Ever wondered how brand launches are created? Marketing and creative agencies are behind them to ensure seamless in-person and digital experiences, and one of the most thriving agencies in Hong Kong is On Air Collective. Sisters Karen Wong (who is currently carrying her first child) and Samantha Wong started the company 5 years ago, and since then they have built an agency that is the go-to for any cool fashion brand or restaurant looking to launch their business or a campaign with a bang. How is it like running a business with a sister? What is the funnest project they have worked on? Do they ever steal clothes from each other? We caught up with the dynamic duo to talk about work, life, style and everything in between!
How did the name and concept of On Air Collective come up?
Karen: The name “On Air Collective” popped up in our heads while we were thinking about how “instant” the world is nowadays, especially with all the social media tools and platforms which didn’t really exist when we started our career. Everything in our industry is “live” and “spreading fast”, therefore we have used the word “On Air” . We also chose the word “Collective” over “Agency” as we think that success always requires a collaborative effort.
We want to bring our own ideas to life through practical showcases, collaborations and connections, and explore the potential of combining the power of social media platforms with the impact of experiential events.
Our dream is to use On Air Collective as a vessel to empower, motivate and inspire others
Samantha: Our business focus is to inspire other entrepreneurs. I believe that we are in an era where dreams are built by uniting different talents and expertise.
What’s the best and worst thing about working together?
Karen: The main challenge of working together as sisters is that in all of your interactions leading up to this point, each of you has played a role. For Samantha and me, the difficulty is in trying to separate our family and work life. For instance, when we are having a conversation about a potential project, we need to make sure we are actually talking about business and not the fact that one stole the other’s shirt ten years ago.
Another thing… not being able to enjoy family holidays together is something we’ve learnt to accept, as it’s important to have someone in charge in the company!
The best part is that honesty and trust are there regardless, and that’s the biggest thing in business. We are both so invested in the company that every family occasion runs the risk of turning into a mini business meeting.
Samantha: Running a business with family members is challenging because you can change business partners but you can’t change family members. For us, I don’t think it’s challenging since we understand each other so well. She knows my expertise and trusts my decisions no matter what and vice versa. I know what Karen is capable of and I believe that she’ll give her 200% to whatever she is doing. We don’t have trust issues and we are clear about each other’s role. But I am sure we might put stress on to each other as we talk about business 24/7.
Communication is key. Through growing up and growing the business together, we have learned how to control our emotions, how to be more understanding, and how to be good listeners. The best thing is that we have built our careers together and we have the same mission and vision which is ‘Be strong, stay together and build our dream together’. We started our business because we want to do what we love, contribute to the society, and also be able to support ourselves and our families. This mission and vision never changed.
How do you both divide your roles at your company?
Samantha: We are quite clear on our roles in the company, both of us agree that we should be leading the team with our own expertise. I mainly help on business development and identifying new opportunities for our company, strategizing and developing innovative marketing crossovers and initiatives.
On the other hand, connecting people is in Karen’s blood. She has keen eyes for social media trends and a background in public relations and journalism, so she has spearheaded a range of social media and public relations projects. She has also helped clients identity their PR goals, strategize and execute their online and offline initiatives.
What is one of the funnest project you guys have worked on together?
Samantha:We are very lucky. Our projects are super fun and challenging, and a lot of clients become good friends, sharing our ups and downs together. The funnest project must have been HOUSE OF VANS. We first worked with the Vans HK team 5 years ago when our company was only Karen and I. As a start-up, Vans gave us a lot of opportunities and trust. HOUSE OF VANS is a super fun project that involves skate, music, art and culture. We gathered skaters, musicians, artists and different talents every year to celebrate HOV. There is so much sweat and effort behind the scene. But this becomes our tradition, and most exciting project of the year! So we’ve became one big family and got really close as friends too.
What is your fav quality about your sister + business partner?
Samantha: The best thing about working with your sister is that you have each other’s backs, and you go above and beyond for each other and always inspire one another. Karen is a great manager and executor. She is tough, always a fighter for the company. You will be surprised by her hard work and persistence.
Karen: Samantha always has the character of a “big sister”, which is perfect as the person who can hold the fort. She is also a great leader on managing our team, which could give you headaches sometimes. Somehow, she also has her own way of managing stress very well!
What is the biggest challenge when it comes to starting/running On Air Collective?
When we started the company, we were nobody in the industry. We spent 2 years taking on different projects to prove to ourselves that we can manage all kinds of scenarios. We have to prove that we are professional and mature, and it was very tough. I remember we worked almost 7 days a week and didn’t take holidays in the first year. We also opened Little Bao in the same year ( Samantha’s partner May Chow’s restaurant). We are not from any rich or famous family in the circle and we don’t have backups, so we are always on our own, but I guess that’s also something that makes us stronger knowing that it’s either “ go big or go home”. We knew that we have to work very hard to be recognised. After 4 years, we are finally not on our own – we are now an agency of 10+ team members and I am super grateful that we started our company when we were young.
Has starting a business together changed your relationship with each other and if so, how?
We’ve become closer and our bond has become stronger. I believe our dreams become one. We share our happiness and stress every day, but we are also each other’s shadow. I am sure no one understands me more than my sister. Surprisingly, we still love to hang out with each other out of work hours. We even talk on the phone when we don’t hang out during weekends, and our trust is beyond words. We are sure we will be there for each other in all aspects.
Could you describe your style?
Karen: I would say my style is defined by a powerful look and sharp lines that seem to come together in an effortless way. I also like to mix and match a clean and simple look with bold accessories like a wool-felt fedora or gold layered necklaces. I am also a huge fan of collecting vintage pieces, visiting antique stores and markets is always my favourite activity while traveling.
Samantha: I love to dress in many different styles depending on the occasion and my mood. I love bold and colourful outfits, I would totally do a head-to-toe suit look in pink or purple or red. Black and white colors for my classier look. I could be feminine but also masculine. This shows my real character : Strong entrepreneur ; soft sister and partner.
I also love gowns and I collect a lot of them at home – they are like art pieces.
What item of clothing or accessories would you steal from your sisters wardrobe?
Karen: I would be tempted to steal her vintage Chanel quilted shoulder bag. It is a rare piece and I could literally mix and match it with anything!
Samantha: Karen has a lot of long summer dresses with patterns or in a simple color. I won’t buy these for myself although I look great in them, so I am always tempted to get one of those from her wardrobe!
Do you ever share your wardrobe?
We do. Our tops and bottoms sizes are not exactly the same, but we would still exchange accessories and dresses whenever we want to freshen up our closet. But sometimes we would both buy the exact same item so that no one has to steal from each other!
Choose 3 items from HULA that describes your style:
Photos: Daniel Murray