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Q&A: Is public relations really all glitz and glamour?

From the outside, the life of a public relations professional seems like the dream, planning frequent parties and social galas attended by celebrities, organising product launches, jet-setting to private islands, and hosting at Michelin-starred restaurants. But some might wonder, is it really all just glitz and glamour?

Not at all, we soon find out when we caught up with Celine Tan, Chief Operating Officer of The Ate Group, an integrated communications agency offering branding, PR, events and digital services. The team of 10 was one of the first few tenants at The Great Room Ngee Ann City when the third outpost of the co-working space was opened in June this year.

We find out what really goes on behind the scenes of public relations, how she got to where she is today, and how working at The Great Room offices makes Tan’s job a lot easier.

Can you tell us what exactly you do at Ate?

I do operations management and brand strategy. You’ll see me more involved with long-term clients and projects. Most people have this misconception that we’re a PR firm, but we’re not. The industry has evolved. We specialise in brand communications, and we pride ourselves on advising clients on how to communicate their brand effectively.

How long have you been in the industry?

I’ve been working for a good 19 years now and have been with The Ate Group for five years.

How different was the industry when you first started out?

When I first started with Ate, the media landscape was on the cusp of moving away from traditional print and TV into digital and social media. We were already starting to evolve the business.

When Tan Su-Lyn and Aun Koh – who is no longer with the company – founded Ate 12 years ago, they knew there was a gap in the market. There were very few boutique PR firms; the market was dominated by mostly MNCs that were very structured.

I joined Ate at a time when the founders wanted to make the company even more nimble. They know what journalists look for, and have always aimed to build the bridge between our clients and their brands, and the media.

At Ate, we pride ourselves on evolving and trying to remain ahead. It’s not straightforward PR anymore, and our team knows this.


You were working in London previously. How long were you there for and what were you doing?

I was in London for about six to seven years. I was working with Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the city’s biggest communications and advertising agencies that was one of the early adopters of a 360-degree marketing approach.

What sparked your decision to move there?

I don’t have a university degree, so I moved to London because I knew I needed something that would give me an advantage, something I couldn’t achieve here without having the right certification — which is practical overseas work experience. While getting a university degree was something I’ve always wanted to do, I don’t think the media industry has any time to wait for you. It moves too fast.

I chose to move to London because advertising was at its prime at that time, and London was – is, still – a very creative city. However, I didn’t get a full-time job straight away. I did freelance work in order to network, to meet new people, get to know their cultures, and to make more friends. I think that contributed a lot to both my personal and professional growth.

What is a common misconception about what you do?

That it is glamorous. Yes, we meet a lot of celebrities, we get to go to dine at the best Michelin restaurants, we get to see first-hand what brands are doing. But it is also a lot of hard work. Hand on my heart, I will tell you that the work is not easy at all. It is a lot of late nights, a lot of effort. Everyone thinks it’s glamorous but it’s a lot of hard work. You’re full-on in the last 48 hours before any event – but you always need to always look your best, make sure you never, ever lose your cool, and have a ready smile for people.

It’s about connecting with someone, a sincere conversation. When you ask a journalist how they are, they must know that it’s genuine; and that you’re really asking them how they are. All of us at Ate know that.

The key skills I want to impart to anyone, and my child especially now that I’m a mother, is the importance of resilience, sincerity and courage.

Tell us more about the glamorous side of the job.

You get the benefit of seeing things firsthand, and seeing things as they come together. Some people may think that’s hard work, but that is part of the work that goes into the glamour. You also get to meet a lot of people you normally wouldn’t, and sometimes stay in some of the city’s best hotels.

When you first started working, did you ever imagine yourself in the position you’re in right now?

Yes. The ultimate goal was to have my own business, or businesses. But whether you work for someone or for yourself, you’ll have to know how to treat it as your own business. That’s one of the fundamentals we push at Ate.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I just became a mum and it’s always hard for women to balance career and family. We’re very fortunate to be living where we are because that means we can get help. In addition to Ate, we’re also working on a few other exciting projects, including one that will be revealed at the end of this year.

How long have you been at The Great Room Ngee Ann City?

We moved in on June 4 and were the first tenants at this outpost. It wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, but the team at The Great Room made us feel very welcome.

What do you like about The Great Room Offices?

I love the concept as it’s a social space where you can hold meetings. I also like to connect clients with The Great Room as it’s a great venue for events. It’s also a gorgeous office with lovely views of the city. Most of all, I really like the people we meet here – there are so many industries represented here from Fintech to fashion.

What's a special memory at The Great Room?

I got married here in July! We’re very close as a team at Ate, and I wanted them to be part of it. My husband and I were married in a simple ceremony, in front of the most important people in our lives, officiated by Justice of the Peace, Ms Jennie Chua in the Studio. It was a morning ceremony; we had croissants, coffee and champagne, and we got back to work right after.

How does it make what you do easier?

The fact that we’re in the heart of Orchard Road. Our location means that it’s easy to get to wherever we need to, and it doesn’t hurt that Ngee Ann City is so well-equipped.

Run us through your daily routine

I come in about 10 am and find out about the different accounts we’re working on, and the key highlights we need to achieve that day. I then touch base with Su-Lyn, my partner, and we get on with our day.

We almost always have lunch together as a team. It’s a good break and a time to catch up with each other as our work can be very hectic.

In-between, I have client meetings both in and out of the office. I also make time to pop out to the main areas in The Great Room and catch up with the front-of-house staff. I wrap up around 7pm but comms never sleeps – it’s 24/7 so I’m usually checking my laptop or phone until it’s time for bed.

Membership at The Great Room starts at S$750 per month. More information here.

Dewi Nurjuwita
Senior Writer
Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.