Grace Zhou: The PR Maven Behind The Success of Raffles Public Relations
Meet the woman behind Raffles PR, who knows a thing or two about how to run a successful PR campaign and how to handle a PR crisis.
With years of experience in the corporate world and an MBA in entrepreneurship from the University of Louisville, USA to her name, Grace Zhou took the leap to establish her own PR consultancy, Raffles PR and never looked back. Today, Raffles PR has grown to serve clients likes of GreaterHeat, Tokenize Xchange, Eurex Exchange, Deutsche Börse AG, STOXX, Clearstream, SINOPEC, Simpson Marine, Success Resources, Lee Kum Kee, among many others. With a proven track record in leading major projects, Zhou knows how to create impactful narratives. Effectively bilingual in both English and Chinese, Zhou caters to clients’ PR needs with dedication and personal finesse. Beyond being “respected as having a nose for a killing story”, Zhou’s extensive network of international and local media contacts enables her to deliver compelling stories that resonate with audiences worldwide. Zhou speaks to LUXUO to discuss her accomplished career as the region’s top PR professional, how she overcame the challenging nature of the PR industry and cluing us in to how she meets her client’s demands.
You were born in China. What brought you to Singapore and to the exciting yet challenging world of PR?
I was born and raised in Beijing, where winters are often overcast, and I craved a sunnier climate. The moment I visited Singapore to see my sister and brother-in-law when I was on a holiday here, I fell in love with the city’s tropical weather. The warmth and the opportunity to make friends from various parts of the world made me feel at home, which is why I decided to become a naturalised Singapore citizen. It was in Singapore that I was introduced to the dynamic world of PR, all thanks to my close friend and business partner, Danny Chaplin. He was my guiding light, teaching me the ropes of the PR industry, and it’s through his mentorship that I have the privilege of running my own PR business today.
Raffles PR has experienced an amazing growth over the past years. How would you explain such growth given the challenging nature of the PR market, especially in Singapore?
The growth of Raffles PR in recent years can be attributed to several factors. In 2020, I came across an article in The Straits Times that shed light on the vulnerability of PR jobs, especially during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. While this information was initially disheartening, it served as a stark reminder of the challenging landscape within the PR industry. However, when the opportunity arose to represent companies in emerging and dynamic sectors such as cryptocurrency, NFTs, Web3, and AI, I felt a surge of excitement and gratitude. The successful promotion of clients in these cutting-edge fields demanded a unique blend of courage, creativity, and the wisdom accrued through years of experience. Our team demonstrated the foresight to venture into this uncharted territory and the bravery to wholeheartedly embrace it. Singapore, positioned at the forefront of the digitalization revolution, provided the ideal backdrop for such a venture. As I reflect on this journey, it’s undeniably marked by challenges, but the rewards have been profoundly satisfying.
What skills have you acquired which help you communicate a client’s message?
One of the key skills I’ve acquired that helps me effectively communicate a client’s message is the ability to actively listen. Being a good listener allows me to understand the client’s goals, values, and specific message they want to convey. It also enables me to comprehend the needs and preferences of the media outlets we work with, ensuring that the message aligns with their interests and audience. Additionally, another crucial skill in a PR agency is adaptability. The media landscape is constantly evolving, and the ability to adapt to new technologies, platforms, and trends is vital for successful message communication. Being adaptable ensures that we can tailor our strategies to suit the changing needs of our clients and the media
What do you think makes a PR campaign successful?
A successful PR campaign is characterised by several key factors. Firstly, a well-defined and clear message is essential. This message should be tailored to resonate with the target audience and align with the client’s goals. Secondly, effective media relations play a critical role. Building and nurturing strong relationships with journalists, influencers, and media outlets ensure that the message is effectively communicated to the right channels. Lastly, measurement and adaptability are vital for success. Continuous monitoring and analysis of campaign performance allow for adjustments to be made in real-time, ensuring that the campaign remains on track and achieves its objectives
How do you choose angles for a story pitch?
Selecting effective angles for a story pitch is crucial in PR. Firstly, thorough research is essential. Understanding the client’s objectives, the target audience, and the current media landscape helps identify angles that will resonate. Second, creativity and uniqueness are key. Identifying a fresh and captivating angle that stands out in a crowded news space is critical to grab media attention. Lastly, relevance is vital. The chosen angle should be aligned with current events, trends, or issues, ensuring it’s not only compelling but also timely and relatable to the audience and the media.
How do you react when a client disagrees with your PR strategy?
When a client disagrees with our PR strategy, I approach the situation by initiating a constructive dialogue. I believe it’s essential to delve deeper into the client’s perspective, asking questions to gain a comprehensive understanding of their viewpoint and the rationale behind their preferred strategy. This open communication allows us to explore their concerns, objectives, and expectations more thoroughly. Ultimately, the aim is to align our efforts, as we both share the common goal of achieving successful PR outcomes. Throughout my experience, this collaborative approach has proven effective in bridging gaps and arriving at a mutually agreeable strategy that serves the client’s needs while staying in line with our expertise. In the end, we’ve always managed to reach an agreement because we share the same goal.
What has been your biggest PR challenge, and how did you handle it?
In my PR career, challenges have been a constant presence, but I’ve come to see them as opportunities for growth. One of the most significant challenges I’ve faced is maintaining composure and focus in the face of occasional disappointments and obstacles. When confronted with such situations, I employ a multi-faceted approach. Firstly, I turn to my experienced colleagues for advice and insights, drawing from their wisdom and perspectives. Additionally, I find it beneficial to step back temporarily from the challenge, allowing myself some emotional distance to gain a fresh outlook. When I return to tackle the challenge with a renewed mindset, it often appears less daunting than before. Through patience, perseverance and the support of my professional network, I’ve consistently found that challenges eventually resolve, and I’ve emerged from them with valuable experience and enhanced resilience.
What has been your proudest achievement while leading Raffles PR?
My proudest achievement has been my commitment to continually educating myself and staying adaptable in an ever-changing landscape. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been among the early PR professionals in Singapore to work with clients in the yachting and marina industry. As I’ve continued my journey, I’ve also had the privilege of working with clients in innovative fields like crypto, blockchain, Web3, and AI, etc. These experiences have highlighted the importance of staying current with industry trends and embracing new opportunities as they arise.
Have you had to work with a team to handle a PR crisis?
Thankfully, we have not encountered any PR crises with our clients that required immediate crisis management intervention. We place a strong emphasis on proactive and preventative PR strategies to mitigate potential crises before they escalate. We continuously monitor and evaluate PR campaigns to ensure they align with our clients’ objectives and maintain a positive public image. While we haven’t faced a major crisis, we remain vigilant and ready to respond swiftly should the need ever arise.
Social media versus traditional media, how key are these two sides of the contemporary media scene?
Social media and traditional media both play key roles in the contemporary media scene. Social media offers immediacy, interactivity, and wide-reaching global connectivity, while traditional media, such as newspapers, television, and radio, continues to provide credibility, in-depth reporting, and established audience trust. The synergy between these two sides is essential, with each offering unique advantages and serving different communication needs. Organizations and individuals should strategically use both to effectively reach and engage their target audiences.
You seem to be working with a healthy number of Tech and Finance clients, why is that?
Over the years, I’ve been lucky to work with many clients in the tech and finance fields. My strong interest in numbers, which has been with me since school days, seems to have drawn me towards these sectors, even though I majored in literature in university. Serving clients in tech and finance sections offers distinctive challenges, and I find solving these complex challenges intellectually stimulating and fulfilling.
What are the specific needs of yachting-related clients in terms of PR?
Raffles PR has worked on such yachting clients as Simpson Marine and I have also had experience working on other yachting-related business through my close association partnering with Danny Chaplin whose PR company handled Boat Asia for many years running in addition to ONE°15 Marina Club. Yachting-related clients have special PR needs because they are in the luxury and exclusive yacht industry. They want their privacy respected and any sensitive information kept confidential. Maintaining their good reputation is a top priority, and they prefer media coverage in upscale, luxury outlets. Hosting events, creating appealing content, and collaborating with influencers are essential to showcase their yachts and experiences. They also need to be ready to manage crises, understand international markets, and follow the rules. Being eco-friendly and sustainable is becoming more important nowadays. Personalized PR plans, a strong online presence, and working with luxury brands are also essential for success in the yachting business.
In which direction do you see the PR scene evolving towards? Any new major challenges ahead?
The PR scene is heading in a digital direction with a strong focus on online tools and social media. It’s also becoming more data-driven, with a need to measure the impact of PR efforts. Some of the new challenges include addressing fake news and misinformation, staying updated with fast-paced digital trends, and ensuring trust in an environment with a lot of conflicting information. So, PR’s future is about using technology and data, but it also means dealing with trust and accuracy challenges.
If you were to mention one mentor who has influenced you in your life and career, who would that be?
I’ve been fortunate to have had mentor figures at various stages of my life and career, but one person who has had the most profound influence on me is my father. His life journey has been marked by resilience and adaptability. Growing up in a well-off family, he faced sudden financial adversity due to political changes at that time in China. Throughout it all, he maintained his unwavering optimism, never giving in to complaints, and always holding his head high. Even after retirement, he continued to be a lifelong learner. His ability to embrace change with a positive attitude and a thirst for knowledge has deeply inspired me. I wholeheartedly admire his resilience, and he remains my greatest role model.
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