When it comes to leading a strategic communications company, many might think that the ones at the helm tend to implement a convoluted formula for success, or a complex strategy to ensure effectiveness, but sometimes that isn’t usually the case, especially for Maverick Indonesia, one of Indonesia’s most prominent public relations and communications agencies.

For Ong Hock Chuan, Maverick Indonesia’s co-founder and managing partner, there is no exciting secret or formula to successfully lead an agency like Maverick. Instead, he only emphasises that leading is not an easy task, in which he stresses that one must simply lead and work with meaning and fulfilment.

“When my partner and I started Maverick in 2002, we were disillusioned from working with a multinational marketing communications group where they paid lip service to its people but worked them like they were cogs in a money-making machine. There was also a lot of emphasis on praising busyness, which never resulted in any impact to the client’s business”, said Ong when he recalled the challenges that he faced as a leader.

Realising this, Ong, alongside Maverick Indonesia, decided to make a shift towards changing how they operate, prioritising principles that allows their employees and teams to do meaningful and satisfying work.

A different perspective in finding meaning

In applying meaningfulness to everything that they do, Ong says that they always strive to explain why whatever they were doing was meaningful to them and their clients. However, this only sounds great in theory since clients can be unpredictable and it can sometimes be hard to get anything substantial from what they demand.

To get something out of these situations, Ong explained how it can still be seen as meaningful, since the work done within it will lead his team towards developing their skills to prepare for the time wherein work can be substantial.

“With this principle in mind, 80% of the work you do is unlikely to be very meaningful, but it keeps you in play and offers you a chance to hone your skills and achieve mastery in the art and science of PR for that 20% of the time when the right client comes along. And then, Bam! Great fulfilment as all that you’ve learned comes together in work that makes a real difference to the client’s business”, said Ong.

Knowing and cultivating agency values

Aside from meaningfulness, Ong also focuses on the importance of knowing their own value, and being good enough to match the standard associated with it. In this regard, Ong also says that this value also has to demand respect from clients in order for teams to achieve proper results.

“If we are good enough, we should expect the respect and treatment that comes with being a professional and a strategic advisor. We try our best but if clients are disrespectful or unethical we walk out on them. Life is too short to languish in a toxic relationship if you’re out to make a difference”, Ong remarked.

In improving their skills and value as an agency, Ong also talked about the principle of being creative in all that they do, combining clever ideas with a sound strategy to deliver quality work.

Expounding on this, Ong shared, To flesh out this principle, we spend huge resources in time and investments to give consultants the knowledge and tools to be impactfully creative. We run internal courses all the time that touch on systems vs inductive thinking, behaviour science, the Trivium of classical education and ways of coping with new technology.”

Success through attaining balance

Lastly, Ong puts the spotlight on the importance of balance, as Maverick Indonesia allows for employees to pace themselves in work, as well as to get a life outside the office as they can perform effectively as consultants if they have the networks as well as the rich and varied experiences that only a life outside can bring.

“One way we encourage this is to offer those who have worked for us for a year a Persona Development Fund, that is usually equivalent to a month’s salary, to travel somewhere they haven’t been before or to learn something that has nothing to do with work”, Ong specified.

Talking about these principles, Ong commented, “Implementing these principles has helped us build Maverick to what it is today but it wasn’t easy. There have been many times when they seemed not to yield any results, times when we felt that they have not contributed an iota to our ability to retain staff. During bad years we wonder if they unnecessarily sap our energy from more direct money-making, client-acquiring efforts.”

“But we stuck with them because we felt that they were our salvation from running a meaningless money-making machinery. And I’m glad we did because Maverick today has, through much trial and error, managed to train and grow a new generation of leaders ready to take over the helm and take it to what we hope is the next level”, he concluded.