Moving Forward with Print

This piece was first Published in MARKETING MAGAZINE Issue 350

BY LINCOLN YAP

Alex Yeow is the new Group CEO of Star Media Group (SMG) having taken over since March of 2021, just when the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to exert its distressing influence on all and sundry – people, the government and businesses – with lay-offs, cutbacks, closures and the accompanying tumult. 

So, MARKETING Magazine sat down for an informal conversation with the man, a seasoned individual from the corporate world, to find out what his plans are for the media conglomerate as well as to find out what makes him tick. 

With experience gained from corporations like Tropicana Corp Bhd, Guocoland Malaysia Bhd, Malaysian Mosaics, Lafarge Malayan Cement Bhd and Hap Seng Consolidated Bhd, and a tenure with consultancy McKinsey & Co, he came in at a time when SMG had reported losses and was due to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. 

On the pandemic. 

So how did he cope at the beginning when the Movement Control Order was in force and many companies couldn’t function as they normally did? 

With SMG being listed as an essential service, a new norm kicked in and SMG’s system was adjusted, allowing everyone to adapt quickly and effectively. In spite of constraints at the beginning, Alex said that it gave rise to a new way of doing things – from virtual meetings with punctuality as a natural offshoot, saving time spent on travelling, and on to outstation staff working from home as a future possibility. 

SMG celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021

“Today, Star Media Group (SMG) employees are given the freedom to work flexibly, which helps make SMG an attractive workplace and preferred employer. 

Even those travelling are able to work virtually – when necessary – giving rise to greater flexibility and empathy with a digital lifestyle. 

In between the differing MCO periods, we were still able to go back to the market and engage with clients. And at the end of the first MCO we had our 50th Anniversary celebrations on-ground – something many appreciated after the lockdown,” Alex said. 

“The pandemic was hard on businesses but it forced us to find a new direction, to re-strategise. It wasn’t all about operations – it was about the team, a new spirit and motivation. This way we could stay ahead of the curve.”

Alex Yeow, Group CEO of Star Media Group (SMG)

On his current role as head of a large media organisation. 

“Coming from different industries, and from senior roles, I’ve learnt that having a good product is a fundamental requirement. The Star in itself is a great brand and one that is well-established. However, with digital disruption and the new norm, we had to readjust The Star’s business model and strategy to maintain its value proposition and to ensure that it continues to remain relevant. If strategy and the business model doesn’t work, it’ll require a lot of hard work to make it (the business) profitable,” Alex emphasised. 

“Print media had a problem when digital and social media became ubiquitous. So it comes down to strategy and the business model,” he repeated. 

“That’s the first part,” Alex said. The second equally important part is the bottom fundamental – people. To believe in them and to bring out the best in them were key. 

“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. It is easier to focus on the strength of our people and build businesses around them and complement their weaknesses, instead of trying to fit people into the wrong area of the business,” he shared.

On the future direction of SMG 

“For the short term, sustainability of the group  depends on innovative marketing strategies, improved targeting, and accurate segmentation to boost revenue. However, long term sustainability of our media business is reliant on having quality content. 

Alex said that if you showed the client – advertisers – exactly where their ads would be directed, and how, this proposition would be an added value for them. 

After all, in the media industry, he had to be always conscious of his responsibility to all stakeholders. There are, essentially, the shareholders who look to a return on their investment, and partners, clients, employees and the society. To each of these we anchor ourselves differently,” he shares.

On his idea of management 

Alex believes in people. He says he’s convinced that SMG comprises a lot of good people across the different areas of business, with the right mindset that makes a good team and able to bring in the best results possible. 

At SMG, there is a core executive team that comprises of Alex, along with four other individuals who have vast experiences and in-depth knowledge of the media business: Sam Au, Group Chief Financial Officer; Esther Ng, Chief Content Officer; Lydia Wang, Chief Revenue Officer and Terence Raj, Senior General Manager for Group People.  

Stemming from this group are the heads of the various departments and sections that run the day-to-day business and operations of SMG.

“When I first came to SMG, a lot of people had left due to various factors so there was a need to motivate people. There were two motivating factors that we focused on. The first was job security to grant them peace of mind. This in turn allowed them to focus on their tasks at hand. When they are able to focus on their work, they will be open to accept new challenges and develop new working styles. 

Secondly, rewards for jobs well done. Ultimately, with better productivity comes better results. When we come together as a team to produce results that bring returns to our shareholders, we are then able to benefit and share the rewards.”

On the ESG question.

“At SMG, we don’t say a lot about ESG. We don’t say we do a lot for the environment, but we can play a role in influencing others.” Alex said that as a media company, SMG is able to act as an enabler for other companies in their own ESG efforts. 

With periodic pullouts focusing on ESG, environmental and the like, he pointed out that companies, associations and other interested parties would wish to associate themselves with content highlighting pertinent issues that they care about. They can then also utilise our platform as a means of highlighting their own achievements and efforts in the ESG space. 

New products 

SMG is also focused on evolving new, relevant products to meet market needs. The latest, launched on 20th October, is a Malay language newspaper called Majoriti 7. It focuses on an upmarket lifestyle for the urban Malay segment. 

Alex was particularly pleased of this as they had managed to get clients on board without any of the usual niceties advertisers expect – like circulation or expected circulation, no mockup, no content preview or demographics. The product is well received by clients who want to promote their brands directly to their target audiences.

“How did we do that? We focused on the unique positioning of the product and audience segmentation. Once that was in place, we then focused on the client, the advertisers. The main value proposition is around content that brands can associate with, with topics such as lifestyle, food, and fashion. At the moment, there’s no equivalent product in the market,” he smiled. 

Aside from Majoriti 7, there are a number of other products in the pipeline for SMG, all tuned to adapt to the new digital era, instead of following the traditional way of doing the media business. 

“I foresee more consolidation in the business. It’s a question of the last man standing – for those still there, there will be greater profitability.” 

“So ultimately, our vision is to build a cohesive, resilient and highly motivated team – one that can do any business,” he declared.

Alex Yeow is a believer in people. Coming to SMG, his management style of interacting with people of all levels works well. Being able to entrust the operational work to his team, he is able to focus on strategising. 

In his interactions, Alex focuses on how to get things done rather than explaining why things can’t be done. “In the early days, we had gone through the ‘forming, storming, norming and performing’ process in strengthening the team. 

I asked them to live with the ambiguity of the direction we were to take as no one could really know how far we can go. And if we don’t act, we’ll never move,” Alex said. 


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