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Media and IR veteran recalls events surrounding The Edge Singapore's launch

Lai Kwok Kin
Lai Kwok Kin9/2/2021 11:44 PM GMT+08  • 5 min read
Media and IR veteran recalls events surrounding The Edge Singapore's launch
It has been nearly 20 years since Ho Kay Tat, called to share his confidential plans for the launch of The Edge Singapore.
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It has been nearly 20 years since Ho Kay Tat, a friend and former colleague, called to share his confidential plans for the launch of The Edge Singapore. I was surprised. I had known Kay Tat since the early 1990s, having hired him as my deputy in the Reuters Malaysia news bureau in Kuala Lumpur which I headed from 1988 to 1993 (before I left for a stint in equity research). Through the years, Kay Tat had progressed from pure editorial roles to managing media organisations, and is today the publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group.

See: Liberalised media scene opens up unique role for The Edge Singapore

But a new English-language financial weekly in a crowded market such as Singapore? That would pit the upstart against established names such as The Straits Times and The Business Times, the entrenched mastheads of the mighty Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

The Edge Malaysia had grown spectacularly since its launch in 1994 with its refreshing reportage and insights into the complex — and at times, bewildering — corporate scene there. Surely Singapore was a much more challenging media market due to its tight media dominated by SPH. How would readers and advertisers respond to a new brand with a new format — a glossy, tablet-size weekly that would reach homes or newsstands each Friday? Would corporate leaders, having digested daily news over the work week, have the appetite for a fresh weekend read after a round of golf?

But Kay Tat’s team was confident it could replicate its successful formula here. They needed some help, though, as his senior editors were being relocated from Malaysia and

were not familiar with the Singapore corporate scene.

Hence, for a few months before and immediately after the launch issue of March 4, 2002, I acted as consultant, helping to provide insights into Singapore-listed companies and contacts among corporate leaders and research analysts. I met up regularly mostly with Tan Boon Kean, the soft-spoken Penangite who was regional managing director and editor, and Oon Yeoh, a high-energy technology enthusiast who was associate editor.

We discussed emerging corporate issues and news ideas, and identified personalities who could be interviewed. The press conference to announce the paper’s launch was a bit of a challenge, as the main target media to reach out to would be the very publications that The Edge Singapore intended to compete with. The launch party — attended by corporate and media personalities — was held at Asian, a French-style restaurant-and-bar operated by Tung Lok Restaurants at the iconic Old Thong Chai Medical Institution.

Nearly two decades on, The Edge Singapore has somehow overcome the odds and is an established media brand. But the business media landscape has altered as dramatically as the local corporate scene.

Investors are more educated and more knowledgeable. But they no longer just look for value plays in the Singapore equity market. The flood of listings in the early 2000s of China-based corporations — or S-Chips — and the subsequent accounting scandals or irregularities scarred retail investor confidence. Many now seem to prefer the yield and relative safety of REITs or business trusts. Others, including a new breed of tech-savvy younger investors, are clearly looking beyond Singapore and eyeing technology stocks or even “meme stocks” in the US market.

Compared to the early 2000s, Singapore business media has also tilted more towards personal finance and property. On the one hand, it reflects growing affluence among Singaporeans — who have one ofthe highest per capita incomes in the world — amid a surge in private banking activity. On the other hand, it reflects Singapore’s endless love for property. Not surprisingly, these two sectors have found advertising support.

The media faces an intense challenge to remain relevant as the likes of Facebook and Google continue to gnaw away at print or broadcast advertising revenue. Digital advertising revenues of local mainstream media have yet to make up what has been lost to the Internet giants. Remarkably, SPH is in the final legs of restructuring its once-dominant media business into a not-for-profit entity.

At the same time, readers’ attention spans have shrunk dramatically. Telling any story — business, sports or lifestyle — is intensely challenging. The audience needs an ever-stronger reason to go past the headline or opening paragraphs, whether online or in print. Corporate leaders, business editors and communications professions alike have to search constantly for new angles and, increasingly, to learn how to handle podcasts or video messaging to engage audiences.

More than ever, in a digital age flooded with information and content at every turn, newsmakers and the media must answer the one question every reader or viewer asks subconsciously before he or she flips the page or swipes the smartphone: “Why should I care about this story?”

Lai Kwok Kin, a former journalist and research analyst, is founder of communications agency WeR1 Consultants

Cover image: The Edge Singapore

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