IN THE NEWS

As different as night and day

Travel Weekly Asia

May 12, 2016

Husband-wife team Peter Phang and Reene Ho-Phang founded BrandStory, an Asian branding and travel representation consultancy whose big break came in 2005 when they clinched the account for Australia’s Northern Territory Tourism Commission to promote the Northern Territory to the Chinese market.

In 2008, they beat at least seven other companies to represent the city of Las Vegas in the Greater China market. Their most recent coup was bagging the Brand USA account to promote the United States as a tourist destination to the Hong Kong and Taiwan markets.

PETER

We first met in college eons ago (I don’t want to reveal how old we are). Call me indifferent, but I had no impression of Renee.

But they say opposites attract, and that’s how we ended up marrying each other. We were in very different careers initially. I was in a less creative field where it was basically about churning out the same things day in and day out.

Reene on the other hand, was always pushing boundaries to come out with creative and memorable programmes in her work. She was, after all, a marketer with passion. This was evident early on when her enthusiasm inspired people around her to go all out in whatever creative solutions they were executing. If I had to use three words to describe Renee, they would be driven, vivacious, imaginative.

Professionally, these translate into very thoughtful marketing solutions developed for our clients, and the tenacity to ensure programmes are implemented effectively. She has been described as an efficient problem-solver by many of our clients, and it’s really due to her personality and character.

Are there drawbacks to a husband-and-wife partnership? The drawbacks are what everyone else thinks and says. In reality, we agree to disagree at times, but it’s actually a good thing because we are able to learn from each other.

The main beneficiaries are actually our clients, because we always end up giving them the best solutions, which are a result of “thrashing things out” when we have conflicting views.

More than one of our clients appointed us precisely because of our different personalities. They felt they were getting the best of both worlds! Dynamic yet measured, and with an assurance that the partnership will continue.

Reene is the most competitive in our partnership. I have been described as a man of few words, while Reene is the more chatty one.

Renee is passionate and driven, it’s what makes clients fall in love with her, or rather the work we do as a company. It also motivates many of our team members to do more than they thought they were capable of.

As for my motto in the business, it’s “value our clients and charge them fairly, they are the reason we are in business”.

RENEE

We were simply schoolmates with common friends, but nothing impressed or attracted me to Pete. We only met up again years later after graduation and got talking. Honestly, we’re as different as night and day.

Being a couple, he was always the person I would talk to whenever I had issues at work. I realised that he was a stabilising factor, which was necessary since I was always wanting to fly.

Although it was sometimes frustrating (because he’s always pulling me back), it was necessary to have someone grounded. He is also the “numbers” person since that’s not my cup of tea. It may be quite contradictory, but despite being risk-adverse, he also shared my dream of taking a path less travelled.

Giving up a great job at that time and plunging into an uncertain future (I was group communications director of Banyan Tree and left after 9-11 and during SARS, and in the first year of business there was the Asian tsunami – events that all affected tourism), it was fortunate to have someone share the tough journey.

The drawbacks are mostly what others think of husband-and-wife partnerships. I thought working together would mean seeing each other more. But because we manage teams in Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore and Guangzhou, and soon Chengdu, we’re often away from each other.

Add travel on behalf of our clients (to USA, Middle East and Europe), we’re not always working in the same room.

It is actually a positive thing. Some of our best clients see it as great accountability having both of us. They know that feedback to either one of us will be acted upon because there is no “politics among bosses”.

We have very different styles of working, so we are able to operate and service clients who have different needs. Pete services those clients who want a stable approach,. I work with the ones who want, and are prepared to go that extra mile.

Internally, our teams also find it refreshing to have the chance to work very differently. It gives them a kind of variety.

Actually both of us are competitive – not with each other, but for the clients we represent. He promotes Las Vegas, and in that role, he’s always trying to steal the limelight whenever he’s at some industry event. It’s about “living the brand” which he has the creative licence to do.

Even though not all our clients are as “entertaining”, both of us still go all out to market our clients’ destinations to ensure the best results (everyone has a competitor).

Having been together for such a long time, our individual personalities have sort of rubbed off each other. I have become more measured when required, and even crunch numbers when necessary.

Pete on the other hand, often throws up creative solutions for our clients. While we both retain our individuality, we benefit from each other’s experience.

Sometimes I just want to do everything but forget that clients don’t have infinite budgets. Though he “pours cold water”, Pete helps me determine which programmes can give clients the best ROI.

That’s why many of our clients have been with us for years.

Professionally, he is the analytical one who ensures that our services meet the clients’ needs in terms of compliance (a lot are state and federal government contracts) and more importantly he looks at the profitability of the business as a whole.

And my motto? Always do your best, clients will appreciate it.

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