Event planning and public relations are integral parts of the marketing industry. Both aspects are entire disciplines under the umbrella of digital marketing, and take skill and experience to do well. Planning events and staying on top of media relations is demanding, often requiring dedicated managers to keep on top of the many tasks and resources that come with it. You might say it takes an expert marketer who lives for event planning and PR alike.
In this month’s issue of the Marketing Expert Series, we meet one of those experts. Michelle Chan has more than 20 years of experience in international event planning and management and PR. The Director of Event Planning and Public Relations for the Carat Comms Event Management organization for the last 15 years, Michelle is an extremely skilled marketer, focussing on beauty pageant planning and self-confidence. Join us on this rare opportunity to dig into the world of event planning and public relations and see it through Michelle’s passionate eyes.
Welcome to the Marketing Expert Series, Michelle, thank you for taking the time to share your insights and experiences with us today. I’m very excited to have you join us for this issue! Can you tell us a bit about who you are and how you got to where you are now?
I am an event planner. I like working in a structured environment and executing tasks step by step. My passions are really about all things related to beauty; I believe the beauty industry is everlasting and always in fashion. It is human nature to be attracted to beautiful things and beautiful people and it’s a universal law that products marketed and promoted by beautiful individuals sell.
In the beginning, I started as an event organiser for shopping centres and community services. I began organising beauty contests for the local Lions Club’s charity programme at the national level, after that, I slowly graduated to full beauty pageants, and evolved into organising international beauty contests in Malaysia and overseas.
I am especially grateful that business associates or companies from overseas trust me to handle their entire event planning project locally or out of the country. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not because of these open doors and opportunities.
You have a lot of experience in the world of international event planning, marketing PR, and media – more than 20 years, I understand. What drew you to this line of work?
At heart, I love the planning work that goes into projects. I enjoy the feeling of fulfilment and a sense of achievement after the completion of a project or event. It also helps that I like making new friends and meeting new people.
In event business, I get to meet people from all over the world and with all sorts of backgrounds, skills, and industry experiences. The result has been to broaden my horizon and my exposure to the world.
When I started as an event organiser, I never expected to venture into public relations and media, let alone social media marketing. The nature of the event management, however, is such that you realize quickly that you have to learn about event publicity, and engage with a wide range of media including organising media interviews, press conferences, media launches and the like. As time passed, my experiences grew and I picked up the skills and knowledge I needed to really master this area of expertise.
Your passion, as you explained it, is for event planning and talent management. You’ve been the Director of Event Planning and Public Relations for Carat Comms Management for 15 years now. It is my understanding that you are a founding member? Tell us about the work that Carat Comms does? What is it all about?
Carat Comms Management is an integrated marketing company that provides services in the event, PR, and content planning across different industries. We create PR campaigns through online and offline activities to engage with the customers such as media interviews, media planning, and social media advertisement media buy. We also offer event productions in different styles and themes to match with their brand image and so promote brands and grow their business effectively.
We have worked with businesses from a wide range of industries including lifestyle, property, beauty, fashion, accessories, F&B, skincare, retail, e-commerce and luxury brands. Apart from the local market here in Malaysia, we also receive regular enquiries from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Middle East, to mention a few.
Just so it’s out there, I think many people around the world have only a vague understanding of beauty pageants. Are they really only about popularity and ‘who’s the prettiest’ or is there more to it?
This is a common misunderstanding, there’s certainly a lot more to beauty pageants than meets the eye! It is a total package that makes one person stand out. The look, personality, communication skills and most importantly the heart. Beauty is inside out but not just skin deep. Community contribution is an important part of our judging criteria. During the judging, the beauty contestants have to present their community services portfolio to the judges.
It’s not every day that we get the opportunity to speak to someone so integral to organizing events like this – I think a lot of us don’t fully understand what it takes to organize and run a pageant (or any other event on a large scale). What sort of challenges do you face with event planning of this nature?
I think the greatest challenge is how you manage the human relationships – these intangible resources that require maintenance and care as much as any tangible assets. Fostering good human relationships is fundamental to our business because we work with people. In this line of work, I have to deal with many parties ranging from suppliers and vendors, sponsors, media for contestants, VIPs, sometimes I even have to handle the contestants’ parents!
As a result, it’s vital that we foster good relationships with all these parties and build trust so we can get things done smoothly. I am very grateful to everyone who has put their trust in me as their leader, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get things done effectively and efficiently and I would not be where I am today.
Is there any specific marketing or PR strategies that you have employed over the years that you find to be most effective when spreading awareness about events?
The marketing strategies that we use largely revolve around building publicity through multiple channels. It really depends on the nature of the business or events and their target audiences, but generally speaking, we will select the most suitable media channel to reach out to. In the past, we focussed more on mainstream media, nowadays, however, social media marketing also plays an important role in the marketing of events.
What is it about event planning that you are most passionate about? Is it the people or the energy or something else entirely?
For me, it’s the people in each of the events, projects, or programmes. With each event, we get to work with different people from different industries and learn new things from working with them. I always look forward to new projects and the new challenges that come with the different themes, structures, and people. I’ve discovered that a new project and new challenges inject new energy into me that keeps me moving!
Of course, Carat Comms isn’t the only work you do nowadays, is it? You are also the Director of Marketing and Business Development at the Gurkhas Group Facility Management. Can you share a little about the work you do there?
The Gurkhas Group is a Hong Kong-based facility management company that expanded to Malaysia in the year 2019. Gurkhas Malaysia focuses on providing commercial cleaning services. I am the local director and founding member in Malaysia in charge of business development for the Malaysian market.
How does the work vary between Carat Comms and the Gurkhas Group? Is there any overlap between the roles?
My marketing skills and entrepreneurial experience gathered in Carat Comms helps in establishing growth and business development for the Gurkhas Group. The overlapping part is really in the marketing and leadership skills.
What’s great about these skills, particularly marketing and digital sales skills, is that they are applicable across different industries. Good leadership skills, of course, are essential for any business. It’s why I am always looking for opportunities to learn and grow to improve my leadership quality.
On top of that, I understand you’re also a ‘Certified Image Grooming Consultant’ at Colour Me Beautiful. What exactly is a ‘Certified Image Grooming Consultant’? What kind of work do you do in that role?
I train people, especially career women, on personal grooming, to focus on how to build a professional image and essential etiquette in their career development. I cover makeup, dressing, social/business etiquette and run a ‘walk in high heels’ workshop to build up the body posture and poise. I’m a big believer that if you look good, you will feel good and confident. Grooming is essential nowadays in order to look outstanding and to convince people you can bring them value.
I can’t imagine it’s been an easy time in event planning this last year. Has COVID-19 impacted your work and the strategies you’ve had to use to overcome the challenges?
Covid 19 has seriously affected our physical events. As you can imagine, all our in-person event planning has been stopped and is pending since the beginning of 2020. I have tried to pivot to virtual events but found that it lacks the impact and grandeur of physical ones. Many of our clients, however, have shifted to online and digital PR, and as a result, we moved on to provide strategic PR planning and campaign solutions for them.
Are there any event planning trends – like virtual events, for example – that you think will continue to impact the event planning process and industry after the pandemic is under control?
Some business events will be partly or totally changed to online events. People have become used to these changes, and it does improve the event’s reach – virtual events are easier to get to, after all.
It will depend, however, on the nature of the event! Not all events are effective online or virtually. This is especially true for entertainment and experiential events; the online impact is not as great as the physical event where people get to experience the impact of the ambience of audio, visual and the stage show. On top of that, it’s human nature for people to connect face-to-face; people are getting bored meeting online in the long term during the pandemic period. As a result, I believe some events will return to the physical after the pandemic is under control.
Any advice you’d give to young and aspiring event planners or marketeers?
Be creative, resilient, and work very hard to collect hands-on experience. Be still and calm in any circumstance and always have a backup plan for any event you are planning.
Be tech-savvy: keep up to date with the latest technology in marketing and content creation. Marketing trends change daily, if we stop learning we will be left behind and get replaced by younger generations who are tech native.
Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences with us, Michelle! How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you?
Please connect with me via