Making the Leap to the States

Three WKWSCI alumni share their experiences and insights on carving a media career in the U.S.

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Every morning, U.S.-based Melissa Chua (CS’09) rides the M57 bus to her office on Third Avenue that overlooks the Empire State Building.

As a vice president at communications agency Devries Global in New York City, the 31-year-old has been handling media accounts for major beauty brands like Pantene and SK-II over the past two years.

Working in the Big Apple was never a part of Chua’s plans after graduating from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information in 2009.

However, a serendipitous turn in her rising career led her to move to the U.S., where several other alumni have also been making their mark in the media and communications industry.

 

​Melissa Chua: From Singapore to New York

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VIDEO: CHEONG WAN TING

 

Diverse and Dynamic

“After I graduated, I wanted to be in advertising. But (finding a job) took so long and I thought maybe I didn’t want to be in the media industry after all,” said Chua.

Chua persisted and landed her first job at Weber Shandwick as a consultant. After a year, she moved over to Devries Singapore where she worked as a senior account supervisor. In 2016, Chua jumped on an opportunity to work at their New York office – a decision she has not looked back on.

“I was at the stage of my career where I wanted a change. I’ve always been game to work in a different country,” said Chua. “I wanted to (work) at the (Devries) headquarters (in New York) because that’s where I can learn from global leadership.”

As vice president, Chua is heavily involved in developing creative strategies for various beauty brands in New York. She works closely with her team to plan and execute PR campaigns.

 

“New York City has a lot more creative ties and creative energy is just at a real high. There are so many more opportunities to network with people across a diversity of interests, fields, and talents.”

MELISSA CHUA (CS'09), VICE PRESIDENT AT DEVRIES GLOBAL

 

Her prior experience with handling big social media campaigns in Singapore, such as the Citibank credit card education campaign “Generation Clear” in 2009, proved valuable as the New York office wanted “the same kind of disruptive and innovative way of thinking to help brands (stand out),” she said.

One of Chua’s most memorable PR campaigns was a street art mural at Wynwood Walls in Miami. Her team collaborated with 16-year-old art prodigy Autumn de Forest, whose paintings have been sold for a combined value of more than US$7 million throughout her career.

Chua added that she appreciates the “diverse and dynamic culture” in New York. “New York has a lot more creative ties and creative energy is just at a real high. There are so many more opportunities to network with people across a diversity of interests, fields, and talents.”

 

Plethora of Opportunities

Freelance filmmaker Edwin Ho (CS’12), who is also based in New York City, shares similar sentiments. “New York is a place where everyone is celebrated for his or her individual uniqueness,” he said.

 

​Edwin Ho: A Singapore filmmaker's journey to the Big Apple

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After graduating from WKWSCI in 2012, Ho went on to pursue a Masters in Film Directing at Columbia University. There, he formed good working relationships with his classmates who were based in New York. Loving the rich collaborative experience, he decided to “re-root” himself to continue filmmaking there.

Now, apart from working on freelance film projects, Ho is also a virtual reality director at YouVisit Virtual Reality Studio where he curates marketing content for clients.

Ho’s latest short film “1056 Metres” was nominated for several awards at the FEST New Directors New Films Festival 2018 in Portugal in June.

 

VIDEO COURTESY OF: EDWIN HO

Actively collaborating with people in the film industry was a key area of focus for Ho at the start of his career in New York. While it took some time to “find and work with the right people,” he managed to build a network of contacts that he could tap on for freelance projects.

While technical skills are important, a successful director in New York also has to “communicate with his talents effectively and respectfully to get the performance he wants,” said Ho.

 

Stepping Up

Working in a bigger market was an initial challenge for Derrick Ho (CS’08), who is a senior product manager at USA Today Network – a digital platform that provides shared content between USA Today and other local newspapers in the U.S.

 

​Derrick Ho: Journey to NYC

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Based in Washington D.C., the 35-year-old works with various stakeholders in the newsroom, business and marketing departments to come up with new products and strategies.

 

“Moving to a larger company meant that I couldn’t just think about one newspaper. I had to think of how to develop products for newspapers that have maybe ten journalists in (a small town like) Georgia, versus in Miami (where there are) dozens of journalists.”

DERRICK HO (CS'08), SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER AT USA TODAY NETWORK

 

He also oversees the touch points with readers, such as newsletters, notifications and alerts, for more than a hundred newspapers. He used to be the deputy digital editor at The Straits Times before moving to the U.S. in 2016.

During his stint at The Straits Times, he was one of the pioneers who helped the newsroom transition to digital journalism, Ho said. He oversaw the redesigning of the website, tablet applications and newsroom workflow.

While his experiences in Singapore are relevant to his current job, Ho still had to learn to adapt to new working environment.

“Moving to a larger company meant that I couldn’t just think about one newspaper. I had to think of how to develop products for newspapers that have maybe ten journalists in (a small town like) Georgia, versus in Miami (where there are) dozens of journalists,” said Ho.

While competition in the media industry is stiff in the U.S., these WKWSCI alumni remain undaunted.

“I try to differentiate myself (from others) with (my) entrepreneurial background,” said Ho. He understands both the journalism and business aspects of the company and is able to “bridge the gaps between both sides.”

Similarly, Chua is “not too worried” even though she acknowledged that there are many up-and-coming young talents in the field. “I just need to stay relevant, and also not be afraid to engage with (and learn from) younger people.”

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