Thriving Amidst Disruption – What I’ve Learned Since Joining The Oil & Gas Industry

When I joined Shell, I came in amidst some of the most disruptive times in the industry.

Global oil prices were in free-fall: on my first day of work, I learned that the price of oil had tumbled by 50% – from US$110 per barrel to about US$55 per barrel. Today, as I write this, it is hovering at about $30 per barrel – a dip of over 70%.

Imagine having your bank account shrink by more than two-thirds, without having any ability to mitigate or effect change. And now, “the experts” are talking about prices remaining “lower for longer”, with this potentially being the new normal. For the industry, this has been a seismic shift.

And yet, there has been no better time to be in the industry. Amidst every crisis, there’s an opportunity.

Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to have front-row seats for transformation.

When I was in banking and finance – I led branding and communications amidst one of the longest-drawn, contentious mergers in corporate Malaysia’s history. When I was at Microsoft, the company was going through a transformation from its previous business model of selling enterprise licenses to selling devices and cloud services. Now at Shell, here I am again, finding a way forward to thrive amidst disruption yet again.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Be agile

This means being able to learn quickly, pivot strategically, and execute effectively amidst a constantly changing environment. It means being able to quickly identify and understand the industry, the forces of change, what’s happening, what makes your business viable, and more. Then taking all of that, to formulate a strategy that may involve dramatically and creatively pivoting from familiar terrain into a completely new scenario that becomes “the new normal”. Finally, mustering forward by executing against your strategy effectively (execution is everything, IMHO).

At Shell, this took the form of exploring new forms of energy beyond the traditional “oil and gas” model, which included exploring new frontiers in deepwater and integrated gas. It meant pursuing new and creative engineering solutions to extract more value more efficiently. It has even meant taking what some perceive to be gamble in order to preserve our place in the future of energy.

2) Prioritize ruthlessly

When things are being disrupted, you often don’t have the luxury of time or options – massive change is happening to you, whether you like it or not. Consequently, you need to prioritize ruthlessly – figure out what’s really important to propel things forward. This may mean taking a sober look and making hard choices regarding your budget, people, and even strategic priorities. It might even mean sacrificing your sacred cows.

At the same time, prioritizing ruthlessly means not getting distracted by the noise of everything that is happening. Think about it this way: during an earthquake, even if your valuables or sentimental possessions are crashing down around you, your priority is to ensure you and your loved ones remain safe.

For Shell, this has meant revisiting initial investment opportunities and even enacting divestments. I’ve even been challenged to consider, “What if we did nothing?” – which, admittedly, is an intriguing challenge for someone whose job function requires him to be proactive in “doing something”. And yet, that is the hallmark of prioritising ruthlessly: being laser-focused on what must be done and foregoing anything else that could distract and detract you from your objectives.

3) Stay Positive

When the world as you know it is tumbling down all around you, it can be difficult to remain positive. I hesitate to refer to pop psychology tropes, but I really do think that “tough times never last, but tough people do.” Having a positive outlook – call it hope or even being “cautiously optimistic” (as is the corporate-speak) – is strategically essential for survival.

Having a positive attitude can be underrated or overlooked, amidst all the other more business-like strategies. However, your “invisible” internal resources (whether it’s your own energy and state of mind or whether it’s the company’s morale) is often what fuels your “visible” external achievements.

If you’re going to navigate your way (your business, your organisation, your team, etc.) through disruptive times, you need to see be able to see the world that exists once you’ve been through the disruption and emerged successful at the other end of this journey. In doing so, you keep up the morale and energy to execute effectively.

This was where I was truly grateful for the leaders at Shell. Folks like my immediate supervisor, the Country Chairman, as well as other leaders throughout the organisation (locally, regionally and even globally) were great examples of how to remain positive during tough times. For some of them, they were the final decision maker when it came to making tough calls for the business – which included impacting thousands of jobs. It was tough and sobering, and I was humbled to see that they were indeed affected by the choices they had to make. Even so, they could still see the end-game and kept us all inspired for a world when all of this had passed and we emerged as a stronger organisation that was fit for the future.

 

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Communications Is Here To Stay, In Good & Bad Times

My friend Gabey recently wrote a helpful article in PR Week featuring the kind of validation every communications professional seeks after: No matter the economic outlook, there will always be a place for the communications function in an organisation.

This was according to Wendy Heng, associate director for sales & marketing at Robert Walters Singapore, a specialist recruitment firm. She said, “In good times or bad, you’re still going to need a communications practitioner in-house,” adding, “It is a necessary and stable function in most companies and I’ve never seen a huge rise or fall in the number of positions.”

She observed that comms staff tend to escape restructuring or cost-cutting measures because they are viewed as a necessity. She added that if a company does undergo cost-cutting measures, communications roles are typically shielded, as it is one of those functions recognised as a necessity rather than a luxury.

“There is always going to be need for it because how you could not have someone look after external outreach or crisis communications?” she said.

However, while the comms sector is quite stable, it is also a double-edged sword as in-house teams are not big to begin with. “They’re always stretched too thin with a limit to how much external agencies can do. So while its stable, it is also not seen as revenue-generating function so it’s hard to justify additions to the head count – In contrast, the sales function is easier to justify.”

In the same article, Robert Walters’ also shared the findings from their latest annual Global Salary Survey last week. Data published suggested that salaries are expected to remain relatively flat in 2016, though candidates with in-demand skills can anticipate an average salary increment of 10 to 20 percent when switching jobs.

The following are some excerpted salaries from around Asia, from the Robert Walters Global Salary Survey. Salaries are listed in USD per annum, converted from local currencies.

Position Industry sector Salary range (USD)
2015 2016
Sydney, Australia
Communications Manager Banking & Financial Services 77,000 – 91,000 84,000 – 98,000
Senior Brand Manager Sales, Marketing & Communications, Consumer goods 87,000 – 98,000 87,000 – 105,000
Brand Manager Sales, Marketing & Communications, Consumer Goods 66,000 – 84,000 66,000 – 91,000
Shanghai, China
PR manager Sales & Marketing, Cosmetics 30,000 – 76,000 45,000 – 76,000
PR manager Sales & Marketing, Professional Services 45,000 – 84,000 45,000 – 90,000
PR manager Sales & Marketing, Retail & Luxury – National/Regional 45,000 – 90,000 45,000 – 76,000
PR & Events Manager Sales & Marketing, Retail & Luxury – National/Regional 60,000 – 90,000 53,000 – 68,000
Hong Kong, Greater China
Head of Corporate Communications Sales & Marketing, Financial Services 193,000 – 257,000 193,000 – 282,000
Head of Internal Communications Sales & Marketing, Financial Services 167,000 – 205,000 167,000 – 218,000
Corporate Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, Financial Services 77,000 – 116,000 77,000 – 128,000
PR Manager Sales & Marketing, Retail 58,000 – 83,000 64,000 – 90,000
Jakarta, Indonesia
Marketing Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, Marketing 28,000 – 33,000+ 28,000 – 42,000+
PR Manager Sales & Marketing, Marketing 23,000 – 33,000+ 23,000 – 36,000+
Tokyo, Japan
Communications Manager / Director Sales & Marketing, Retail & Hospitality 59,000 – 110,000 59,000 – 110,000
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Communications Director Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (consumer) 42,000 – 62,000 42,000 – 65,000
Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (consumer) 25,000 – 37,000 25,000 – 37,000
Communications Director Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (IT&T / Industrial) 42,000 – 62,000 42,000 – 62,000
Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, General Marketing (IT&T / Industrial) 20,000 – 28,000 20,000 – 34,000
Singapore
Corporate Affairs Director Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 98,000 – 125,000+ 98,000 – 140,000+
Public Relations Director Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 84,000 – 125,000+ 84,000 – 125,000+
Corporate Communications Manager Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 56,000 – 84,000+ 56,000 – 84,000+
Public Relations Manager Consumer & Technical Healthcare, PR & Communications 49,000 – 84,000 49,000 – 84,000
Corporate Communications Director Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 105,000 – 175,000 105,000 – 175,000
Public Relations Director Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 84,000 – 140,000+ 84,000 – 140,000+
Corporate Communications Manager Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 56,000 – 105,000 56,000 – 105,000
Public Relations Manager Sales & Marketing, B2B & Industrial 56,000 – 84,000 56,000 – 84,000
Bangkok, Thailand
Public Relations Director Sales & Marketing, Consumer & B2B 42,000 – 55,000 44,000 – 61,000
PR Manager Sales & Marketing, Consumer & B2B 24,000 – 42,000 27,000 – 44,000
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Corporate Affairs Director Sales & Marketing, Marketing 90,000 – 105,000 84,000 – 105,000

Full article here.

10 overused buzzwords Asia-Pacific marketing & communications professionals are using on LinkedIn in 2016

Marketoonist - NoBuzzwords

If you’re an Asia Pacific-based marketing or communications professional, LinkedIn has revealed that you’re probably using these words in your profile:

  1. Creative
  2. Passionate
  3. Strategic
  4. Successful
  5. Motivated
  6. Driven
  7. Leadership
  8. Innovative
  9. Track record
  10. Dynamic

The list for 2016 was derived from LinkedIn’s analysis of the profile summaries of marketers in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Cue the sound of Shift+F7 being tapped across the region and a surge of incoming traffic to Thesaurus.com all across the region.

LinkedIn’s Regional Head of Communications Roger Pua advised marketers to ditch the buzzwords and focus on more substantial ways to brand and market themselves, such as “substantiating their work and achievements with concrete examples such as awards, presentations, research papers, etc. Remember too, that a picture says a thousand words, so let’s put an end to tired and overused buzzwords.”

Kudos to LinkedIn, by the way, for getting my long-time favorite Marketoonist Tom Fishburne to come up with a few cartoons to drive home this fact.

Now, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be reviewing my LinkedIn profile and hitting up Shift+F7.

H/T: Marketing+Advertising, Mumbrella Asia

Speaking at IACT on The Future Of Marketing & Communications

Speaking at IACT 20151202

The great bunch of students I had the pleasure of hanging out with. 2 Dec 2015.

I was invited to give this presentation to a student class at IACT College, which was founded by the advertising industry to become Malaysia’s premier college specialising in creative communication.

I enjoyed my time with the students as well as the insightful questions they asked.

I spoke on “The Future of Marketing & Communications”, exploring the disruptions impacting marketing and communications today as well as what capabilities practitioners need to develop for the future. In a world where the scarcest resources are attention and engagement, marketers and communicators need to:

  1. Have a conversation – Marketing and communications today is essentially a dialogue with the marketplace. We need to design organisations and capabilities that set us on a virtuous circle where we sense/listen, integrate, and communicate again and again to remain relevant and engaged with our audiences.
  2. Embrace and co-create with your community – From the conversations we have with the marketplace, we are able to take in input and perspectives that result in truly engaging initiatives that already have buy-in from our audiences and customers.
  3. Tell authentic stories – In a world saturated with banal noise, authentic storytelling helps cut through the clutter; engaging both the heart and the mind.
  4. Integrate across media – Marketing and communication channels can no longer operate in silos. The sum of parts are often stronger than the individual parts.
  5. Build your own media platforms – As the media and channel landscape becomes even more fragmented, a brand’s own media platforms often become an authoritative source of information.

My slides are available here:

I also shared some case study/examples from both Microsoft and Shell. The videos I refer to in my slides are as follows:

Shell – Destination Home

  • Link to video on Youku
  • More context to this campaign available here and here

Shell #MakeTheFuture – Morro de Mineira Project

Microsoft – Decode Jay-z with Bing

Speaking at Comms Malaysia 2015 on The Future of Communications

CommsMalaysia_2015-40Photo credit: Advertising + Marketing

I was very honored to be invited to join a great panel of speakers at the recent Comms Malaysia 2015 event, organized by Advertising + Marketing, a publication of Lighthouse Independent Media.

Comms Malaysia Speakers

I spoke on the topic, “Looking to what’s next: The Future Of Communications.” In my presentation, I made the case that the marketing and communications landscape is being completely disrupted by many forces, including: the globalized & hyper-connected world we live in today; Big Data and the Internet of Everything; Social media; an ever-changing and ever-fragmenting media landscape; ubiquitous connectivity, and changing interfaces.

Drawing on case studies and examples from both Microsoft and Shell, I then outlined four capabilies marketers and communicators could build on to prepare themselves for the future of communications:

  1. Embracing & co-creating with your community
  2. Telling authentic stories
  3. Integrating across media
  4. Building on our owned media platforms

Here are the slides from my presentation. I hope you enjoy them and look forward to engaging with you on it.

There were two videos embedded in my presentation, which can be viewed via YouTube here:

  • #makethefuture Morro da Mineira Project:

  • Microsoft Bing – Decode Jay-Z Case Study: