Options: Congratulations on your recent promotion to managing director of Priority Communications, one of Malaysia’s most respected names in public relations. How does it feel transitioning from account executive to director, then general manager and now the top post?
Karen Lim: I am honoured to step up to the role and grateful to Priority’s board for the opportunities and guidance throughout my career here. I appreciate how the company places great importance on developing and raising leaders from within the organisation. Stability and low turnover at the senior leadership level are key to ensuring consistency in the quality of our consulting work and service to clients. I am pleased to say that 26 years on, Priority has established a solid senior leadership team and cultivated long-term trusted relationships with clients, the media, collaborative partners and stakeholders.
You started as an account executive in 1999. What have been some career highlights?
I will never forget my first pitch; the process of preparation for the big presentation, the coaching and training from our founders, the excitement of winning the accounts and, eventually, the time we took off as a team to celebrate our successes. Every step is sweet and the many repeats of this process are never taken for granted.
Priority is also one company that recognises and rewards loyalty, giving out long-service awards at five-year intervals. Having worked here for 23 years, I have received the LSA four times. Each milestone allows me time to reflect, giving me a deep sense of gratitude, satisfaction and pride of ownership in what we do ... that we are all working towards building a better future through communication.
What advice would you give young people looking to succeed in this industry?
Be passionate and enthusiastic. I am not referring to working round the clock; that’s not healthy. But go the extra mile and be proactive in learning and understanding the client’s businesses. Doing so helps you grow quickly and cultivates the ability to “think out of the box”. Hone the ability to anticipate the needs of clients, colleagues and management. The individual should then see success come sooner than later.
But what have been some of the greatest changes you’ve seen and weathered?
Technology is a really dynamic space and Priority is one of the few local agencies to have built a solid tech practice over the past two decades. Our founder and executive director, Elaine Chuah, recognised the opportunities in the sector at the time and established the agency as a consultancy that specialises in ICT (information and communications technology). In our early years, we were servicing the world’s biggest brands in tech and communications, including walkie-talkie and mobile phone manufacturers, the world’s largest and fastest chip maker and a range of hardware and software solution providers. From there, we progressed to include clients from the dotcom era and innovators of consumer electronics. Then came cloud computing, fintech, data analytics and AI technology. Today, Priority is proud to represent renowned names like Dell, Samsung, LinkedIn, Stripe and Grab.
What about lifestyle and luxury — are these also key pillars of Priority’s work?
The industry has grown exponentially and we believe it will continue to thrive. Collabs and branded pop-ups will continue to excite the market. We see the opportunity to connect brands to a larger agenda, one that is intentionally designed to inspire, educate and empower. We have spent 26 years helping brands shape their narratives and bringing their stories to life, but we should bear in mind that shaping narratives should not just be about telling a brand’s story but also help foster meaningful and authentic connections with the audience.
How do you juggle a demanding career and family?
I am thankful for a great support system and blessed to have my parents care for my children, especially in their early years. Priority is also a company that believes family always comes first and understands the need of every individual to provide for and protect the family. When the family’s needs are taken care of, everything else falls into place. Also, Priority is like family to us. Hence, we would do everything to take care of it.
Frequenting new F&B outlets is a passion of yours. Would you have any recommendations to share?
This passion came about when the coffee industry saw its first disruption. Independent roasters joined the scene and paved the rise of Malaysia’s café culture. That was when my café-hopping weekends began.
Then Covid-19 struck and I saw how it affected our neighbourhood joints. My husband and I then made it a point to support our local cafés frequently. There are many good ones, but the following five continuously reinvent themselves, innovate their menu and/or successfully maintain high F&B standards: Basil Pasta House, Sushi Mastro Nikkei, Afloat Coffee Roaster, Tommy Le Baker, and Sunday Coffee & Cakes.
How do you relax after a hard week’s work?
Just chilling with the family and watching a series (or two) on Netflix.
What are you reading right now?
The Invasive Kingdom by Philip Lyn.
What are you listening to right now?
Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush. It’s quite fascinating to see a 1980s song given a new lease of life, all thanks to Netflix’s Stranger Things.
What’s your travel list looking like for the second half of the year?
Still very much ‘Cuti-Cuti Malaysia’ with the family and then to Phuket for the PROI (Public Relations Organisation International) regional summit.
Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
Sampling a new café in town, catching up with my sisters over at my dad’s place and cooking for the family.
This article first appeared on Aug 8, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.