‘I don’t believe in being a conformist’: How I got here… Tarun Deo of Golin

Golin's managing director of Singapore and South East Asia Tarun Deo speaks of a career that began in the hyper-charged years immediately after India's liberalisation and why he finds inspiration in the words of Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan


I spent my formative years at Sherwood College a boarding school in Nainital, India.

Class of ’89 at Sherwood College, Nainital

It was then that I realised there were many things I had to figure out for myself in order to succeed.

There was no hiding from flaws and failures, even as a student. Academics, sports and extracurricular activities were deemed equally important.

The emphasis on a holistic education gave me an un-blinkered view of the world, and allowed me to better understand my strengths and appreciate my weaknesses.

Even for a big guy like myself, who would often finish last (almost) in marathons, I knew what my strengths were. And shirking from running a marathon to do something I was better at, was never an option.

You can say boarding school taught me my first life lesson – that while it is perfectly fine to rely on others, at the end of the day you need to motivate yourself and have the desire to get things done in order to succeed.

My Start

It was rather fortuitous, how my career in public relations came to be. In 1991, India faced a balance of payments crisis, which meant our closed economy had to open up.

Private companies started investing in India and had to take a more strategic approach to marketing and public relations, especially with the nation’s diverse media landscape.

Therein lay an opportunity for India’s public relations industry to offer viable career options for those who were interested. And that was when I joined the industry, in 1993, at the age of 22.

I started as a trainee with Perfect Relations, working on accounts such as Morgan Stanley, Electrolux and Hyundai, and quickly became an account director in five years.

During my time, the agency grew to become one of the largest in India. My time there gave me the solid foundation I needed for the rest of my career.

In 1997, I joined Text100, to lead the agency’s British Telecom account in Delhi.

At the time, the world had just started to recognise India’s telecom and tech industry. Homegrown companies like Infosys paved the way and several multi-national tech corporations like Microsoft set up operations.

India’s telecom industry was also liberalising. There was no better time to be at a tech and telecoms specialist agency.

Within a year, I left for Bombay to set up an office, which allowed me to double up and not be just a practitioner but also a business manager in the industry.

The Bombay office was a success and grew to a team of 15 people in approximately 18 months, with clients like McKinsey and SAP in our portfolio.

I had been bitten by the business building bug. The Bombay stint paved the way for me to become the managing director of Text100 India at the age of 29, overseeing three offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

With team Text 100 in the early 2000s

In the next three years, the firm grew to become the #1 technology PR firm in India, with over $2 million in revenue and more than 60 people.

With our business in India going strong, I left for Singapore in 2004 to see how I could sell Text100 regionally.

In three years, I was able to build a multi-million-dollar regional portfolio with the likes of Nokia and Lenovo, leveraging strong client relationships I had from back home and being in Singapore, Asia’s regional hub.

Concurrently, I successfully built an international office in Singapore – one staffed by strong local talent and people from Australia, India and the United States.

This not only secured the Singapore office but also successfully paved the way for an organic Text100 office in Malaysia and enhanced the firm’s network across Asia.

That experience showed me how invaluable strong client relationships are, and how when done right, these relationships can transcend geographical barriers.

I then joined Fleishman-Hillard in Hong Kong, where I built out the agency’s tech and digital practice in Asia and ran their largest account AT&T.

In 2009, their businesses in Singapore, Malaysia and India needed a reboot, so I moved back to Singapore, where I took on the role of managing director of South East Asia and India.

When I left the firm in 2012, these operations business billed in excess of $6 million, with eight offices within my purview.

I then took an 18-month sabbatical to rest and spend time with my then four year old daughter and assess what Career 2.0 would look like.

Like all industries, PR was being disrupted by the internet. I knew that if I wanted to remain relevant, I had to figure out what the agency of the future would look like.

In 2013, I met Jonathan Hughes, the current CEO of Golin, and we chatted about my current role, the state of play in the industry and Golin’s view of the future.

From our conversations it was soon apparent that Golin Singapore would afford me the perfect petri-dish from which to experiment and build a PR agency of the future, from ground up.


With the Golin Team in January 2019

I don’t believe in being a conformist. In order to succeed, one needs to be bold.

Like the Mongolian leader Genghis Khan once said, “If you are afraid, don’t do it. If you’re doing it, don’t be afraid.” That is – and has always been – my approach to work and life.

My team and I have taken bold steps to bring the agency to where it is today.

We started with the G4 model, where we built a community of specialists with analytical, design, digital and creative talent and added them to our traditional media relations and industry expertise. We moved away from the hierarchy of generalists you’d see in a typical agency.

Next, we established the digital, analytics and creative (DAC) team in 2017, as a foundation for the public relations agency of the future.

DAC was a gamble in anticipation of where our industry was headed and what clients would buy from a progressive PR firm. It is now certainly showing us the way to not only secure our place, but to thrive.

Our award-winning work for clients today has not only earned attention. At its core, it could be a terrific piece of design, visual content or insight that we now can amplify across all digital channels, online and traditional media and we can measure results too.

We recently brought creative content agency Hurrah Productions onboard, further elevating our visual storytelling capabilities and allowing us to develop braver creatives fuelled by deeper insights.

Golin Singapore and Hurrah

For a PR agency to acquire a content agency is almost unheard of – but with visual storytelling here to stay, it was a step we deemed necessary and that was what we did.

Highs and Lows

I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun in my career as I do right now.

Golin is the third agency I’m building in Singapore after Text100 and Fleishman-Hillard, and the tenth agency office I’ve built in my career.

It’s been nothing like the previous nine.

To build a new age agency from ground up and drive a progressive approach in our industry is a unique situation that I am privileged to be in. It’s given me the perfect level playing field to compete and win, most of the time.

Do’s and don’ts

1. Be bold and courageous. There will always be times when you question if you’re making the right decisions – sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. Never make the same mistake twice.

2. Take risks. But remember that success is predicated by what you say “NO” to, so have a plan and stay focused on what’s real.

3, Never stop listening and learning. Be humble enough to realise that you don’t know everything.

4, Hire people who make up for your weaknesses, so that the sum of all parts packs a real punch. And if necessary, can motivate you, literally up a volcano.

On the Mt. Kilimanjaro summit

5. Always leave things in better shape than when you first came to it. True success is when what you have built, thrives after you leave. And you can observe, from a distance, colleagues that you have backed and mentored — sometimes against all the odds, achieve extraordinary things both personally and professionally with the same determination, audacity and integrity that have held me in good stead in my career.Tarun Deo is managing director of Singapore and South East Asia at Golin


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