Last Week Tonight: Sponsored Content

It’s been wryly observed that people are tuning in more to comedy shows for news. Well, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is a great example and this segment on “Sponsored Content” is especially pertinent for us communications and media professionals (Video NSFW – language).

Let’s call Sponsored Content what it truly is: monetizing one’s integrity and credibility. It especially becomes a problem when it is deceptive, pervasive and wantonly permissive.

In the words of John Oliver:

“The integrity of local news is crucially important, and there is real harm for everyone if that integrity is damaged.”

Winning Gold At The Microsoft Worldwide Communications Summit 2014!

Thrilling news – I recently got back from Seattle, Washington from the company’s Worldwide Communications Summit 2014 with a Gold Newshound Award – my second one in a row! I am truly touched and flattered by this recognition, which builds on the momentum of having won a Gold Newshound Award the previous year as well as being a multiple-award winner at last year’s Malaysia PR Awards.

Me&MyNewsHoundJust me and my hound dog!

Every year, the global community of Communications professionals at Microsoft gather from around the world for our annual Worldwide Communications Summit. This year’s summit was held in Seattle, Washington. This year, we were also joined by the highly-talented team of consumer/devices Communications experts from Nokia (now known as Microsoft Devices), which provided a great opportunity for us to welcome them to the Microsoft family.

At the Summit, we also take the opportunity to showcase and celebrate best-practices, via our annual Microsoft Newshound Awards (held at the very lovely Chiluly Garden and Glass in Seattle), which recognize excellence in Communications from our global community of passionate and committed PR & Communications professionals. Each Newshound Award category recognizes three winners: Gold, Silver and Bronze.

LeighNewsHoundWin2014_editedWith Microsoft’s top Communications Leadership (L-R): Frank Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications, Microsoft Corp.; Yunsun Wee, Director, Worldwide Field Communications, Microsoft Corp.; and Doug Dawson, Vice President of Media Relations for Nokia (now Microsoft Devices).  

My award recognized a year-long effort throughout the fiscal year where we competed aggressively in the education sector. I partnered with my leadership team, along with our education, legal and area headquarters communication teams, in a year-long campaign that communicated our local value-proposition in Education. The campaign showcased Microsoft’s long history of contribution to education in Malaysia, as well as independent research, 3rd-party op-ed pieces, executive media engagements.

Here’s what was said about the work that I did:

This is a best practice of good programmatic execution with business impact. The team did an excellent job with this year-long integrated PR campaign that includes activities that supports and aligns to the National Plan.  Congratulations on delivering a strategic, matrixed campaign that began with the end in mind – showcasing Microsoft as a trusted advisor and partner to Government, and a thought leader for educators and students.

Me And The APAC TeamWith friends and colleagues from across Asia!

Needless to say I couldn’t have done this alone. I’d like to specifically call out and thank:

  • My team from Priority Communications: Elaine, Ashley, Kenny, Calvin, Atiqah and Sylvia for all their hardwork and partnership throughout the year.
  • My media friends: There are *SO MANY* of you have been very kind and supportive, always being open to our story pitches and engaging with me regularly. I’m blessed to count many of you as friends today.
  • My colleagues in Microsoft Malaysia: Much of what has been achieved is a result of intense partnership and collaboration – building upon each other’s initiatives and achievements towards a larger goal of success in this area!
  • My colleagues in the Microsoft Asia Communications team: Especially Andy, Verdayne, Jesse and Darryn. Your support and partnership throughout the year has also been invaluable, leveraging upon the greater network of expertise and investment for us to drive truly impactful initiatives to competitively position us in the education space.
  • My family: Without their support, I would not be free to do great things at work.

A huge congratulations also to the rest of the Gold, Silver and Bronze Newshound winners from Asia! In fact, the Asia Pacific region won the most Gold Newshound awards of any worldwide area (tied with our Central & Eastern Europe area. This is a tremendously creative, professional, committed team – and I’m proud to be a part of it. Go team Asia!

DSC_0514_editedThe Asia Communications Team, with our four Gold Newshound Winners – two from the area headquarters, another one from Australia… and me.

Public Relations is important and helps make the world a better place – Howard Daniels

This came to my attention by way of my Facebook timeline. The Public Relations Society of America Hawaii Chapter awarded its Gregg W. Perry Public Relations Professional of the Year Award to Mr. Howard Daniel, vice president of editorial services at Communications Pacific Inc.

What really caught my attention was his acceptance speech, which reaffirmed the work of communications professionals everywhere as “important, honest work”.


I’d like to take a few more minutes now to talk briefly about why I think the work we all do – the work of public relations professionals – is important and helps make the world a better place.

I’ll start by telling you that when I went off to college, thinking about a future career, PR couldn’t have been farther from my mind. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father, who was an innovator. He was a pioneer in the field of designing and manufacturing electric guitars and musical instrument amplifiers, but the essence of what he did was to create things that brought people pleasure. So as I entered college, I thought I should study science or engineering so I could do something like that too – or perhaps create things that would help make life easier for people. I felt that this was the highest calling a person could aspire to.

Then, in my freshmen year, I came within a whisker of flunking both calculus and chemistry. The next year, after flirting with disaster again in physics, I realized I wasn’t smart enough to make a career in science or engineering.  So I majored in the humanities – Russian area studies, to be specific … but to say anything more about that would set me off on way too long a tangent.

I had my next epiphany several years after graduation while I was a Peace Corps volunteer in India, where I lived in a village and worked with farmers. Perhaps the most important thing I learned there was that all honest work is honorable and worthwhile … that the most important thing a person can do is to provide for his or her family … and that the illiterate Third World farmer who can plow a straight furrow behind a pair of oxen is a professional worthy of respect.

Fast forward to my work as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Information Agency – my first exposure to public relations, although I was unaware of it at the time. Let me tell you how I came to work for USIA. It had, in part, to do with my interest in foreign affairs and current events. And it was also related to my background in Russian studies. I spent most of the summer of 1967 – between my first and second year of graduate school – in the Soviet Union, working to build fluency in Russian. I was enrolled in a program at Leningrad State University, and one of the things you couldn’t help noticing that summer in Leningrad was that every second or third person you’d see on the street was wearing a lapel pin indicating they’d been to see the USIA exhibit about life in the United States, which was there in Leningrad that summer thanks to the U.S.-Soviet Cultural Exchange Agreement. My conversations with the many Russians I met made it clear that people in that tightly closed society were hungry for knowledge about the outside world, and particularly about the United States.

So when I took the Foreign Service exam that fall and had to respond to the question of whether, if I passed, I would prefer to work in the State Department or USIA, the answer was obvious. Moreover, this was just a few years after JFK’s presidency, and I remembered that he had named the distinguished journalist, Edward R. Murrow, as USIA director. So for me, USIA was a no-brainer.

Now, the work that USIA does is encapsulated on a plaque that used to hang on its former headquarters building in Washington, D.C.: “Telling America’s Story to the World.” Years later, USIA people started referring to the work we did as “public diplomacy.”

In any case, I found that telling America’s story to the world – engaging with foreign audiences about what makes our country tick and explaining the roots of American foreign policy – was a very worthwhile and satisfying calling.

I remember once having lunch with a senior colleague and asking how he happened to come to work for USIA. He told me he’d been in advertising for years, and one day spoke with a USIA acquaintance who urged him to make a career change. “Do you want to keep selling hot dogs for the rest of your life?” his friend asked.

Well, I’m no longer in the Foreign Service, and I am now in the private sector, working in PR. And while I’ve never been called upon to sell hot dogs, my company, Communications Pacific, does count McDonald’s as a valued client. So I suppose it can be argued that I’ve helped sell hamburgers. And salads, I should add.

But putting my experiences together, I understand that the essence of what I’m doing – what we ALL do in this business – is presenting information to people who, like the residents of Leningrad in the Cold War era, need to be better informed.

Public relations is important, honest work. And, to put in a plug for the particular PR niche that, with Kitty’s help, I’ve carved out as my own – clear, strong, effective writing with which to tell our clients’ stories – I find it as worthwhile as creating innovations that make life easier or more enjoyable for people … telling America’s story to the world … or plowing a straight furrow behind a pair of oxen.

I’m proud to be in this profession, I’m grateful to all of you for this great honor, and I tip my hat to all my colleagues who work as hard and creatively as I try to do in telling our clients’ stories to the world, but who have yet to be honored as tonight you have honored me. Thank you all so very much.

Congratulations, Howard, for your win – and thank you very much for your encouraging words!

Why I joined the technology industry


Right around the July 2011, I was completing my role leading the branding and communications function throughout one of the longest-drawn merger exercises in the history of Malaysia’s financial services industry. While it was truly one of the most fulfilling, enjoyable experiences in my career at that point, I felt it was time to move on to something new.

I considered one of two options – I was either going to explore Islamic finance or technology banking. Even though the industry was still in its nascent stage, Islamic finance held great fascination for me because the financial principles on which it was based were particularly noteworthy against the backdrop of the worldwide financial crisis exacerbated by the US sub-prime crisis. Technology banking, on the other hand, was something I believed had huge potential as banking customers moved from traditional brick-and-mortar bank branch to click-and-mobile “banking everywhere” experiences.

It was during this time that I got the call to consider working for Microsoft  as its communications lead.

One of the main questions I was asked, which I remember till today, was, “You’re from banking and finance, why do you want to join the technology industry?”

This was one of those questions I could genuinely answer with wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm.

I honestly believe that, with technology, I’m participating in an industry that sees tomorrow, today.

Maybe I’m still a n00b, but I am in utter awe and wonder when I consider how the computing power of the phone in my pocket had to be housed in a room a mere XX years ago.

I stand amazed when I consider how my children today will have absolutely no concept of analog phones, dial-up modems, etc. Not only that, their practically intuitive grasp of touch-screen interfaces has created an entirely different paradigm and worldview today.

I’m constantly amazed with cloud computing – and the ability to work anywhere anytime and on any device. In fact, I’m writing this thought-piece on Microsoft OneNote (apologies, this is the only product plug in this article – but it’s meant to illustrate a point), which syncs across my phone, tablet and PC. To me, it’s like magic: I just typed this sentence on my PC. This sentence on my phone. Now this sentence on my tablet! (Yes, I really just did that purposely).

As a marketing and communications professional, I’m constantly amazed at the changes brought about by technology. Even as some businesses are only now getting the hang of incorporating social and digital insights into their strategy and operations, we are already looking at Big Data, discovering the best  ways to glean actionable insight from varied, voluminous and high-velocity data sources. Think: how can marketers aggregate the brand perceptions of consumers from multiple social network feeds, forum responses and even mobile data all at once, in real time?

For the long time veterans of the IT industry, I know it’s easy to be jaded.

Nevertheless, there’s never been a more interesting time to be in technology. With the consumerization of IT well under way, technology has been removed from the domain of geeky experts and into the hands of everyday users. It’s so fundamental to our lives today that it’s practically invisible – we take for granted the kind of revolutionary thinking that took us from “a PC on every desk in every home” to solving the world’s greatest problems through technology today.

What a ride!

Winning At The Microsoft Worldwide Communications Summit 2013!

Leigh - Gold Newhound Award WW Comms Summit 2013_edited2

Wining Gold, with Microsoft’s top Communications Leadership (L-R): Frank Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications, Microsoft Corp. and Yunsun Wee, Director, Worldwide Field Communications, Microsoft Corp

I’m presently in London for Microsoft’s Worldwide Communications Summit 2013, the annual global gathering of Communications professionals at Microsoft.

At the Summit, we also take the opportunity to showcase and celebrate best-practices, via our annual Microsoft Newshound Awards which recognize excellence in Communications worldwide. Each Newshound Award category recognizes three winners: Gold, Silver and Bronze. This year’s award was held on The Silver Sturgeon, a 21st century, luxury river yacht cruising down the Thames River in London!

This fiscal year, I’m thrilled to have walked away with one Gold Newshound and three Bronze Newshounds for my work!

I won the Gold Newshound for my work leveraging Microsoft’s cyberbullying survey findings, which showed how 1-in-3 Malaysian children say they have been subjected to a range of online activities that some may consider to be online bullying. The findings and the story we landed touched a raw nerve in Malaysian society because of the rising trend of online abuse. I managed to land highly positive and extensive coverage – with additional third-party endorsements coming from additional NGOs and Cybersecurity Malaysia. The highlight was a cover story in the lifestyle features section of The Star – Malaysia’s most widely read English newspaper.