Mark Lee: We are addressing the thirst not the drink 23 June, 2020


Corporate events make up a big part of Malaysia’s business events revenue, especially high-end events by major national corporations and MNCs. A highly sought-after creative event producer among the corporates is Hot Shoe Show & Co Sdn Bhd, or HotShoesAsia as it is better known.

This week we spoke to Lee Mark, the Chief Operating Officer of HotShoesAsia  to find out how he and his team are handling the new normal. We also wanted to know how business is faring for HotShoesAsia, and attempt to get to the root of some industry chatter.

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If you could have predicted the imminence of COVID-19 striking the industry in December 2019, how would you have prepared HotShoesAsia for it?

HotShoesAsia clienteles are mainly bigger corporates in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) MNCs and we are blessed with the opportunities in serving them for years. We have different business streams to keep us going year-long, generally in the B2C and B2B segments, the corporate marketing needs, activation (Go-To-Market), MICE (inbound & outbound), social media to influencer marketing, strategies to tactical and creative development to name a few.

Amazingly, our clients are divided on how to react to Malaysia's Movement Control Order (MCO) due to their need to reach the market to increase their presence or share-of-voice in the marketplace. Some are adamant to continue their efforts – either on social media platforms or physically, whilst some prefer to wait-and-see or listen to the government directives.

Thus, if I knew earlier, I would have asked them to hold their events in January or February this year! Or we could have used different approaches to achieve the same objectives.

How did your team react to working from home during the MCO?

As an ISO 9001:2000 and OHSAS 18001:2007 compliant organisation, we have always believed in knowledge and increasing skill and attitude before experience, better known as KSA. Our team has always practiced transparency and clarity. In recent times, we have held Town Hall meetings every two to three weeks to keep our team members in the loop of our strategic direction and we have always promoted outcomes rather than job descriptions.

In a recent poll of our team after the government relaxed the MCO, we had close to 90% preferring to return to work in the office. A task force was created to look into the hygiene protocol, social distancing, and contact tracing to ensure the safety of our team. We decided to allow a staggered and on-need-basis to return to the office. The decision was made with consideration to the impact on productivity, as well as the sense of togetherness as a team because we are a people-orientated business. Laughs. Makes me wonder sometimes.

Given the 50+ team members, housed in a 4-storey building with hot-desking and no organizational chart (using only functional reporting), what are your social distancing measures when your team comes back to work?

We are operating floor by floor and are rotating teams based on their functions or projects at hand. The commitment of the team goes beyond just adhering to the protocol established; they have committed to ensure that others also follow suit. The dedication of the team is remarkable. Their understanding of the situation and their commitment to help the organisation get back to on its feet is unshakable. It warms my heart.

Let me take this opportunity to thank all my teammates – Thank You for being with me! 

Being one of the most sought-after Event Production companies in Malaysia and having been in the business for 34-years, what are your key focuses now?  Will you change the line of business for HotshoesAsia?

Sought-after? Laughs. I don’t know about that. I know we have our fair share of the business and we are grateful to our clients who have given us continuous opportunity to work with them and deliver good work to meet their objectives. We have built a committed friendship with many members of the industry through the years.

We will have to evolve. We will ride the wave and not change our line of business. We will have to adapt to the new situation and be relevant in the current market condition. There is a limitation on how much and how fast we can re-skill our team members. Many of us have had to reSCOPE and our strategy is to reLEARN, rePURPOSE, and reINVENT ourselves.   Internally, we are focusing on Add, Minus, Multiple & Divide; where we desire to be a leaner and more efficient organization.

Previously we have already digitised our events. Let me explain. We are still a client-centric organisation, we make a conscious effort to understand our client objectives, their internal business dynamics, and their culture. We are very result orientated; hence we add value to them. We have augmented reality, virtual reality, gamification, and event applications embedded in the consumer journey. We were even in the process of digitising our business process.

Today the buzz word is “virtual events”. It actually means using IT or technology to run or manage the event with a reduction of physical engagement due to the public gathering restriction. Our focus is only on our existing clients as they have been loyal and appreciative for so many years.

This is our time to give-back.  We will stick with them and ensure their objectives are met in times like these. 

Let’s take an example of one of my clients who has consistently been organising Open Houses with an attendance of 2,000 guests. With this post COVID-19 lockdown, we would be engaging with perhaps 4,000 target audiences at half the expenditure using our concept “Digitising Events,” which utilises a variety of online and social marketing tools. We just have to be much more creative than usual! Our team is encouraged to use the Blue Ocean strategy when developing alternatives.

I could give you more examples, but I am not here on a sales pitch. What I can tell you is we will achieve bigger goals using different approaches with less investment. We are addressing the thirst not the drink. We have created 11, as we speak (and many more to come), initiatives that we are sharing to our clients to help them increase lead generation, acquisition, conversion, and retargeting as sales is priority for now. All of which will be according to their present and/or changed objectives.

Regardless if it's a physical or online event, engagement with either the industry or consumer to bring about trade will spin the Malaysian economy.

Have you hosted any such events recently that you can share with us?

We are hosting YOLO Happy Hour, a talk show catering to youths from 20 different universities.  Among the guest featured were high-performance coach Dirt Coetsee, former Miss Malaysia like Gabriella Robinson and Yvonne, and professional emcee Lee Julie Voon, and Simone Heng, a human connection specialist.  Moreover, on the first and third Thursdays of each month, we will also have a student or an alumnus of a specific university to share their own growth.

This is part of HotShoesAsia’s CSR effort as we believe the youth today will be the leaders of tomorrow. We need to inculcate a high-performing culture rather than grooming a task-orientated workforce or nano-entrepreneurs. Our objective is to create a healthy community that the youth can go to for knowledge and capacity building. We also have a segment for job opportunities. Our content is designed to resonate with our target audience as our end goal is to empower the youth to run the whole show eventually. For the people by the people.

Another show in the pipeline is “Malaysia's Best” featuring people, products or brands that have done great in the eyes of Malaysians and the world. This initiative is to highlight and bring forward great successes of individuals or groups to inspire others. Keep a lookout for this in the months to come.

What and when will your first event be after the MCO? What prompted the event owner or you, to hold it despite the circumstances? How will you run it?

The first few will possibly be in July 2020 – a private, close-door event and another activation program. We are advising the clients to limit the invitees and perhaps only use up a portion of their budget. Laughs.

You’d probably ask me how I can do it. We have great partners turned friends in our supply chain as we have impressed on them to work together and meet half way to ensure our clients survive.

Some of our clients need to continue engaging their audience despite the pandemic to ensure brand sustainability. It will be a mashup of what we offered in the past together with present ideas to ensure participation and engagement. What we did with YOLO Happy Hour is one example of achieving an objective in a simplified manner.

You were appointed as the Vice President (Events) of MACEOS last year.  Do you think MACEOS is truly representing the interest of all the members and the industry? How has MACEOS championed their causes especially since it was reported in the MACEOS newsletter on 27th March, 2020 that MACEOS is asking for 30 - 50% venue subsidy to be given to Professional Event Organisers (PEO) only?

In my opinion, MACEOS has done a lot for the industry.  Like the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. An association is a non-profit organisation where industry players volunteer their time and money to serve.  If there is a fault, then it’s because the 80%-20% rule applies. Laughs

We just had our online meeting with the Bank Negara Malaysia working group yesterday to seek more financial support and assistance for all members to capitalise the RM 1 billion fund allocation for tourism and business events under PENJANA Tourism.

To your question on subsidising venues instead of contractors, the strategy to push organisers to hold any events during this challenging time is not a fiscal decision alone. For the ecosystem to work, different types of events need to start. We all know the biggest costs are venue, A&P (marketing), and production for any event. 

Let me give you a real situation.  These are the circumstances: event organisers’ cost of organizing events will increase significantly with the social distancing measures, hygiene, and contact tracing. By having subsidy on the venue rental, which is seen as transparent, this will encourage the organisers to hold the event. In doing so, everyone on the supply chain would have a chance to do business. 

It is also important for us to take note that the organisers are both realistic and practical.  For scheduled events that are postponed or cancelled, all marketing expenditures and deposits paid in advance, which may or may not be refunded or deferred, are essentially not recoverable. This is a financial strain on organisers.

Jack Ma of Alibaba has said "For people in business, 2020 is really just a year for staying alive. Don't even talk about your dreams or plans. Just make sure you stay alive. If you can stay alive, then you would have made a profit already.”

Apart from being in the current committee, I was also in the committee for two terms. I have seen much honest traction in this committee under the stewardship of Dato’ Vincent Lim.  Continuity is vital. We want to keep the positive momentum as John C Maxwell famously quote “Business with momentum solves problems”. Dato’ Vincent’s commitment and willingness to invest his time is remarkable.  

I hope the members can see that we are doing all we can. MACEOS has created the I.D.E.A pillar: Innovation, Development, Education and Advocacy to the government, stakeholders, and members. Can you imagine how much work is there in store?

MACEOS was integral in initiating Business Events Council Malaysia to group related associations so we can stand as one in the public and private sectors’ impression. 

We need to drive this message out!  Members come and help us help you!

We’ve known you as an outgoing individual.  Is there something the industry does not know about you?

I’m actually a private person and keep many secrets … haha … I am a God-fearing person.  With the work I do, Jesus provides me that weight to balance my life. He keeps me grounded.  I will continue to “do what is possible and let Him do the impossible”.

My teammates tease me every time and all the time when asked ‘What Is Your Superpower?’

My answer is BELIEVE.

I believe Malaysians will raise up to the challenges every time. I believe the BE industry will prevail when we stand together!