The LCN Property Interview: Sally Maier-Yip

Sally Maier-Yip talks to LCN Property about her route into PR and Property, how she communicates her clients' messages to very hard-to-reach audiences, and why Chinese investors still see big opportunities in UK property.

Based in London, Sally Maier-Yip is the Founder and Managing Director of the UK’s leading China-focused luxury and property PR agency, 11K Consulting. The firm’s mission is to empower businesses to fulfil their China dreams.

How did you get into PR, and specifically PR for property?

I studied Journalism and Communication back in Hong Kong in University, and I just liked writing. And then 17 years ago I got my first job in a PR agency in Hong Kong. So that’s quite a natural progress from my passion for writing communications to actually pursuing a career in PR. And then I worked in PR agencies in Hong Kong, Singapore, London for ten years. Working with different multinational brands such as Hilton Hotels, Fonterra, Zespri Kiwifruit, Unilever…

And then seven years ago I set up 11K Consulting in London, which is still a PR agency, but it’s me running my own business now. We are essentially a luxury and property PR agency. We are always targeting high-end clients for our clients. We shifted to more PR in property because of covid. We used to work for luxury consumer brands, but covid hit a lot of those brands, and therefore we shifted our focus more to property.

Right now, I would say 80% of our clients are in the property world. We work with interior design, architecture, furniture, construction and property development companies. We work with the best company in each sub-sector of property, and we are very loyal to our clients: we don’t work with their competitors.


Do you use your Chinese connections as a fundamental part of the business?

All our clients are based in the west. Our mission is really to help these western companies to be famous among Chinese high-net-worth individuals and investor communities in the UK, China and Hong Kong. So we build thought leadership among those audiences. We are very targeted, and very good at what we do.

Our clients become seen as the ‘go-to’ experts in what they do. We do this through strategic PR, meaning we target the right media such as the top-tier business, luxury property press in China and Hong Kong. Such as Forbes China, South China Morning Post, China Daily, Apex Manual, Elle China, Esquire Hong Kong, etc. So we make sure that they are seen as the experts in what they do in the right media, which are well read by the target audience.

We also do WeChat marketing, because China is very mobile-savvy. So we set up and run a WeChat account for clients. We also do events, to connect them with potential partners and clients on the ground in Hong Kong, China and UK.

And that’s what our clients find really beneficial. Unlike traditional PR, which is more about press, we are very sales and commercially focused. In the sense that we make sure that we actually can help our clients to do their sales job, and connect them with the right people. So we always say we are beyond PR, we are more than PR. Almost like an extended China team for clients, for their new business development.


The audience that you target is hard to reach: they’re time-poor, they’re protective of their attention, everyone’s trying to talk to them all the time. How do you cut through?

First we need to build the client’s reputation online, so that when these high-net-worth individuals search for them, they see them commenting on industry trends, giving really good solid advice and insights in the right press that the individuals trust.

And also that’s why we are so crucial for our clients: we know that for potential clients and partners it’s all about trust, and our intermediaries, our Chinese partners, already trust us. So when we recommend our clients to them, it builds that trust faster. We are very cautious about how we leverage our own network to help our clients to build the direct relationship with potential clients and partners. It’s all very handpicked and targeted. We also have to be careful in terms of who we represent, and make sure that everyone is helping each other rather than having a conflict of interest.


For your clients in property development, what is the commercial situation like for them right now?

From a big-picture perspective: the UK is still a very favourable investment destination for Chinese investors. It’s not just me saying that! There are lots of reports out there which show that Chinese investment is still coming, and actually more so compared to other international investors such as the Middle East or Russia. They were more dominant in the past, but now it is really more about money from China.


Why is that?

There are different reasons. The pound is weaker, so things are just cheaper here. And then the worsening relationship between US and China… in the past, Chinese parents might send their kids to study in US, but now they’re actually sending them to the UK, and education is always linked to other parts of investment. When Chinese parents have their children studying in UK, then they will also buy properties, they will also do other investments. And we know that quite a few upcoming big developments already have pre-sales to Chinese people. So we do know that the interest is still very strong from the Chinese market.


Why do Chinese parents choose to send their children to study in the USA or the UK particularly?

I think it’s just to expand their international horizons and to have a better future. And in China a lot of people who are now in their 20s, they are the only child in the family. So they are quite privileged, in the sense that they are the only child in the whole family, supported by two parents, four grandparents and many relatives. So they have the best from everyone. So for those wealthy Chinese people, if they can afford it, they will want to send the only child to study abroad just to give them more opportunities for the future.

I think the UK is attractive because it has such a strong history, and strong credentials as a financial hub. And the UK property market is always considered as a safe haven. Chinese people are always looking for a five- to ten-year return on investment. So despite Brexit, despite covid, I think Chinese people are still very confident that the UK property market that can only be stable or increase.


What is your personal business focus right now?

2020 was the worst year for us. But 2021 was the best year for us, so thankfully we are starting strongly for 2022. I have a very aggressive plan for this year, to double my business. I just hired a new junior and have an aggressive new business timeline. And I’m confident that there are enough opportunities for us to grow.


In your career to date, have you had any particular role models or mentors?

Yes. I do have a mentor right now, Kit, who I’ve been working with for three years. He has been giving me strategic guidance, in terms of how to scale up the business, how to deal with client issues when they come along, just giving me that sounding board when I need to make a decision.

There also are a lot of different unofficial mentors who have done what I do. So I ask them for advice as well from time to time.


Looking back on your career to date, what achievements so far are you most proud of?

Last year I was shortlisted for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards in the Entrepreneur category. These are very prestigious awards, running for over 20 years. So if I have to pick one, I will pick this moment, because it was totally out of the blue that they asked me to nominate myself: I wouldn’t consider myself to be eligible. And then I was actually a finalist as well. The judging panel was made up of really solid people, like the ex-CEO of Barclays.

For me, this is very empowering: recognition by a third party, which kind of summarises my hard work and achievements to date. So I would say this is my proudest moment.


What would be your ideal job if you weren’t in PR and property?

I will be writing my book. Actually this is always my dream – without action yet! I’m quite active on LinkedIn. Basically I’m writing one post a day, and surprisingly it does attract lots of good attention. And people were telling me that you should really repurpose all your LinkedIn posts and write a book. And I always wanted to write a book, since 20 years ago.

I already have an idea. (Actually, different people also recommended the same idea to me.) It would be both professional and personal, in the sense that I’m an Asian woman running my own business in a foreign country, and also a mum of two boys, and married to a Frenchman. So basically the book could be talking about business from this perspective, how I’m managing to grow my business and run my household in a foreign country. All the business lessons and personal lessons that I’ve been sharing on LinkedIn. So, if I was not running my own business, I would be doing this.


One of the nice things about writing is that you can do it almost any time.

Yes. I just need more hours in my life!


What are your hobbies? What do you do to relax?

Well, before I had two children, I used to do Toastmaster: public speaking. That was my very serious hobby for ten years until I had my two boys and then I stopped. So right now my main hobby is really to play with my boys.


What is your biggest extravagance?

Travelling. I think back to our honeymoon in India, 15 years ago. In India, while it’s very poor, you can also be very extravagant and spend a few nights in a palace. A very special experience. And also I guess my babymoons: my husband was very nice to treat me in the Maldives for my babymoons before I gave birth to my two boys.


How would you describe yourself in three words?

Positive. That is actually my life mission, to be a positive influence on people around me.

Resilient. I think I’m quite resilient, in the sense I have experienced… not crises, but big challenges, being made redundant and covid killed half of my business overnight. But every time I think I was able to bounce back stronger.

And third… kind. I think I’m quite a giving person, I give a lot to people and therefore get lots of people coming to me for help, for advice.

So: positive, resilient and kind.


Who would be your ideal guests at your dream dinner party?

I can think of two people. One is Richard Branson. I read his autobiography: truly fascinating and inspiring. He’s always thinking. I never met him, so I want to meet him, to ask him all the questions I have. The other one is Mother Teresa. I also read her book, and was very inspired by her humanity. I think at the end of the day it’s all about being human.


What advice would you give to your younger self?

From a professional point of view: learn Mandarin. And from a personal point of view: learn French. My boys can speak perfect French, and I don’t understand them when they speak it. It is so much easier to learn languages at a young age.

Other than that, I think I won’t change anything.


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