Sulinna Ong is Vice President of Artist Marketing at Deezer.

Inspirational Woman: Sulinna Ong | VP Artist Marketing at Deezer Ms. Ong is responsible for leading Deezer’s Artist Marketing team globally and setting its strategy and working directly with labels and managers to identify opportunities that will appeal to content creators and music lovers. Ong brings 16 years’ experience of pioneering global marketing strategies in the music industry, as well as directly managing major artists; coupled with stints marketing leading edge software, AI and robotics products.

Following her studies in music at Western Sydney University, Ong joined Sony to work on the world’s first consumer robot product, AIBO. She later moved to London where she joined SonyBMG as International Marketing Manager, Artist Development, winning the Music Week Best International Marketing Campaign for Il Divo. After a stint on Kasabian’s management team she moved to Live Nation Artists as Director of International Marketing & Artist Development working with the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Jay Z and Roc Nation and then on to become CMO of award-winning music video app Youdio.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I was and am a “planner” but I’ve had to learn how to do this in a productive fluid way. In the earlier stages of my career I had a very rigid view of what I thought “success” looked like, it was an unrealistic plan of rapid promotions with no failure along the way – it was one upward trajectory on a graph with no dips. And of course I learned quickly that real life doesn’t work that way. I thought that what I needed to do was simply work harder than anyone else and all would come and roll out smoothly but the world of work is not a straightforward meritocracy and life is unpredictable and full of variables out of one’s control. You have to learn to roll with the punches and not be too attached to a “perfect” version of what you think your career should look like.

I’ve had to let go of a lot of assumptions and accept that there will always be peaks and troughs and that, when you experience failure (as cliché as this will sound), it can lead to deeper understanding and emotional maturity that grounds you for success later down the line. I’ve also come to understand that “timing” has a lot to do with success.

When I think about the roles I want to hold and the companies for which I want to work, I assess where I am currently and my skillset, to identify the gaps. Then I figure out what I need to do to bridge that gap. I think it’s important to have a realistic view of your skills and experience and do a health check regularly. I don’t take anything for granted.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

There will always be challenges along the way, especially if you want to succeed. If you aren’t being challenged on a weekly or even daily basis you aren’t pushing yourself out of your comfort zone enough. There’s no magic formula for dealing with challenges because, by their very nature, they are always new and different. So stay flexible, learn as much as you can about stuff you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help or advice.

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?

Firstly, a leadership role is comprised of two parts; the “leadership” side and the “management” side. Aren’t these two things the same you may ask? Well no, they’re not. A good leader needs to inspire the people under them, have a vision and be able to impart it; but that has to be coupled with the ability to execute – to organize and manage people to achieve real results.

Also taking a leadership role means taking accountability for a team and having to make the right decisions, even when they might not be the most popular decisions.

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

Qualifications aren’t just certificates on a piece of paper, it’s everything that a candidate brings to the table including their unique life experiences. From that point of view there are never two equally-qualified candidates. One way or another, someone will always be ahead of the pack. The trick is to keep an open enough mind to recognize that.

How do you manage your own boss?

I respect the fact that my boss has limited time and is busier than I am, with a lot of people vying for his time and attention, therefore I ensure that I’m as efficient and as prepared as possible for our one-on-one meetings. This means knowing exactly the topics that need to be discussed and what I want to achieve out of the short time we have together – whether that’s feedback, sign off etc. I send a list of talking points to him ahead of our meeting so there’s a structured agenda. It’s also important to take into account your boss’s approach and work personality and how often they like you to communicate with them, some individuals prefer more regular check-ins and detail and others prefer a general overview – you need to quickly ascertain where they sit in this spectrum and adjust and calibrate accordingly.

Additionally, I ensure that if there are any significant developments, that my boss is the first person to know and that he is informed directly by me. I never want my boss to be put on the spot without the right information and updates at hand regarding anything that my team and I are working on.

Be as pre-emptive as possible. Don’t wait to be told what to do – look at what’s needs doing and start delivering it.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

I’m not a morning person and I know it’s fashionable at the moment to say “I get up at 4am and go for a run then have an egg white omelette and green tea” but that is absolutely not true for me. My job involves a lot of late nights and gigs, so I frequently get to bed late, but still have to get up next morning for meetings. So the day may start with an early product meeting in the office (aided by coffee!) and end with a meeting at a venue for a gig.

One of the things I enjoy about my job is that my days vary so much from one day to the next. I regularly have to go meet with artists, artist managers and record labels about their work and music, maybe in a recording studio or at the record label. I travel a lot for work visiting our offices in other countries and also speaking at music and tech conferences worldwide.

I have to listen to and keep up-to-date with an enormous amount of music so I have to carve out time in my day every day to listen to music from the latest up and coming talent to the biggest global superstars (and everything in between). I also spend a lot of time working with the Deezer app, and looking at data analytics and speaking to different teams to spot trends and see what songs our users worldwide are liking and listening to. Working at a music streaming company means being right on the borderline between music and technology, so my day needs to embrace both.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

Get to know as many people as possible in an organisation across different departments. Spend time talking to everyone (whether you work closely with them or not) to understand what they do and to get insight into their goals and the problems they face. I see a lot of people having lunch with the same group of people every day and, whilst we all have people at work we are closer to and get along with on a personal level, you need to break out of these habits and get to know people outside of your direct circle.

You not only learn an incredible amount about others but they also get to know you. If you don’t take the time to get to know others, why would you assume they would take the time to know you?

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for people who did mentor me but this was not in a formal “I’m mentoring/coaching you” kind of way. I worked for them and was allowed to watch them negotiate and I paid close attention to how they wrote, how they explained things, how they negotiated and learned an immense amount just by observing them. On top of this, these people took the time to show me how I could improve my own work whether that took the form of correcting me when I made a mistake, telling me clearly if something I was doing wasn’t at the right quality level or that I should push myself further to raise the bar even higher out of my own comfort zone – all of which I was grateful for as it made me better at what I do.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what three tips would you give to a newbee networker
  • The best networkers I’ve seen in action are people who truly have an interest in getting to know others and connecting people to one another, not for their own personal gain, but because they think the introduction will be beneficial for the other parties. This means they create a network of people who genuinely like and respect each other, and they are included in that. What goes around comes around.
  • When you’re at a function “networking”, give the person you’re talking to your full attention – that means being fully engaged in the conversation whilst you’re having it. Don’t talk to someone whilst also having one eye on the rest of the room scouring for someone else who may be more important to speak to. This is incredibly rude and people know when you’re doing this. It leaves an awful impression. Don’t be that person.
  • Don’t just network up, some of the best leads I’ve had have come from the most unexpected places and people.
What does the future hold for you?

At the beginning of this interview I said that one of the lessons I had to learn was not to over plan and create rigid expectations, so whenever anyone asks me this question I drill down to the essence of what it is I really want and enjoy – and that’s working on innovative projects that allow me the opportunity to do my best work with people who I can learn from and respect.