Born and raised in Brussels, Chloé Reuter relocated with her family to Hong Kong as a teenager, in 1993. She began studying Mandarin at school and from then on, she says, there was “never a question” that the language—and Asia—would not be part of her life. Reuter went on to study Chinese and Japanese at Durham University in the UK, spending a year at the People’s University of Beijing during her course.
That Reuter would have a serious career, too, was a given from an early age, although before moving into PR she spent some years fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a TV producer and reporter, working at Reuters Tokyo (the name is “pure coincidence”, she clarifies), Bloomberg TV Tokyo and Channel 4 News in London.
“My mother has always worked and she is a real role model,” says Reuter, who founded Reuter Communications in 2010. “I’ve got a great education and its always been a case of: ‘I can do what any man can do and why shouldn't I be doing that.’” Her company now represents luxury brands from Harrods and Aman to Sotheby’s, and recently finalised a strategic alliance with the Singaporean lifestyle and travel communications agency VIM & VIGOUR PR to extend its footprint in south-east Asia.
Here she describes her climb up the ladder from rookie TV producer to CEO.
Growing up in Hong Kong you don’t have the opportunity to do wacky things like newspaper rounds. I don’t think I even did babysitting. My first paid job was during the year I spent studying Chinese at Renmin University in Beijing in the 1990s, where my pocket money came from teaching etiquette skills and basic English to staff at a new five star hotel. “How would you like your eggs?” was a crucial lesson. I also interned during a summer with Newsweek, and then with Merrill Lynch for two summers in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Early career in journalism
Producer/reporter - Reuters Tokyo
My final Chinese exams at Durham finished about four weeks before the graduation date but I was so desperate to get back to Asia that I didn’t even wait for my graduation ceremony. I was reading the Economist Magazine on the plane to Tokyo and saw a job posting for financial news writers; that turned into my first job. A few months later a chance meeting with Reuters TV (the director was another Durham University graduate) gave me an opportunity to join the company as a producer. TV news had always been my dream. One of my goals was to be a war reporter like Christiane Amanpour, the CNN reporter, and working at Reuters TV was a fantastic learning experience. I was by far the most junior person there and I loved the fast pace. We focused on financial news, so there was pressure to get up to speed with a completely new industry.
Producer/Reporter - Bloomberg TV Tokyo
I made the switch to Bloomberg just after Reuters shut down its financial TV operations. I worked on a three-hour daily programme that went live at 7am and it was even more gruelling in terms of hours, with 4am starts every morning of the week. One thing is for sure: in TV news you develop grit and I’m still a morning person to this day. But team spirit was high and the role was great for hands-on experience, learning to multi-task and type super-fast. You also needed to develop real charm and persuasion skills to get potential interviewees to talk to our anchors about the central bank of Japan lowering their interest rates—or whatever story it was. I learned not to take no for an answer.
Producer - Channel 4 News, London
Moving to Channel 4 News in London after two years at Bloomberg was not a big change in terms of the job, since TV news is quite formulaic. My biggest challenge during this time was that I lacked all the cultural and historical references needed to tackle local news assignments in England. I felt a bit like I was from outer space, particularly being sent off to the Houses of Parliament to do a report and having no idea who anyone was. I focused on foreign news, but it seemed senseless to report on China without being there “live”, especially after investing so much time and energy into learning to read, write and speak Mandarin. China was calling me back, so it was time to pack up and head East again, this time to Shanghai. Since my first visit there in 1997, I had fallen in love with the city. Now, I was determined to move there and make a success of it.
TV to PR: DDB
I arrived in Shanghai by myself on a cold wet January day in 2005 with a suitcase and a dream. I began knocking on doors, calling CEOs at companies I admired, and (luckily) I quickly found some exciting opportunities. I decided to join a TV start-up, which was a lot of fun but fizzled out a year later when it ran out of money. Then I met the head of DDB China, an advertising agency, who offered me a job as a Corporate Communications Manager. I wanted something more stable for my career after a lot of moving around and the job married much of my experience within one role.
DDB was completely new to me, the first time I’d ever worked in an agency. I was the CEO’s right hand and my role was essentially trying to make DDB famous in the media: I spent a lot of time on the phone to Campaign trying to get into the awards and so on.
I had two children during the four years I worked here, and was able to go part-time after the first. I had a very understanding boss but I do think that working mothers are multi-taskers. Even part-time we’re seriously productive because we have to be.
THREE THINGS I'VE LEARNED
Branching out alone: Reuter Communications
After my second child was born, I decided I wanted to go it alone and founded Reuter Communications in 2010. I had always wanted to be my own boss and foolishly thought that it would enable me to have more time with the children.
The business idea was simple: there was a gap in the market to help luxury brands in China with their PR and communications. There were so many brands entering China and I really thought I could do something to help them. Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. I think everyone who builds a business makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them and keep going. Do I have regrets? Not at all, though I do wish I had had more relevant experience when I started. Building a business alone is incredibly tough and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. You are wearing every hat: getting business, keeping business, managing the finances—I definitely didn’t have a lot of the skills required and for years I didn’t even have a business plan. Today we have two offices, employ 35 people and we work with some of the most celebrated luxury brands out there. If someone had told me this five, or even three, years ago, I’d have said ‘no way’.
China is an amazing place to be a entrepreneur and particularly a female one. It might be the fact that I can be very stubborn, and being able to read and write Chinese means it’s hard to pull the wool over my eyes, but I don’t think being a woman has ever affected me here. It’s a very egalitarian business world. In China, “women hold up half the sky” after all. One of the things I’m most proud of now is that we are a Chinese success story: there aren’t many of those.
Chloé Reuter will be speaking at the PR360 Asia conference in Hong Kong on June 6, 2017.