Category Archives: Alumni Stories

Sara Firouzyar

Q&A with Sara Firouzyar, who joined Gong as a Senior Account Executive and an early hire in the finance team, working predominantly on private equity clients. Sara progressed to Account Director before leaving to live and work in South Africa for just over a year. Returning to the UK, Sara rejoined Gong as financial services lead. She finally left the agency in 2020 to join CDP – a not-for-profit that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts – as Global Comms lead for the Capital Markets Team.

How did we first meet you?

I had been working at Maitland but was looking for a new role and was introduced to Gong by a recruitment agent. I knew immediately during the interview process that Gong was somewhere that I would be able to make a difference. I loved the team, and at that time, the agency was small enough (I was the fifth or sixth hire) that I knew I would be given significant client exposure and responsibility.

What was it about Gong that appealed?

Beyond my colleagues – who are all lovely – I was attracted by the clients. They were predominantly emerging markets focused, with a strong narrative around the transformative power of capital. I trained in corporate law but have always been drawn towards companies that make a positive impact on society, so communicating these stories within the private equity sector sat very nicely within my skillset. I was pleased to be able to bring my legal knowledge to our professional services clients too, which included law firms among them.

What were your highlights from working at Gong?

How long have you got? I loved the team – even as the agency grew, the supportive culture has never changed. Everyone is approachable and it is a very collaborative environment. Despite the various client team focuses, there are no silos or obviously-felt hierarchy. I think this stems from the agency ethos of supporting clients that want to communicate their positive impact on society. It is an ethos that runs to the core of Gong and all of the (very diverse) team that works there, meaning that everyone is pursuing a common goal.

Another huge highlight of working at Gong for me was the opportunity to travel, particularly to Africa. Working with clients and journalists on the ground in other countries gave me a new perspective to communications that I wouldn’t have had in another agency.

Also I think Gong’s flexible working policy was a huge boon. We were well ahead of the curve in pursuing this and it’s still a highlight for colleagues today. That and the corporate benefit of finishing work early on Fridays in the summer!

How did working at Gong help to hone your career interests?

Certainly it cemented my belief in the positive outcomes of capital flows when invested responsibly. And without doubt Gong’s sustainability focus had an impact on my choice to extend my career within the environment sector, and ultimately in the capital markets team at CDP.

What does your role look like now?

I work for the gold standard in global environmental disclosure systems, which pioneered using the influence of capital markets to drive corporate environmental transparency and action. It’s a fascinating area, especially as we see increasing corporate commitments to reduce carbon emissions and pursuit of net zero. We are all aware that climate change presents significant risk to the economy – so much so that last year, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans to make climate risk assessments mandatory, in line with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), for large swathes of the economy by 2025. I’m pleased to be working for an organisation that supports capital markets actors to understand and manage their own climate-related risks and impact, engage meaningfully with their portfolios and make more informed financial decisions. Not only will this help with meeting net zero goals but ultimately move towards a more sustainable future that works for people and planet.

At CDP, I am responsible for designing and delivering the comms strategy for the capital markets team with the objective of mobilising investors and financial institutions to enable transition to a net zero economy. No day is the same, but I’m used to that after working at Gong!

Sara Firouzyar is Global Communications Lead for the Capital Markets team at CDP, a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. CDP is backed by over 590 investors globally with over $110 trillion in assets.

Sally Maier Yip

 

Q&A with Sally Maier Yip, who joined Gong as an Account Manager in 2011. She left three and half years later to establish her own agency – 11K Consulting – which focuses on supporting Western luxury clients with their success in Chinese markets.

 

How did we first meet you?

After moving to the UK from Singapore it took me some time to establish my footing in the UK PR scene. While I navigated the differences between the two markets, I initially freelanced for Gong. To my delight, a permanent position came up and I was offered the job – I had already decided that Gong was an agency that shared my values and I immediately accepted.

What was it about Gong that appealed?

I immediately felt at home at Gong. Yours is a culture that was very reminiscent of the agencies I had worked with in Singapore – professional yet personal, and very international. Work that was not just UK-based definitely appealed to me.

What did you bring to the business over and above client service?

At Gong, everyone’s individual experiences are celebrated, no matter what your title is or position you hold. During our company away days and ‘best practice’ team learning sessions, I was frequently invited to present on the differences and opportunities of the Asian markets – helping and advising colleagues on cultural nuances that would make all the difference to a client pitch, for example.

What did you get from your Gong experience?

Undoubtedly, Gong helped me to build my career in the UK. You provided me with a solid foundation to understand how UK professionals work. I was given confidence and knowledge to advance to the next stage of my career. Also, by working on the global agribusiness, Olam, for three years, I really honed my global communications skills in several countries. I gained a profound respect for sustainability issues and food security and was proud of the work my clients did.

What skills did you hone at Gong?

I learned to deal quickly and calmly with important issues that could affect a global business. I learned the significant importance of planning and scheduling – if you are going to be effective across multiple time zones and with multiple stakeholders in one global business, you have to be on top of absolutely everything. This lesson has been invaluable when building my own business, but also in running my family alongside it!

What advice would you give to someone looking for a new comms role?

Look hard at the people working in the agency already. Do they feel like a good match for you? Do they share your values? A good agency will have staff that embodies its values and so people speak volumes.

Did working at Gong help crystallize what you wanted to achieve in your career?

Gong gave me the confidence to try new things and understand what clients really need. That was absolutely instrumental as I chose to set up my own agency and return to my Chinese heritage, enabling Western clients to ‘win’ in Chinese markets through personalised communications. I also deeply respect Narda (Gong’s MD) as a role model – someone able to integrate work with personal and family commitments.

And now?

I’m so proud that I am still in touch with Gong even after six years since being a colleague. I feel that we are able to continue to support and nurture each other – working at Gong is a real legacy position and I’m delighted to still be – to some degree – part of the family.

Sally Maier-Yip 叶运珍 is Founder & Managing Director of 11K Consulting 漫一传播咨询公司 , the UK’s leading China PR and comms agency specialising in helping Western brands target and attract Chinese high-net-worth-individuals, luxury consumers, and investors in the UK, China and HK. 


11K’s clients are in the high-end property development, interior design, architecture, and luxury lifestyle sectors, including: The Royal Institute of British Architects, HBA Residential, Burlington Arcade, Park Chinois, Lustica Bay in Montenegro, Remy Martin, and more. 

 

Sarah Nicholas

SARAH NICHOLAS

Q&A with Sarah Nicholas who rapidly progressed from an Account Executive to an Account Director in just 4.5 years at Gong. She left to finish her Masters Degree in Environment and Development and now works for DEFRA as a Senior Policy Advisor.

How did we first meet you?

I saw a job ad on my university careers page at Oxford for an Account Executive position, but by the time I’d got in touch, you’d already hired someone. I had a coffee with Frankie (former Head of Ops) and we kept in contact and next time a role came up, she got back in touch to see if I was still interested.

What was it about Gong that appealed?

Before I started working, I interned around the world. I did 3 months in Uganda working on a water and sanitation project and 5 months in Mumbai working with an education charity. I’d also been to Madagascar on a gap year. I came back to London to do a crisis management internship and was hired. That’s where I was almost a year later when you got back in touch. Africa and sustainable development were a big pull. I also liked the fact that although Gong was relatively small, you talked about giving people plenty of responsibility which would stretch me and enable me to prove myself more quickly.

What was your formative experience of Gong?

The global agribusiness, Olam was the most formative account I worked on. It was challenging in terms of ways and speed of working and the big international thorny issues that it deals with related to global food security and sustainability. I also really enjoyed the Economist events, they were good fun to help publicise and exposed me to so many different people and topics in a really short period of time.

What did you bring to the business over and above client service?

I met Sara Leedom when we worked on the Oxford Said Africa conference where she was one of the organisers. After she graduated, she invited us to a launch event for her initiative, The Africa Entrepreneur Collective (which was based in Rwanda). She had a lot of MBA students doing summer placements and volunteer mentors from big 4 accountancy and consultancy backgrounds, but she hadn’t got anyone with communications experience which was relevant for her cohort of entrepreneurs. Sara and I worked on a proposition which I brought back to Gong, that we would send someone out to be a communications advisor as part of our CSR work. And luckily for me, I was the first person to go.

What did you get from that experience?

I arrived in Rwanda when they were in the middle of their first international expansion. I was thrown in the deep end by being flown to Tanzania to train a group of people without any time to prepare. It ended up being a blend of PR 101 and media training. Everyone recorded a short intro on themselves and I taught them how to engage with a camera. It was a confidence building experience to swim, not sink in that situation. 

Where else did you travel for work?

I went back to Madagascar for a client, on what felt like a flying visit and a very different situation. We were expecting to deliver a strategic comms workshop with a new CEO and top team, but when we got there, we realised the real challenge was generating internal buy-in and culture change for the CEO’s new direction. We flipped our approach on the hoof and invited the wider management team in to co-create the new comms strategy and branding. It was challenging because only one person had English as a 1st language, and for the majority, it was their 3rd language and none of them had comms experience.

What skills did you hone at Gong?

I learned to think on my feet, be flexible and change tack if necessary. I also learned about people and cross-cultural collaboration; without shared experiences, you have to engage and get people on board in other ways. My time at Gong helped me develop emotional intelligence (EQ) and resilience. I honestly think it gives me the edge over my civil service background colleagues in what I’m doing now. Also, uncertainty and a constantly changing backdrop is part of being in a small business where things happen quickly. I’m comfortable with change now that I’m working in the context of Brexit where you can’t write a new script fast enough before the political situation has changed again!

Lessons learned?

I need work to feel challenging but I have learned how essential it is to be able to really switch-off regularly. The downside to being a lynchpin in a company where you have wonderful responsibility is that it can be sometimes be hard to focus on other things.

Did working at Gong help crystallize what you wanted to achieve in your career?

I found stuff that I could spend hours getting lost in that would probably feel dense and dull to 95% of people, like food security and the link with water security, REDD+ and agro-forestry.

Career-wise, I had the opportunity to speak to really interesting people and had a reason to be in the room at events that would otherwise have been behind closed doors. I got to see the inner world of business and gained an understanding of the nuances of things that can otherwise seem pretty black and white.

Most unexpected experience?

Sitting in a hot tub at Soho Farmhouse post Christmas dinner with my colleagues! Didn’t expect to be doing that through work!

What’s been your legacy?

Introducing Gong to the B Corp movement and leading the business through certification is still my proudest career achievement. I think it took us 18 months from the first conversation to certify Gong as a B Corp. Every time I see a post on social media I have a smidge of pride that it’s going so well.

Now that I’m working in an enormous organisation, I can see the impact you are able to have in a small, nimble company and the fact that you can actually change things as an individual.