The topic on race is a rather sensitive one in markets such as Singapore and Malaysia which has a genetic DNA make up of a number of ethnicities. Most recently, triggering a conversation on race was content creator Tina Amir, who goes by her handle Tinadestruit on TikTok in Singapore, who shared her experience of being dropped from a campaign because of her race.

While Amir, who has worked with brands such as Shein, Swisse, Tagespresso, Vitalsheild, Similac Total Comfort, and many others refrained from sharing the name of the brand or the PR agency who put her in a rather uncomfortable position, she mentioned that the client was a Korean skincare brand. The brand, through its PR partner, reached out to her for a paid campaign, only to later pull back given her race didn't fit the target profile they were looking for.

Amir explained that the PR agency then made a caveat stating, "Oh, but we can fight for you because you're a fair [skinned] Malay" to which Amir declined to respond. This then saw the agency coming around the next day asking if she’d still like to be a part of the campaign for free. "So long story short, because I don't have a Chinese name, they wanted me to work for free," said Amir. 

The video saw many netizens urging the content creator to go public with the name of the company, to which she declined due to the “risk of being sued” while adding that the “company does have a bad rep”. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has also reached out to Amir.

The conversation also saw popular content creator Preeti Nair (Preetipls) sharing her own experience of being dropped off from cosmetics brand’ PR lists, despite these brands being known for “inclusive marketing”. According to Nair, it's "just a bad idea", especially when such cosmetic brands are known for inclusive marketing tactics and preach diversity in its product lines.

The video also brought to the surface the role of PR agencies, and the power they hold to influence change. With many PR agencies often acting as the go between for clients and influencers, it is understandable why they bear the brunt of the unhappiness. Having to execute a tough client’s demand under time pressure can also leave many young executives in the industry unsure as to how best to counter questionable client requirements.

Nonetheless, with the conversations around diversity and inclusivity now being at the forefront, agencies must take a tougher stance, say industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to. 

Under the condition of anonymity, one PR agency founder who works with many lifestyle brands shared that her agency has been very open in countering client campaigns that doesn’t have the right representation or are non-inclusive in nature. “We won’t put out any campaign that doesn’t have representation or isn’t inclusive today, because to us, that’s simply not advisable for a brand, and I wouldn’t want my company to produce such work. We have a strong stance on this within our team,” she said.

She added that agencies, working with brands on their public-facing image, would be irresponsible to not advice clients on being authentically inclusive, and featuring a diverse cast. She added that it would be a “flawed and narrow perspective” to feature only a specific target audience, even if a brand’s core audience is of a specific race.

“I think this is what would also make the brand attractive to your target audience, to show that the brand has universal appeal.  It is so important that they, as clients leading the marketing for a modern brand, celebrate and uphold diversity, especially if they’re a market leader,” she said.

Agencies must also educate clients, by giving the real world examples from top brands, from luxury, jewellery, fashion which are all extremely inclusive in their marketing campaigns, she added. “This makes any brand attractive and multi-dimensional - which then makes it inspiring to any target audience, globally,” she said.  

At the end of the day effecting a change in the client's mind set is an ongoing challenge, but one PR consultants must embrace. Edwin Yeo, GM of SPRG explained that most marketers look at sales data and decide what works for them from a marketing perspective, and given that PR executions in many markets are seen as a subset of marketing efforts, PR teams might feel the push to align to the overall sales and marketing tactic at the risk to the overall reputation.

Yeo added:

It would do brands well to remember that the PR function is much bigger than that. Its primary goal is to engender trust in a brand, and to build corporate reputation.

He shared that the client needs to always be advised on the right move to make, to ultimately earn the trust of the customers, which then translates to long term business sustainability. He added that within the PR functions,

Currently, there is too much dependency on sales data to create content, without layering in the impact of long term brand building tends – which is what causes this myopic behavior.

“I don't like to criticise other PR agencies, but in this case, if what the influencer said was true, then the agency will have to bear the brunt of the blame as well. This is not something an agency should ever do,” he said. “While we are here to service clients, our key role is to ensure that clients say and do the right things, and then we help communicate it properly. It would seem that the staff within the agency failed on all counts in this incident,” he shared.


According to Ogilvy’s recently-launched Influence Trends 2022 paper, today 38% of consumers are more likely to trust brands that cast diverse people in their ads - and this can't be a one-time effort. It has to be an always-on practice. Breaking it down further Emily Poon, president, Asia, Ogilvy Public Relations, added that driving diversity, equity and inclusion at the workplace is not only critical for brand reputation, it is also good for business.

Brands need to be inclusive across all they do - from leadership ratios, employment practices to the personalities and influencers they align with. “This needs to start with accepting that there is a gap that needs addressing, then bringing along client stakeholders to actively address these gaps through an inclusive influencer strategy that takes into account the brand's objectives and marketing needs for individual campaigns."

She added:

Clients must embrace a broader view and keep the brand honest to the overall inclusive targets and practices, and agencies must challenge their clients by going back to their own values/purpose. Agencies must challenge clients on how they act and what they say.

(Photo courtesy: Tina Amir )

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