Through his two-decade long career in the media and exhibition industry, one principle that resonates with Datuk William Ng is Sun Tzu’s famous teaching in The Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”.
“Sun Tzu taught that to win a hundred battles, you need to know yourself and your enemy, which means your market and the competition,” says the co-founder, chairman and managing director of Singapore Exchange (SGX) listed publisher and awards organiser Audience Analytics.
“If you look at our portfolio of brands and products, that’s exactly what we aim to do — we help businesses to better understand themselves, their people and their market, better position and brand themselves, as well as upgrade their people and processes.”
Audience Analytics was founded in 2002 first as an exhibition business, before adding B2B (business-to-business) media, conferences, business intelligence and business recognition awards to its portfolio.
In the early years, the group became known for its series of career fairs. “We were approached by many companies to organise their own in-house fairs. These could have been ‘quick money’ opportunities, but we decided to channel our energy into developing our own brand and product — which at that point earned only a meagre margin,” Ng says. “As a young entrepreneur then, it wasn’t easy to say no to money. But I think it’s exactly this discipline to say ‘no’ that has helped protect our growth.”
He admits that the last 20 years were challenging but fulfilling. “We’ve encountered numerous crises, like the Sars outbreak, the Global Financial Crisis and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“We’ve seen many of our peers and competitors collapsing during these crises. The fact that we’ve not only survived, but grown in spite of each crisis, is the result of our obsession over continuous improvement and the productisation of our offerings.”
Today, Audience Analytics is transitioning from an entrepreneur-driven organisation to one that is process- and product-led. “That’s why I’m spending over half of my time in product development and enhancing the experience of team members and clients,” Ng adds.
“But it’s clear we can’t let go of the ball. The entrepreneurial spirit that has brought us to where we are today must, and will, remain intact. But at the same time, we’re letting the strength of our products and brands do the talking, and rallying the team around them.”
B2B version of LVMH
In particular, Ng is inspired by French business magnate Bernard Arnault to build Audience Analytics into a B2B version of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — a suite of brands that not only can stand on their own, but are winners in their respective swim lanes.
“This is the basis of our Vision 2030. If we execute well, you will see each of our brands forming their own ‘multiverse’ within their respective industry verticals, becoming the go-to brand to learn, gain mastery, associate and be branded with, as well as form deep industry partnerships within our ecosystem,” he says.
“As an entrepreneur, I’m learning to align our vision with the expectations of various stakeholders, whether they are investors, team members or customers. It is a learning process for us, and I’m hopeful investors, in particular, will be able to trust us and look beyond the short-term to where we will be when we’re done with the roll-out.”
Listed on the SGX Catalist last September, Audience Analytics is an enabler and growth partner to businesses. Through a wide portfolio of awards, exhibitions, conferences, digital and print media and business analytics, the group helps companies in multiple sectors better understand their operations, make more focused decisions and promote their businesses.
The group also organises awards like the SME100 Awards and the HR Asia Awards, as well as exhibitions such as the Malaysia Career and Training Fair. Its publications include SME Magazine, HR Asia, Logistics Asia and Capital Asia.
Over the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for the group, accelerating its digital transformation, Ng notes. “We started our digital transformation in 2019, with the transition of our B2B media into digital-first products. Today, with Covid-19 accelerating this process, our B2B media is accessible not just via print, but also in digital editions and via our numerous websites.”
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One good example is the group’s partnership with Dow Jones to aggregate and distribute its content globally. Its editorial and design teams are now able to work remotely 24 hours a week and 365 days a year if needed.
“We have also retooled our business impact assessments to be fully digital - customers are able to go through our analytics remotely, with minimal or no assistance.” While Audience
Analytics was focused on creating excellent customer experience at all its physical events, it has extended that to include virtual events as a result of the pandemic. Ng says: “The virtual events have proven to be a success during Covid-19, and allowed our revenue to grow 18% between 2019 and 2021 in the thick of the outbreak.”
Expand and deepen footprint
Looking ahead, the group expects its existing markets to continue expanding. “We see robust growth in the average number of participants in our awards, with a 10% to 20% per annum increase over the last three years. We will continue to deepen our presence in existing markets, with a particular focus on our newer markets,” Ng adds.
The group is actively seeking to enlarge its offerings in complementary products through strategic acquisitions, and venture into new geographical markets. It will expand existing awards to new markets, and also tap cross-selling opportunities for new awards.
“HR Asia is one of our key awards that is now present in 14 markets, and attracts participation of thousands of corporates every year, including Fortune 500 companies,” Ng explains.
“There is significant cross-selling opportunity for us to tap on its established participant base to market new awards — like the CXP Best Customer Experience Awards — which recognises excellence in customer experience, and was launched only in 2020,” he adds.
“CXP has only been rolled out in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, and there’s significant room for growth, as it expands within the existing markets, as well as into new ones.”
While opportunities remain buoyant, Ng is concerned about the issue of talent acquisition.
“Our products are unique in the market and highly proprietary. Our biggest challenge is to hire good talent so we can replicate our products in more markets. We’re like a Starbucks — it took us 20 years to perfect our ingredients, and the next 20 years will be about roll-out, roll-out and roll-out,” he says.
“We’re obsessed with deepening our competitive moat through stronger product offerings, wider geographic coverage and adopting an omni-channel approach to our brand-building. We’re well ahead of most of our competitors, but our obsession internally is to widen the gap even further.”
The 45-year-old is equally — if not more — passionate about learning and education opportunities. “Having grown-up in a working-class family with illiterate parents, I’m a firm believer that education is a great equaliser. In particular, I want to inculcate a learning culture among SME owners,” he says.
Having experienced first-hand how difficult it is for small businesses to compete against far larger competitors, including well-funded state-owned enterprises and deep-rooted multinationals, Ng is deeply involved in non-profit organisations and trade associations that champion SMEs and entrepreneurship. He adds: “The hope is that by chipping on this ‘diamond ceiling’ daily, we will be able to create a more equal, accessible business environment for current and future entrepreneurs.”
Listed on Singapore Exchange (SGX Catalist) in September 2021, Audience Analytics is an enabler and growth partner to businesses. Through a wide portfolio of awards, exhibitions, conferences, digital and print media and business analytics, the group helps companies in multiple sectors better understand their operations, make more focused decisions, and promote their businesses. It also organises awards like the SME100 Awards and the HR Asia Awards, as well as exhibitions such as the Malaysia Career and Training Fair. Its publications include SME Magazine, HR Asia, Logistics Asia and Capital Asia. The company website is: www.audience.asia
About kopi-C: The Company Brew
kopi-C is a regular column on the SGX Research website that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on Singapore Exchange. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations