of ideating an episode? I am guessing it entails a lot of Zoom calls and emails- how do you keep it seamless and organized?

TS: We’re not the most organised duo in the world and keep in touch via messaging, where we talk about everything other than the podcast. However, at some point, there’s a spark that’s lit that turns into an idea, which we can translate into an episode of the podcast.

TVM: Another company you co-founded is a travel platform called Travel Wanderlust. Tell us more about it.

TS: I started this just before the pandemic because we thought that travel was about to blow up. We were right about that, just not the direction in which it would blow up. 

But, we persevered and over time, Travel Wanderlust has grown from strength to strength to become a fully-fledged travel platform with a growing community of impatient travellers looking for outlets in today’s current world. 

TVM: Running a startup is in itself a challenging task. How do you manage to find the time to take on other passion projects?

TS: You make the time that you need if you’re committed enough. Though I may have sounded flippant before, I never go into things without fully understanding the time required to make it a success. So, it’s all about being productive and smart with your time. 

TVM: How important is it to unwind for you and how do you do it?

TS: I unwind just like most people do. Watch some Netflix, open up a bottle of red wine and then catch up with friends where I can. Over the years, I’ve managed to compartmentalise better and can now separate myself from work a lot better than I used to be able to. 

TVM: Coming back to SYNC now, what is the biggest strength of your company? If you had to summarise the company culture at SYNC in one sentence, how would you do it?

TS: I would like to think that the culture is fun, dynamic, challenging and innovative.

Read the SYNC blog to learn more about PR and content marketing. If you are looking for fun personal experiences, mostly insightful rants, their Watercooler Chat series is a must-read!

TVM: SYNC PR is making strides and getting recognition in the region. You guys won several awards this year- how does that make you feel and where do you see the company in the next five years?

TS: I feel happy that we’re gaining recognition, but also a bit full cognizant that our success isn’t derived from awards, but from our ability to deliver. 

In the next five years, I know that we’ll continue to grow across the region and establish ourselves as the best PR and content agency in the region. 

TVM: A lot of our readers in Singapore and India are young millennials who dream to become entrepreneurs. Any message for them?

TS: Yes, if you want to be an entrepreneur, try not to follow advice blindly. Keep your mind open to new ideas, but always take the time to assess and make a sound judgment to see if the idea works for you. 

Also, don’t become a PR or content marketing entrepreneur. We don’t need any more competition!

Find Terng Shing on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/terngshing/ or Tweet him at @terngshing