RMIT Alumni Magazine: The leadership issue
How did you establish your sports marketing agency in China, Prescient?
It’s funny, it was actually an RMIT professor who gave me with the idea of returning to work in China. He said, “Choose a market close to your home town, but make sure it is big enough.” I figured Hong Kong would be too small, so I must go to China. It turned out be to pretty good advice!
After graduating from RMIT, I built a strong foundation working in advertising at Leo Burnett China for five years, before moving to ISL, [International Sports and Leisure Ltd], where we were the exclusive marketing agency for the top sporting events in the world, like the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games, as well as for top events in Asia, like the Asian Games and the Chinese national football team. After ISL closed, I started my own business, Prescient.
Why is international sport becoming more popular in China?
China got its first Olympic gold medal in 1984, and by the 2012 London Games we achieved 38 gold medals. After 30 years of growth, China not only sustains a strong growth in sports, but has also achieved breakthroughs in international sports like swimming.
We want other nations to understand Chinese culture better, so we need to communicate with a global audience through sport and many other areas besides the economy. Sport is one of the key supporting pillars for this new era growth.
You’ve worked on some of China’s biggest sporting events and were named RMIT’s Outstanding Alumnus Award (International) winner earlier this year. Why do you think you’ve been successful?
The nature of my business is actually relationships, beyond sports and business skills. People think I’m running a sports business, but actually I’m networking and helping clients with better marketing or business through sports and entertainment.
I know a lot of really good people in the sports and business world across different continents. I leverage relationships well with my English, my Mandarin, my Australian education, my thorough experience of the Chinese market and my trustworthy Hong Kong business practice. I use this to connect to the international sports businesses in Europe particularly. I have partners in Europe, the US, South America and so on. People always refer me, they say you go to China, you find Priscilla.
“In a developing industry and country like China, we need a lot of great leaders to unlock the market potential and bring China to the world stage.”
What was it like working on the Beijing Olympics?
One of my proudest moments was working on the Beijing Olympic Games. Firstly, Prescient helped with sports marketing consultancy for top Olympic partners. We guided Chinese and international companies from contract negotiation to sophisticated sponsorship management.
Secondly, we debuted the Olympic stadium sponsorship platform for all three major Olympic stadiums in Beijing, including the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube.
Thirdly, we helped three brands sign with gold medal Chinese national Olympic teams as exclusive partners. That sponsorship funding allowed the Chinese swimming team to hire top Australian coaches, which helped them to win their first Olympic gold medals in our history.
What are the challenges of working in China at the moment?
After China’s rapid growth in the last 20 years, our Chairman of Central Government urges us to change from “Made in China” to “Created by China”. But our education builds hard-working staff with little creativity, which is different to Australian education. This creates opportunity for independent, creative Australian students who are willing to accept the challenge of working in China.
In a developing industry and country like China, we need a lot of great leaders to unlock the market potential and bring China to the world stage.
Why did you choose to study in Australia, and why marketing?
I am very inquisitive, I love to question. I struggled early on in the Chinese education system because traditional Chinese teachers don’t like too much questioning. My parents urged me to learn good English and get my degree. So I figured I would study abroad.
I chose my career in marketing at the age of 18. I analysed my strengths, weaknesses and interests by mapping it out in a piece of paper, together with research into new job trends in the classified section of the South China Morning Post. I chose Australia due to its sunshine and reliable university education, and I knew about RMIT from an education exhibition in Hong Kong.
What enabled you to study at RMIT?
Coming from a limited family, I could only save for one year’s school fees after I had worked for two years prior to my study abroad. My part-time cleaning work could only support my living costs in Australia. Fortunately, my brother suggested to me to apply for a scholarship from the Hu Xin Foundation during my first summer holiday visit in Hong Kong. I’m really grateful for that scholarship, it really gave a poor student like me the means to continue studying. It was a big turning point in my life.
Now Prescient provides internships to students – how do you show leadership to young graduates?
The students we take as interns are very smart and creative, and they bring innovation and a fresh look for us, particularly in new digital technology. I try to bring them a lot of different skills by exposing them to the whole business process and assigning new projects to them. I even take them to client meetings and involve in brainstorming and idea generation. It doesn’t matter that they don’t have experience yet. I think when you’re young you must be willing to take on challenges, you will learn from them. In Chinese slang, we say, “Giving out before taking in”. There is a big space for growing and challenging in China if you have passion and persistence to pursue your dream.
What was it like being awarded RMIT’s Outstanding Alumnus Award (International) earlier this year?
It is a real honour to be selected. I think it is fair to say RMIT empowered me for all my accomplishments during my last 21 years of working in China.
It’s been a long journey for me from a poor child living in a box-like government apartment to a happily married businesswomen living in a comfortable villa. From a part-time cleaner to a billion-dollar deal maker. From an average student in Hong Kong secondary school to becoming an Outstanding Alumnus at RMIT. However, I couldn't have accomplished all this without help or guidance from a lot of people along my life’s journey. In Melbourne, I particularly need to thank my two home-stay families, Jean Tsao and Kitty Law, who let this homeless stranger stay with them.
Thank you RMIT for giving me this award. Now I aim to help students through my networks and skills in China, which is my way of giving back to the university and society as well.
Top: Priscilla Ho in Swanston Street, Melbourne, after being named RMIT's Outstanding Alumnus (International) for 2014.
Above left: Priscilla is the founder and CEO of Prescient, a sports marketing agency based in China.
Photos by RMIT alumnus Michael Whyte. Michael is a freelance commercial and fashion photographer based in Melbourne and Sydney.
Background image: RMIT’s Swanston Academic Building.