Yangmin Zhao isn’t new to the US’s highly competitive marketing landscape. Today she is the Founder and CEO of her own boutique agency, Noon Creative, and was formerly the PR director at Genesis Brand Management. It’s an impressive career trajectory further reinforced with over eight years of experience in PR and Marketing in the hospitality and lifestyle industry.
She eventually found her success through taking a holistic and tailored approach to assisting smaller brands build their profile from scratch while gaining national momentum. More specifically, she opened the door for many contemporary Chinese brands to come to the US while helping them stay relevant to their target market.
As the world of business goes though, not everything is smooth sailing. Today Zhao reflects on how her agency scored the biggest win in its history while also revealing how she successfully pivoted in the midst of the pandemic to keep her business afloat.
Humble beginnings in PR
Zhao’s business began like most inspiring business stories would – through humble beginnings.
“I was helping out my friend’s new opening restaurant with my PR skills in 2016. It was going so well that other restaurant owners in the neighbourhood began reaching out to me because the word had spread.”
And what was the talk of the town? Zhao had managed to earn 60 media placements including one in the New York Times for the restaurant in the first six months.
“The biggest win in our agency’s history was when we signed on a very important client after winning against a much bigger agency with decades of experience.”
“Due to high demand, I quickly established Noon Creative and recruited more young PR professionals to expand our PR capacity. Fast track to 2022 and Noon Creative has helped over 30 small to medium hospitality brands create awareness among the diners via national and international media placements,” she says.
Her biggest win was yet to come though.
“The biggest win in our agency’s history was when we signed on a very important client after winning against a much bigger agency with decades of experience,” she proudly reflects.
“We had two months to pitch the client’s new opening against the competitor agency simultaneously. During those two months, we went out of our comfort zone and used every resource to secure as much coverage as we could, including reaching out to my high school senior whom I hadn’t talked to for years just to see if she could fit the opening into her broadcast story.
“We also relentlessly researched every journalist and tailored our pitch according to their topics of interests. After two months of sleepless pitching, we secured twice the amount of coverage than our competitor. Our agency was just over two years old. It felt like the biggest victory in my career.”
Weathering a global economic storm
Going into business for oneself is never smooth sailing even at the best of economic times. At the worst of times, say during a global pandemic, the challenges can be so dire that businesses could shut up shop in mere months. Zhao and Noon Creative were not immune to this.
“We almost went out of business in 2020. Covid hit and restaurants were closing. We lost most of our retainer clients,” she admits.
Zhao wasn’t ready to accept fate just yet though.
“If we didn’t pivot successfully, we might have ended up having no new clients for months, not making any revenue, and not being able to pay our employees.”
“We quickly pivoted and started reaching out to other industries that might be benefited from Covid and lockdown – such as delivery apps and e-commerce brands. People couldn’t do anything but shop online and order food from home, so we reached out to those companies who were quickly growing and needed PR services to stand out from their competitors.”
It was this quick thinking that saved Noon Creative and bought Zhao some time to adjust to the new economic climate. It was also a move that came with its own risks.
“The biggest risk we took was reallocating all our resources away from hospitality clients to serving e-commerce and app clients at the beginning of Covid. If we didn’t pivot successfully, we might have ended up having no new clients for months, not making any revenue, and not being able to pay our employees.
“Luckily, we successfully signed a six-month contract with a national food delivery app who was at the intersection of our specialty and a goal client. Working with them gave us and our portfolio more boost and made it much easier for us to reach out to other apps and e-commerce brands later on.
Lessons learnt from success
With the darker days of the pandemic behind them, there’s only reflection left when it comes to seeing how far Noon Creative has come against insurmountable obstacles.
If Zhao could do it all over again, what would be the one thing she’d do differently?
“We would focus on lifestyle e-commerce brands in the beginning,” she says.
“Even though Covid accelerated shift to e-commerce by five years, people were already going to shop more online for everything they needed in their life. We think e-commerce is the future. So the sooner we could partner with these brands, the faster we could grow and make more impact in society.”
And if she had an extra US$100,000 to grow the business, where would she invest it?
“Being an AAPI female founder, I understand the harsh reality that women have to face when growing their businesses. If I had an extra US$100,000 in my business, I would partner with a local non-profit organisations and allocate that money and my resources to help AAPI female founded businesses with my PR and marketing expertise.
“A lot of female-owned businesses provide great products and services, but the owners might not know how to market them. With my PR skills and the investment, it would make a great difference in helping them survive the most crucial early stages of business growth.”
Noon Creative is a creative agency with strong capabilities in consulting, marketing and press relations. It is the only boutique PR and Marketing agency in NYC with a specialisation in Chinese-related hospitality companies focusing on delivering Chinese culture effectively to the American market.