We are happy to continue our traditional series of interviews with our International Old Alleynians (IOA in short), namely our Dulwich College Beijing alumni.
This time, we hear from Rachel Hsu, Strategic Planning Manager for EssenceMediacom for Airbnb. Last year, Rachel joined us as one of our panellists for our annual Worldwise Academy Summit. During the summit, she encouraged students to always ask questions, and to take advantage of the many resources and opportunities available to them. In this piece, Rachel further expounds on that while also reflecting on her days at DCB and her own journey to where she is today.
Can you tell us more about your time here at DCB?
I joined DCB at the end of Year 6 until Year 9 and moved away for a term before returning to DCB for two years. I was active in team sports, playing football and basketball Varsity. I was also active in the art programme, extending to drama and attended trips like the theatre trip to Jeju Island and photography trips to San Francisco. My exposure to different cultures helped me with the decisions I made from university to working in multinational companies, as my experiences helped me understand how the world worked.
Could you tell us more about your journey from your student days to your role today, and what it’s like to work in such a fast-paced industry?
I work within the media advertising sector, which is more niche than just your overall marketing. I'm on the agency side, and I only work with one client, which is Airbnb.
I majored in Journalism, which was sort of the right move, as there are a lot of crossovers. At my school in the School of Journalism and Communications, the advertising program is actually under Journalism and not in the Business School of Marketing, and people from Advertising Clubs and Marketing or Journalism would all be in the same circle.
I started working in fashion and luxury marketing and am now in hospitality. I've also touched on logistics, the alcohol industry, and the entertainment industry. Because of the nature of our work, you don’t always get to choose the industry you’re assigned to, so it’s important to have the ability to find what’s interesting in your work. Find similarities between everything that you do. Think of it as the spinal cord of all the changes: you just plug and play while being exposed to so many things. Everything has a certain storytelling method that you need to stick to while adapting to everything else that's new.
And yes, this is a very fast-paced industry. Things change every day, every week, every month. Nothing you learn in school is going to be able to catch up to the actual changes that we are experiencing day-to-day, like suddenly getting an e-mail saying that there are some technical updates we have to adapt to or telling our clients about this new thing that's out and whether or not to try it. It sounds scary, but it’s also what makes working on the media side of advertising special.
People in advertising might be developing campaign videos, what the visuals will look like, but that’s not what I do. I work with numbers.
So, at a media agency, we figure out how much money a client should spend, the ROI, who we should talk to, what platforms we should use our advertisements on, metrics for success, etcetera. My concentration within the marketing field would appeal more to someone who wants to understand where the money goes and what it really means to a business.
My industry is something that not a lot of students are aware of, and I would have liked to know that in high school: that Marketing has so many different elements to it.
Has your experience at DCB helped you with your career today and if yes, how?
Absolutely. I’ll stick to two main points: the ability to find similarities and to find what’s interesting in what you’re doing. These two are linked right back at DCB because both points are embodied in the curriculum.
At DCB, someone scientifically driven would still be required to touch subjects like drama. We grew up being encouraged to try different paths with safety guard rails set up and guided by supportive teachers. I didn't really experience that in the other schools that I attended, and I've attended many so I can vouch for that.
It's the same with the arts programme. Even if you can't paint, the teacher will encourage you. It's okay to not be the best at everything, but you'll feel free to explore.
Are you still in touch with some of your peers at DCB?
Out of all the schools I've ever attended, DCB kids are the ones I keep the most contact with. As an alum, we all evolved together, and we have this common place that we called home for so many years. It doesn't matter that you weren’t in the same friend group; we can always pick up the conversation and talk again after not talking for years. It's a very strong bond that we all have with each other.
I also want to add that even DCB parents have been so supportive in my journey so far. We used to have career days and career panels and also invited parents on campus (as speakers), and some of the job interviews I've received were from DCB parents. It’s important for the students to realise how much help parents can provide and how that legacy could snowball in the future.
With the advent of AI, ChatGPT and other such tools, how do you see the future of your trade?
AI isn’t really new to us. We use it for a lot of the technical things that we do, like optimising advertisements and having machine learning to figure out how much money we should put in certain places. It’s why you see the advertisements that you see on your phone.
I know that there is a chance that any of our jobs could be replaced, but at this moment, we need to think about what we are doing for these brands. We’re not just offering them our hands to enter numbers into the system, but our ability to think through so many scenarios related to the emotional experience, something very human. They also don’t know the different consumers or audiences that we are speaking to, and how people differ based on lifestyle differences or cultural backgrounds. As humans, we understand market nuances, and while I can’t say that my job is future-proof, staying curious helps. What you know now is not going to be forever.
What’s a day in the life of a Strategic Planning Manager like?
I have just one client, which means my day is pretty structured into what we are working on right now. Right now, we are working on our budget for the entire year of 2024. We have our Excel spreadsheets out and have to figure out how much money we’ll put in January and May, peak seasons in China, and build out informative decks for our clients overseas.
Because Airbnb is based in the US, we explain to our U.S. team what's different in China, the best ways to find our target audience, how we plan to use the money that we receive in China, how much of it will go into social media platforms and what that means internally.
What else do I do every day? A lot of math, a lot of calculations.
What are your views on the impact of your industry on people, society and the planet?
Actually, the entire industry is moving away from a lot of the impact that will create waste. We communicate with our consumers using digital means. For outdoor advertisements, for example, we use renewables and eco-friendly products that don't need to be thrown away or replaced.
But we can’t ignore the truth: businesses do need to make money. In my role, I can help guide the brand in their future direction. You can’t tell them which products to buy, but you can recommend certain brands that also stand for their values or like a brand's initiative and do a social impact partnership with them, such as a scholarship or charity, and make it part of their wider narrative.
Say you had a magic wand and you could change one of the things during your DCB years. What would that be?
One thing I would change is to not leave when I did and then to graduate from DCB. There’s a reason behind how the year levels are connected and structured, and having left in my last two years had an impact on my college selection process. I think I would have seen a bit more success if I had stayed at DCB and this is just a very honest answer. I think that the way that iGCSE bridged IB, finding your concentration over time was something that was of great importance at DCB, and that smoothness of transition would have been great for me when I entered college because I would have been more used to learning what you wanted with some electives and then having a concentration that you could do in college, too.
Do you have any advice for our current students?
Accept that you don’t know everything right now and that it’s okay to change your mind down the line. Recognise that being as knowledgeable as you are now is quite a privilege; don’t take it for granted. Know how to leverage the resources that you've gathered during your time there and know that a lot of students out there would have wished to have the experience that DCB students had in school.
At Dulwich College International, we aim to foster lifelong relationships with our alumni, also known as International Old Alleynians (IOAs). The Worldwise Alumni Network (WAN) is a powerful professional and social community for IOAs to forge and maintain lasting bonds and a powerful professional and social platform for alumni and current students to be Together, Anywhere.
Learn more about it: Alumni and Networking | Dulwich College Beijing