Talk Priority caught up recently with our Founder, Jane Prior, to get her views on the company’s corporate culture, core values and why all this is important.
TP: When did you create Priority and what was your motivation for setting up the company?
JP: I had been living in Singapore for a couple of years and after a short stint working for the National Library was approached by Computerworld to join the South East Asian startup team. I loved the world of technology, or IT as we called it then; the regional markets were all growing fast and the US and European companies were focusing on the region and its potential. These companies needed to establish a presence, typically headquartered out of Singapore, and it presented as an opportunity to build something the market needed – plus I needed an income!
From the outset, technology was the mainstay of our world, but the Singapore Economic Development Board’s “Blueprint for 2020” helped me define the sectors to focus on and those offering the greatest growth potential. Hence right from the start we were in the B2B, or enterprise, world, and beyond technology we also supported companies in telecommunications, energy, pharma and logistics among others.
TP: At that time you saw a business opportunity, but starting from scratch you also needed employees. What kind of people did you seek to hire – meaning not only professional skills but attitude?
JP: At first, the agency was a one-woman band and as we grew, I was able to bring people on board to work with me. Being honest, it was less about targeting the exact skillsets we needed and more luck and serendipity identifying those early colleagues who were “all-rounders” as opposed to specialists. Most importantly they had the go-getter attitude and were willing to take a risk and join a startup.
Allowing it was a time of huge growth and even our client companies were seizing the moment with sometimes pretty ad-hoc and opportunistic expansion plans, we needed to be truly adaptable. In the early days we ran lots of events with product and company launches happening almost weekly and for this we needed experienced event managers. Marcom materials had to be localised, and newsletters designed and produced in hard copy were a fundamental for many of our clients as they needed to stay connected with existing clients in a pre-email world. We had a busy and fully-fledged art department in those days supporting that work and while the pace was always hectic, it was enormously exciting. Looking back, there was remarkably little discussion about ROI – a sharp contrast with all our thinking today – and it was a market grab world!
TP: Was it easy to find the quality of people you wanted to work with?
JP: Everyone I hired needed to bring a “can do” attitude, great attention to detail and be willing to work to tight deadlines. We used to say “if the client wants the moon” then ask two questions: can we deliver it and can they afford it? If the answer to both was yes! – then that’s exactly what we did and throughout the Priority years, we have delivered some remarkable “moons” in the most unusual circumstances.
Our people needed not only excellent writing and communications skills; they needed to be highly organised, from managing suppliers and partners to handling all the real-world logistics. It never has been a world for the faint-hearted and definitely ours is a profession where deep, authentic relationships matter enormously.
TP: Beyond skills, you have talked about core values and these are even written up on the website, so would you explain this in more detail?
JP: Having well defined and articulated core values is helpful in aligning the behaviour within an organisation. They set the expectation on what is acceptable and also what is not in the team spirit which means that we are able to build and work from a unified platform of behaviour.
It was quite a few years ago when we defined these: Courage, Integrity, Generosity and Empathy. The first three are defined in early childhood and it is virtually impossible to instill these traits in adults although I will admit we do sometimes try, because all three play vital roles in our world. Courage is being able to take the lead when times are difficult and in response to a crisis situation; integrity to pull one’s weight and never more so than across a virtual landscape and finally as an organisation we live by generosity every day as we share ideas, relationships and learning with our networks and teams.
Empathy is probably the most important, and the good news is that empathy as a skill improves with time and life experience. Importantly here at Priority, empathy means being able and willing to step into another person’s shoes and view the world from their perspective, hence providing a foundation for the stories we write and the relationships we build.
TP: How has the Covid pandemic affected the Priority team?
JP: On many levels the pandemic did not impact us as we were already an established hybrid organisation with the majority of our team working remotely across South East Asia and India. In 2020 we accelerated our digital transformation and use of business communications and operations applications with very positive results. Beyond the infrastructure, one of the biggest changes was in client expectations and this is not just about Priority; many organisations who would have defined face-to-face meetings as critical to success, learned to their surprise that survival was very possible without physical meetings.
Within our team, our core values played a strong part in our behaviour especially with the region seeing very different national responses to Covid. Some of our teams and individuals obviously felt very vulnerable and often at a loss to see the path forward, as hospitals struggled and vaccines were delayed. Others including our Singapore team were able to have confidence in the infrastructure and efficiencies in securing vaccines and rolling out full scale public education programmes. It was vital we engaged across the team and did our best to empathise and listen actively to colleagues’ concerns when often we were helpless to do anything more than simply be present, albeit on a long-distance video call.
In hindsight I feel as strongly about our core values today as I did when we first identified these character traits. While it is nearly impossible to teach adults generosity or courage, it is testament I believe to our culture that people do reach out – and without being asked – to share in difficult times as much as they do to celebrate. With the hybrid Work From Home world all set to remain, I believe every organisation should identify what matters in their people and make sure they nurture it to the benefit and longevity of their relationships with one another and with their clients.