Ms Toh Pei Shiang was at the right place at the right time when she visited Beijing, China, in the same year that the city hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Along with the contingent of a study trip organised by The Association of Shopping Centres (Singapore), she met the management of the local malls and gained a better understanding of their event marketing strategies during the international sport event.
Ms Toh, whose trip was sponsored by her employer, UOL Group, says: “I saw how the malls in Beijing reflected the Olympics spirit through merchandising when the International Olympics Committee restricted the use of the word and logo to sponsors and partners only. The malls had an Olympics shop in their premises, which helped to bring the Olympics presence into the shopping centres.”
Two years later when Singapore played host to the Youth Olympics, she took a leaf out of the shopping malls’ books and with her team, brought an Olympics store into Velocity@Novena Square — a niche sports shopping mall here, where she manages the advertising and promotions activities.
A senior advertising and promotions manager, Ms Toh, 38, has been with the Group, a property company, for six years.
Besides her work at Velocity@Novena Square, she oversees some of the company’s marketing communication campaigns for new property developments here and overseas.
When the Group developed their first condominium project in Tianjin in northern China, she travelled to Shanghai to work with their appointed advertising agency to devise a marketing plan to raise the profile of the Group and the project.
In the last two years, her team has been working with their office in Tianjin on a mixed-development project comprising a retail mall, office towers, a hotel and residential units.
Typically, she travels to Tianjin two to three times a year, each time for about two weeks, during which she attends meetings, visits new showflats and scouts around for roadshows locations.
Incidentally, it was during one of her weekend sightseeing trips when she re-visited Beijing that a sandstorm was brewing.
She recounts: “Being a Singaporean, I was not prepared at all. I had sand on my clothes, face, mouth, eyes, everywhere!
On the work front, the biggest challenge in working with her counterparts in Tianjin lies in the different cultures and working pace of Singapore and the Chinese city.
For example, some directions need to be repeated or translated into English or Chinese due to the different proficiency levels in the languages of the two teams.
In addition, some terminologies are phrased differently, and approvals with the Chinese authorities take a longer time.
She has also learnt to be sensitive to cultural differences in property development.
Says Ms Toh: “For example, north-facing residential units are not popular in northern China as these homes would be cold and without natural light during winter.”
Over time, she has assumed broader job responsibilities and gained valuable insights into the Chinese media and property market.
On top of understanding how the various media in China appeal to the different audiences, she has had to grapple with a highly segmented media market, which she says is very different from Singapore.
She has also learnt that despite having a population of over 18 million people, Tianjin’s media market is not fragmented like it is in Shanghai, and the majority of the residents actually read the same few papers.
Overall, she feels that her overseas exposure has been beneficial and exciting, both personally and professionally.
“It has allowed me to learn about a new emerging market and challenged me to think differently. Coming up with an effective marketing communication strategy and campaign in a huge market, such as China, definitely requires more planning.”
She adds: “UOL Group has been versatile and has offered additional job enlargement opportunities. It is not often that we see an advertising and promotions person for a shopping mall work on local and overseas property launches.”