Reflections with Robin Goh

By Adira Chow

Robin Goh is the Group Chief Brand and Communications Officer at SingPost. Robin steers SingPost’s corporate communications, content strategy, advertising, and manages the brand perception of the company. He has a diverse background of experience in communications, having worked in various industries such as Tourism and Hospitality, Aviation, and Healthcare. In this article, Robin shares about his career experiences, from his stints at previous companies including Resorts World Sentosa and Changi Airport Group, to his current role at SingPost. He also shares insights on the communications industry, and offers valuable advice for youths aspiring to enter this field.

SingPost is the country’s Public Postal Licensee, and we deliver up to 3 million mail items a day. Many think that SingPost is simply a postal service. In actual fact, SingPost Group is not only a listed company in Singapore, but a global company as well, with a footprint across 17 markets around the world. Apart from our other last-mile courier delivery service Speedpost, our businesses also include warehousing, logistics, and end-to-end solutions for e-commerce players. Australia is fast emerging as our second home market. 

My team and I serve as brand custodians of the SingPost Group corporate reputation, as well as the individual identities of our various subsidiaries, which also include customer touchpoints that carry the Singapore Post brand – from our 56 post offices across Singapore, to our 800 posting boxes, HDB letterbox nests, and our fleet of 800 vehicles. While I do not take care of operations, mail delivery, or customer service, I work closely with these interconnected postal units, as they are our public touchpoints that affect the brand love of our company. I also manage the look and feel of the brand. For instance, on 9 October last year, which was World Post Day, our team launched brand new uniforms across the Group, including the uniforms of our postmen.

Perception management remains my core skill-set. I manage the group’s external communications – media and publicity – as well as internal communications. I also take care of digital touchpoints including our corporate website, digital app, and social media content.

The ability to serve or add value to the community and to everyday lives. This accounts for my past stints in hospitality, tourism, aviation, and healthcare – the ability to perhaps inject well-being into people’s lives.

With SingPost, serving the community continues to be paramount and an enjoyable part of my work. We are the only company with the capability to physically reach out to every single household across Singapore, and this allowed us to step up efforts by contributing in any and every way possible to aid the community during the pandemic. It is such an honour to be an essential service during this time. 

Yet at the same time, we are not perfect. SingPost is also a company with a long legacy of 163 years, so transformation was and continues to be necessary. Together with the other leaders in SingPost, we continue the transformation journey of the company to be more relevant, not just for shareholders, but even more so, for the community at large.

I remember the old days of faxing press releases (what in the world is a fax machine?), giving editors and reporters follow-up calls, pitching stories, and pleading for my stories to be covered.  The advent of social media, however, heralded a new era of content and self-publishing. We suddenly had our own ‘platforms’ to promote ourselves, our services, our wares. Effective as it was, and just as quickly, the question of authenticity and credibility versus self-promotion was raised. Companies are now challenged to create content that people would enjoy, read, watch, believe and return to. It is no longer just about writing a stellar story. It is also about how you use your channels to augment the information and brand perception that is already out there. 

With that, the role of PR professionals has morphed. We need to adopt new skill-sets. Content, social media, and branding were areas I was not exposed to in university. They were things that I had to learn myself, by going for courses and conferences, reading as much as I could, and learning along the way.  

Even the way we consume news has changed, which again, equates to a change in press engagement tactics. The news industry now faces major disruptions, including how they engage a whole new generation of younger readers and viewers. Likewise, as newsmakers, we have now become storytellers. We have platforms and we create our content now. We need to be able to engage viewers directly, and yet, at the same time, augment our publicity efforts across all other channels.

Covid-19 has made businesses re-evaluate the soul of what they do, and quite evidently, their modus operandi. 

Soul – how they rally towards the community, their employees, and their stakeholders in such an unprecedented time.  For an essential service like SingPost, we return to the basics of what we do – we deliver. To the community. And even more so, during a difficult time. This accounted for many of the campaigns that we participated in, one of which being the Grassroots initiative “Masks Sewn With Love”. SingPost fully sponsored the collection and delivery of face masks to the underprivileged who then faced the possibility of not having sufficient face masks. In a time where people could not meet to pass each other items, we became that conduit, and we realised that our role and our service towards the nation was suddenly so crucial. 

Modus operandi – many have been forced to fast-forward their innovation journey, in every aspect of business, which is all the more important as we go online and social interactions decrease.

I have had many ups and downs in my career. The most recent being the onset of Covid-19, where 11 of our team members got infected. There was also the Movement Control Order in Malaysia, which meant that many of our Malaysian postmen who stayed in Johor and crossed the border daily suddenly could not come to work, or had to stay in Singapore and could not return. Some of them have not been home in 2 years. At the height of it, we had 200 postmen who were either quarantined or infected, and the huge manpower shortage took a toll on us. Yet, the delivery of mail did not stop for a single day. I would say this is proof of our mantle and our service towards the community. 

Personally, during the Circuit Breaker last year, I was absolutely burnt out. We had to drop every marketing campaign, including brand and communications strategies that we had planned six months to a year ahead. The work-from-home situation was also exhausting for me, but I won’t whine about it, considering how blessed I am to still have gainful employment and being able to contribute. Things are definitely better now.

Another recent challenge was the service issues that SingPost faced in 2019, such as the incident of one of our postmen discarding residents’ mail. Thankfully, we are way over that now and our service levels have gone up, but at the time, I was most disheartened to know that SingPost as a brand was not very well-liked by the public. It took time to acknowledge that as an essential service, people do not give you credit even if you are performing well, but are quick to criticise when things do not run perfectly. The operations team has improved leaps and bounds to ensure that our postal service is in fact one of the best in the world, and from a brand standpoint, I am just really glad that we are getting there now. 

Personally, it was also emotionally exhausting to see the company receive so much criticism on social media, especially with some comments being very unkind. For the first time, I had to put out a public reply online, in response to a particularly scathing comment which was directed to all SingPost staff. That was a very trying time for my team and I. When you constantly receive harsh criticisms, you really need to reach deep within yourself to pull out the strength to carry on. You also have to be a little thick-skinned in order to push ahead and continue to do what people expect you to do.

Opening Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore’s first integrated resort, was a big moment for me, especially what it meant – and continues to mean – to Singapore in terms of our tourism offerings. Not only was I in the pre-opening team, but I also saw the whole process of the resort being built – from when it still was a flat piece of land, to having the cranes come in, to seeing rides like Battlestar Galactica and Revenge of the Mummy being built from scratch. That was one of the proudest moments of my career.  

Another definitive moment in my career is at the onset of Covid-19. With SingPost, I now serve the community in a very different way from my past career choices. As a company, we need to ensure that we stand together with Singapore in these trying times. SingPost has stepped up with a lot of programmes across various sectors that needed help, not to mention helping the country as a whole in the collection of TraceTogether tokens and face masks.

Years ago, PR professionals used to be known as “spin doctors” who spun stories that were not always accurate or might not always have substance; there was a bad connotation associated with the role. However, with the advent of social media, content creation, self-publication platforms, and with the influx of influencers, not only has the role of these professionals shifted, but the perception of the profession has also shifted rather positively. Case-in-point: the many tertiary courses catered to this line of work across our polytechnics and universities, where I have met students who are extremely well-trained. 

In today’s “woke” culture, you cannot put out content without substance. I have seen a lot more critical thinking and creativity in our younger generation. This is also in terms of the issues that are put forth, be it racism, LGBTQ+ issues, and anything else that affects the social fabric of Singapore. Communications professionals now are rather well-respected.

Regarding content, I would say: “different strokes for different folks”. Some companies put out content with slapstick humour, and some use Singlish. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. It really is up to their audience, and how their audience reacts to their content. What is “fluff” to someone might be substance to another.

The entire industry has evolved. It is no longer only about writing a good press release and pitching a story to the press, but the youths of today are now able to create, write, produce and execute an entire campaign and make a difference to attitudes and to their immediate audience. And that’s the test of the pudding, isn’t it?

I really miss scuba diving. Holidays are something that I sorely miss, but one thing that Covid-19 has taught me is solitude. I am an extreme extrovert, but I think the pandemic has taught me to appreciate time alone, which is what I relish these days. 

I have a big appetite for pop culture, so I do watch a great deal of TV – Netflix, Disney+, HBO, as well as YouTube. This is personality-driven, but also work-driven. I use these to wind down, but I also use them to observe what is trending and get ideas. As marketers and communications professionals, it is important to know what the current trends are because that is how the industry works. I also like watching advertisements, though many people do not. 

I am quite active, and I swim regularly and gym occasionally. I also entertain – I like having friends come over to my place and cooking for them.

I have a lot of contentment in my life – personally and career-wise. I am very thankful for the friends and contacts that I have made in the industry. We have all grown up and grown old together. I do not regret any decisions, and I am very happy with the career choices I have made. Even with a fair share of crises and low points that I had to deal with in my career, I took them in stride and learned from them. That is why I am not usually frazzled by crises or issues.

For younger people who want to take on a role in this industry: please do! And in the process, make a difference to the world, one person at a time. It is about storytelling and creating content that people will enjoy and connect with. As communications professionals, we connect people. Without this connection, your storytelling has failed. You have to know what the “spark” is, how to conceptualise an idea and put it across. With social media and IOT, it is so much more important to hone your skillsets in areas such as critical thinking, and the ability to execute your ideas, and of course, being ethical doing it. The youths of today have tools like TikTok in their hands. The question is: how then can you tap on these platforms and use them to your advantage when it comes to work, with an end goal in mind? And that’s important too, isn’t it? What is your end goal? To do good for the planet, for a people, for a community. I think that differentiates the good from the great.

Happiness and health. Personally, these are the two main things in life that are the most important to me. Happiness is about well-being – mentally and emotionally. Happiness and health are intertwined, I believe in the adage: “health is wealth”. That is why I am a huge advocate of vaccinations, staying safe, staying clean, and being socially responsible. Happiness can lead to health, and likewise, health can also lead to happiness.

I also believe that happiness is a choice, which is why I have a very positive personality. Happiness and health go hand in hand, and they are probably the two most important things that anyone can ask for in their lifetime. It sounds very simple and basic, but if we search deep down inside, the reason we want to work hard is to achieve good health and happiness and to enjoy life.