Quick Fire Q&A with Sophie Toh, Founder, TOH
Tell us about your PR firm; how does it differ to the other PR firms that operate in Dubai, and in the UAE and wider Middle East?
Of course. TOH is an award-winning consumer communications firm with its headquarters in the UAE. We’re very much a product of the region in the sense that our services have been shaped by the realities of a fast-growing and fast-paced Middle Eastern marketplace. Hence, we are focused on impact and measurable results, turning insights into content and leveraging this through as many technology and media channels as we have access to, or feel are relevant to the client in question. I think this gives us an interesting edge in that clients really feel listened to and that our campaigns are accurate responses to pressing business needs. This approach allows us to offer value by being a leaner and more flexible alternative to other marketing costs and also ensures we can clearly demonstrate a positive influence to the bottom line of a business. We are yet to be described as slow, or unaccountable, which I think is a good thing.
Can you share some of the firms on your client roster?
We are incredibly proud of the calibre of the clients we represent and the length of our partnerships, especially for a relatively young, independent firm. A few names include Air bnb, Boom Supersonic, Ferrari Middle East, Monte-Carlo SBM, Savills Middle East, Phillip Morris International, Skyscanner, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and Value Retail.
What have been some of the firm’s most notable achievements – and what can we see on the horizon for your firm over the next 12 months, and beyond?
I think a key achievement for me has been given the chance to grow the company to a mid-sized operation in eight fast-paced years, without external investment or the need to take on debt. We are now a team of 35, with just over sixty clients. We are not currently motivated by growth in terms of numbers, but I’m actively working on expanding our reach with a network of partnerships in Saudi Arabia and the UK; two markets I’d like to see us formally move into over the next 12 months. We are also always driven by a curiosity towards improvement and love to keep challenging ourselves. We always like to say our best campaign will be our next campaign.
You are at the helm of a successful PR firm; can you give us a snapshot of how you got to where you are today?
I started out as an intern, as I’m sure so many other PR professionals did! I was in London and pestered my boss at the time to give me a full-time role after two weeks, which she did, I’m sure as much to her surprise as mine. I then made sure I ran with all career opportunities presented to me whilst holding junior positions at two London based firms; Brunswick Arts and LUCHFORD APM. Here I was able to learn from the best and I also put myself forward to gather great experience in new business pitches, which has served me well when setting up on my own. I moved to Dubai in 2009 and TOH was founded in 2011, originally with offices in London and Dubai. I can’t say I ever had a dream of running my own PR agency, but I definitely always wanted to push myself and have generally been more afraid of the thought of not giving 100% and being my very best, over the idea of trying and failing.
You are the best judge of your capabilities and strengths and the type of environment and role you need to put yourself in.Sophie Toh, Founder
When did you begin your first foray into public relations?
I’ve always loved to work and I think my first PR role was really at university, when I used to help my business-savvy friends promote various nightclubs and lounges, which involved picking up on whatever tasks needed supporting, from marketing to sponsorship. I was also a proud promotions girl and happily took any job offered to me – which involved dressing as a milkshake and walking the streets of Islington dressed all in gold… happy days! I jokingly maintain that my role hasn’t really changed since. Those early moments definitely taught me the value of hard work and the satisfaction to be gained from working alongside like-minded, entrepreneurially driven colleagues.
Tell us about your day-to-day role now? What does 24-hours in your life look like?
It’s fast paced! This month alone I will travel from the UAE to KSA, London, India and Japan and I’ve just come back from a packed week in Geneva, London and Monte-Carlo. Whilst I’m away I also stay on call with my Dubai clients, which can mean long days. Happily, I’m not afraid of jet lag and know how to eat and sleep well to keep up my energy levels. When not travelling and Dubai based, my day starts at 5am with a gym workout, before taking my short commute to the office at around 6:30. I like to spend the first few hours of the day quietly working on strategy and business-related items, before the real day kicks-off at 9:30am or so. I then have a clear head and diary to spend the day fully immersed and present with my team, my clients and in new business meetings until around 7pm. After that, I like to get out and network at one of Dubai’s many social occasions, or attend any number of the events that we produce as an agency. No matter how busy, I also try and decompress at the end of the day with a tea and a chapter of one of the books I have on the go. I’m lucky that I sleep well and my health is good, so it’s a routine that seems to work for me.
What does the next 12 months, five years or even ten years hold for you? Can you share some of your career – and personal – ambitions that you would like to achieve over the next decade?
I would like to consolidate my UAE office and ensure that we remain a strong player in the region, working with the best clients we can and attracting the highest quality of motivated PR talent. I’m keen to explore opportunities in the Saudi market and also develop our client rosta back in the UK, as I think that Brexit presents a strong opportunity to work with UK based brands needing to widen their marketing efforts outside of Europe. I have big plans, but day to day I’m keen to ensure I keep breaking my ideas down into actionable steps, so it’s a question of keeping focused on the small details, with the aim of reaching the larger target. That’s the idea anyway!
I’ve also been invited back to my old high school to give a talk on entrepreneurs to the female students, which is something I’m really looking forward to, as I’d like to develop my passion for passing all that I’ve learned – the good the bad and the ugly, onto the next generation of females. I think it’s valuable to contribute knowledge in any way that we can.
Any words of advice for those starting out in the field?
Follow your instinct and be brave. You are the best judge of your capabilities and strengths and the type of environment and role you need to put yourself in. Once in a good place, remain hungry and humble and always remain open to feedback. A career is definitely a journey – there are moments you will feel like you’re achieving success, but remember that it’s OK to feel as if you have a long way to go. We all do, and whilst it’s not always easy, there’s joy to be found in consistently committing to something that you love.
This Q&A was published with PR Week Middle East, you can view the article here.