Lynette Ang, former CMO of Sentosa, had no immediate plans to start up a business after leaving corporate life last year . In fact, she wanted to seize the opportunity to unwind and take a good break, especially after spending 28 years in the corporate world. However, what started out as a hobby of making candles and body butters eventually turned into an official business with an e-store. In this latest episode of Life After Advertising, Ang shares how she ended up founding her latest business venture, The Scent Apothecary, and what it was like marketing a tourist destination during the pandemic.

Before leaving Sentosa last year, Ang and the team worked to drive footfall to the island with a brand campaign titled "Make Time for a Holiday". It also partnered with tenants to roll out over  50 new offerings . Themed around Island Life, Heritage Discovery, Wellness Escape, and Nature Adventure, the offerings are said to feature hybrid leisure experiences that integrate on-site and virtual elements. When social restrictions were in place during last year's circuit breaker in Singapore, Ang and her team also launched its own version of  Sentosa Crossing , a digital reimagination of Sentosa island in the popular Nintendo Switch game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Listen to the full episode here.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Could you tell us a bit more about what you are doing right now?

Ang: For me, it is really about the right time and there never really was a right time [to leave corporate life]. I've counted the years I've been in corporate and it has been 28 long years. So that kind of prompted me to take a step back and ask if I want to continue on without taking a break. Throughout the 28 years, I have never really taken a break. The longest break I've taken was three months in between two jobs, but those three months were because my son was doing his Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) so I was a PSLE mum.

This time around I felt that at this point in time it is good to take a break. And 28 years is a long time, and I suppose I've always been in marketing and advertising, apart from my first job which was consulting for two years right. But after that, it was really advertising, marketing, brand, PR, and later on, I did more sales and guest experience. As you progress in the corporate world, your responsibilities get heavier and a lot of times in the marketing circle, there is never really a downtime. When you're on a job, it is just high key all the time. Whether it is launching a campaign, preparing for the next campaign, doing presentations, managing stakeholders, managing board members, managing various types of communications, it really is high key all the time.

So that really prompted me to say "Why not take a break and try something different? Why not just take a break and see what comes along, see what tickles your fancy and then do that?". I left Sentosa officially on the 31 December 2020 but because I had so much leave to clear, I stopped working at the end of November. With Christmas coming up, I decided that why not resurrect my joy of making candles? I started making candles a couple of years ago, but that was more for fun and for gifting. When I was planning for what to do in December last year, I thought: "Christmas is coming up, why not make some candles, put them on Carousell, see what's the uptake, talk to family and friends and see if they want them?" Surprisingly, the demand was quite good.

When I started to make the candles, I also then decided to learn a little bit more about fragrances and aromatherapy. So I went to Udemy and downloaded courses and also learnt how to make body care products. So I decided to also make body care products and use my family as guinea pigs by gifting those to them. So whether it was the body butters, body balms, or body cleaners, they felt it worked for them. When the products came out, I kind of modelled them after Aesop but I called it "affordable Aesop". Subsequently, I started a Shopify store and a friend of mine who runs her own company, told me she wasn't able to bake cookies for her clients due to COVID-19. She then asked if I could make pineapple tart and mandarin orange candles as gifts for her clients. That was the start of my corporate gifting business. When her secretary called and asked me to bill to the company, I realised I did not have a company to do so. Hence, I decided to set up a proper company named The Scent Apothecary. I'm having a lot of fun with it although it is still hard work, and I joke with many of my friends that I went from a CMO to an OMO, one-man operation.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was it like marketing a tourist destination during the pandemic?

Ang: The year 2020 was really a once in a lifetime type of year for a destination where there were zero tourists. So of course, similar to Singapore Tourism Board, we focused a lot of our attention on the locals. There were a couple of phases that we went through. One of the critical things that we had to do for marketing, especially during the lockdown and slightly before, was the balance between getting people to visit (pre-lockdown) and keep Sentosa top of mind so much so that when the lockdown was lifted, people would then come. And then, of course, post-lockdown is how do we continue to attract them to come to the island.

So during the period of pre-lockdown to lockdown, a lot of our focus was top of mind and getting people to keep Sentosa at the back of their minds. One of our campaigns that had a major impact was Animal Crossing Sentosa  which was done together with BBH Singapore. They came up with this idea and we decided to go for it because Animal Crossing is one of the popular games globally. Our insight for the campaign was that people were feeling cooped up during lockdown and needed an escape. We decided to give people a form of escape via gaming and created a Sentosa island for people to visit virtually. We had so much PR coverage from many overseas travel media and we even had international visitors such as the US and the Western parts of the world. 

That was interesting because Sentosa was initially open during Singapore time on Animal Crossing but we received requests to open it for other time zones. Hence, we got BBH to keep the island open for a longer period of time and it was very successful. That was really a key highlight during this period of time, where marketing was challenging but like I said, as long as we are creative, we will find a way. 

So that really helped to keep the awareness going. Then of course, post-lockdown, it was about getting people back to the island. There were a lot of initiatives and efforts on promotions, bundle deals, and making sure locals felt it was good value for money. One of the things that we at Sentosa often struggle with is that people felt that we were expensive, that we are a tourist destination only. So there was a lot of effort done together with the island partners and tenants to create bundle deals that were really attractive to the locals. And of course, staycations. Where else would you do a staycation in Singapore but Sentosa to really feel like a getaway? So we did a lot of the campaigns post-lockdown and focused on driving Singaporeans onto the island. That part was challenging but it was fun and interesting. Like I said as long as you're creative and you have a will to do it, there's a way to do it.

Also, I first took on the responsibility of managing island partners and tenancy last January and shortly after that, Singapore went into lockdown. That was also very challenging because we were helping tenants manage their costs in terms of rentals. We were really their voice representing their difficulties and helping them with staffing and employment. That really went beyond my marketing responsibilities. It was really more of an exposure to the real business challenges that some of these SMEs were facing.

So I totally can understand how they struggled with it, given that I'm running my own business now, how they struggled with a fixed cost, for example. That took up a lot of my bandwidth during last year, but I learnt a lot and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Will you ever return to marketing?

Ang: Never say never because the minute you say never, something happens. But for me very frankly, I'm enjoying my time now so it would take almost like a perfect job fit for me to go back. When I left, there were a couple of opportunities but I turned them down. I thought if it's not perfect, I do want to continue to take my break and do what I'm happy doing. So for me, it really depends on what the opportunity is. If the opportunity is exciting and the company is the right one, the culture is a great fit, compensation is right, maybe I will. But like I said, it's gotta be close to perfect.

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