Ms Ng Lay Peng founded Bask Communications in 2016 with less than S$4,000 in her bank account and six years of public relations (PR) experience. As one could tell from the savings, you are right; Lay Peng did not put too much thought into what’s to come after quitting her stable job to start her PR agency. Was it a wrong decision?
Fast-forward to today; the 29-year-old now works with well-known brands namely, Red Bull Singapore, and Lawry’s The Prime Rib Singapore. So how did Lay Peng grow Bask Communications to the scale that it is today and continue to make progress?
Here’s her story.
When and what made you decide to be your boss and to start Bask Communications?
Surprisingly, it was more of a spur of the moment decision than anything. I love being in the communications industry, meeting people from all walks of life and learning little nuggets from them, the adrenalin from tight deadlines, etc. However, I was feeling uninspired in my previous workplace and thought hey, what’s the worst that could happen even if I failed?
At that point, I could not visualise how my career progression would be even if I had switched to a different agency or go in-house. It was a toss between going solo and leaving the communications industry altogether.
I’m glad I made the move! It’s been such a steep learning curve and every day provides a different challenge.
How long did it take for you to plan before leaving your full-time job?
Less than a month! It was a classic case of doing it now or never. The more time you spend thinking about leaving the comfort of a stable income, the less chance there is of you doing it. I had less than $4,000 in my bank account, but I thought if I spent sparingly, it would last me a couple of months while I go about finding my first client.
What were the initial challenges when setting up Bask Communications? Does it take a lot to setup?
It takes a lot of grit to be a solo-preneur. In the first month, I was texting my ex-colleagues almost every day as it took time to get used to working alone. It takes time to build up a supportive network of people around you, and I’m super lucky that my first client, Kara Bensley from The Wyld Shop was exactly the kind of person I needed. She’s a beautiful ray of sunshine and radiates so much positivity that even at my lowest, the sky’s the limit.
In the life of an entrepreneur, the highs are very high and the lows are very low. It takes a lot of time to learn to manage one’s emotional and mental wellness, especially when you are trying to “chiong” as much as you can. Regarding skill sets, I had to learn to build my company website – a task I procrastinated for almost six months as I just couldn’t figure out how to build a WordPress site, learn to hire better, be a better and more compassionate leader and an employer, manage finances, the list goes on! I’m still learning every day!
Why the name Bask Communications?
The PR answer is to let my clients’ businesses/products bask in the spotlight. I’ll let you figure out what’s the non-PR answer is!
What were the reactions of your loved ones when you told them that you have decided to leave a stable paying job to become your boss?
My father is self-employed, and I think it excites him that I’ll be able to take control of life in my own hands. On the other hand, my mother is ultra risk-averse, hated the idea of instability and wanted me to go into government agencies so that I will have a “metal rice bowl.” However, throughout the whole journey, they have been silently supportive with simple things like making sure that I remember to eat, sending me to do my media drops, allowing me to get away scot-free when I occasionally turned the house into a mini-warehouse and media library. It’s the simplest things that speak the loudest.
When a client engages a PR agency, what they are buying is the service of the executive who is running their accounts. Similarly, when a client engages Bask, they are essentially engaging me.
There’s a sea full of PR agencies already in the market even before you started Bask Communications. How did you position yourself and what did you do to get clients?
When a client engages a PR agency, what they are buying is the service of the executive who is running their accounts. Similarly, when a client engages Bask, they are essentially engaging me. What I try to bring in to every meeting and execution are positive energy and good vibes. As simple as that sounds, it helps to set the tone for your relationship with your clients and your business.
My first client was Kara Bensley from The WYLD Shop who was referred to by my friend Susannah Jaffer, former creative editor at Expat Living. Subsequent clients were also through word-of-mouth.
How did it feel to get your first client?
There was the fear of the unknown, excitement and motivation to do well, and gratitude for the trust, leap of faith and support.
The road to entrepreneurship can be lonely, and sometimes one may have doubts about whether it’s the right path. Do you have those moments and how do you stop yourself from sinking into negativity?
All the time! Finding the right people to speak to is vital, so is hoping that those people have the patience of a saint! At the end of the day, it’s important to question yourself on what do you want to achieve out of this journey. Give yourself both short term and long term goals to work towards so that you don’t lose track of your achievements. Recognising one’s progress is one of the easiest things to lose track of because we are often so hard on ourselves, always trying to be better, faster.
What are the key differences between being a boss versus an employee in a PR agency?
It’s a very steep learning curve in being a self-employed person. In addition to the execution of day-to-day work, there’s also learning to manage finances, interview new hires, and learning new skills via free online tutorial so that you can save cost on hiring someone to do it. That was how I gained my knowledge on building Squarespace site and SEO! It’s important to be resourceful. Ultimately, as a boss, you are responsible for the quality of your work, your agency’s reputation and how much income you generate. As an employee, there are more windows to sit back and relax. I love to travel so the number thing I miss is being able to apply for leave and leave work behind!
What is PR and why should companies value it?
I think it is difficult to box in what is the definition of public relations as it evolves so quickly, especially since the acceleration of the digital age in the past decade. At its core, public relations is about communications and the building of relationships across the various stakeholders, be in the public, customers, management, employee engagement. We focus on earned media through crafting strategic, timely and newsworthy stories that would interest both journalists and readers. Increasingly, owned media has also begun to play a significant role in our line of work regarding generating relevant content to engage public/reader we well as increase search engine ranking or web traffic.
I’ve met my fair share of people who understood the value of PR and those who don’t. PR professionals have very little visibility in the front line, but we are the people who help to create conversations around your business and products, manage and build a company’s credibility and reputation.
Are PR and marketing the same thing?
There are differences and overlaps between the two functions, but I do believe that both go hand in hand alongside digital strategies! I usually craft my PR strategies based on the business objectives, amplifying marketing strategies and brand stories, and then filling in the gaps to ensure sustained communication efforts and publicity. Where applicable, especially when it comes to marketing promotions, we will also advise on content creation and digital marketing strategies to complete the consumer journey.
What’s your advice to aspiring PR practitioners who are considering a life in PR agencies versus doing communications in a corporate environment?
It’s no exaggeration that life in the agency is a whole lot more hectic, but to those who enjoy the pace of life and having different and varied portfolios to work on any time, you’ll appreciate how dynamic agency life is. In a corporate environment, your role is more streamlined, but you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the business as a whole beyond your work function.