Debe Campbell, who first arrived in Indonesia almost 35 years ago, has launched five media companies in this country since 1990. In 2002, she finally bit the bullet and started her own marketing communications company, The Works, whose products and services run the gambit from advertising, media relations and public relations consulting to print material development and supplying graphics, art and photographic images. In Debe’s long career in the media communications business she has organized fashion events, museum launches, airline, restaurant and hotel openings, press conferences, sports tournaments, trade shows. Debe’s focus now is PR and communications in the tourism and hospitality industry with clients ranging from airlines, hotels and spas to transport, dive and tour agents. As she puts it, “They are a natural match because 85% of Bali’s industries are in these fields.”
Where do you come from?
Born in Houston, Texas and I grew up as an “expat oil brat”, though I didn’t even know what that meant until I was an adult. My first overseas experience was when I left the US at the age of 11 and witnessed first hand Quadaffi’s overthrow of the kingdom of Libya and the installation of his dictatorship.
What’s your background in Indonesia?
I attended international schools from grade 5 until high school graduation. I first came to Indonesia in 1970 and did a year of school by correspondence from Gresik, outside Surabaya. Then, entered high school in Jakarta International School at Cilandak, graduating in December 1974. After traveling around Australia and New Zealand, I reentered the US scholastic system. MAJOR TRAUMA and counterculture shock! Survived by joining internationals studies programs and clubs and hanging out with my Indonesian high school buddies. I got a public relations degree with Spanish minor. I returned to Indonesia in 1990 with a 3-month social visa and $1,000 in my pocket, making a vow that I would stay until one of them ran out. I started as a stringer for the Jakarta Post and from there on I never looked back.
When did you first come to Bali and how has it changed since then?
My first visit to Bali was in 1972 on a high school spring break. Kuta had no paved roads nor electricity then. Accommodation was a losmen. Food was bubur ijen, nasi goreng and magic mushroom omelets. Ok, this was the 70s.
How has it changed? How has it not changed?
If I don’t go down a street for a month, it is unrecognizable. Yet, sometimes I round the street out of Bemo Corner and make the curve coming up to Galael Supermarket, and I can still visualize the padi fields where I ran off the road, dumped the motor bike and still have a muffler burn scar to prove it. Eventually, an old childhood friend I Made Darsana—now known as Joe of Joe’s Surf Shop and numerous other establishments in Kuta —helped me make the leap from Jakarta to Bali. He showed me only TWO places. One in Kuta and one where I have lived for 11 years! That’s how well my childhood friend could judge what was right for me! So, some things DO NOT change.
What’s the most unusual project you’ve ever worked on? Putting together a press conference for Amien Reis in Berlin, Germany with only 48 hours advance notice and with no local contacts or network. WOULD NEVER DO IT AGAIN! Some jobs teach you that NO is a viable and smart option.
How did you come up with the name for your business?
The whole point in calling the business “The Works” is to indicate that we can do anything that a client desires. Our “staff” actually far exceeds the body count in the office, as we rely on reliable professional associates to cooperate with us to execute any and every job from A to Z, as long as it is in the marketing communications scope. In other words, we can do“the works,” from start to finish, and if we can’t we’ll say so up front.
Can you tell us a bit about working in Indonesia?
As a general rule, people in his country are not trained to think for themselves or think outside the box. If Indonesia even hopes to compete in an ASEAN much less global economy, it has some serious issues to address. That US$1,500 we expats have to pay annually into the “black hole” for “training” I would much rather put into direct internships and on-the-job-training employment. I would spend three times that much if I knew it was making a difference! I am fortunate to have found a few rebels who bring great strengths, creativity and organizational skills to our operations. They are the company greatest assets.
What is the most difficult aspect of your work?
Not having a clone or parallel person in the company. While my staff is competent at their tasks, the basis of our organization is founded on international skills and native English. While I had parallel expat staffing pre-bomb, it has been economically impossible to replicate that post-bomb and it makes it a very time consuming job.
What’s the best thing you like about your work?
All the same reasons I loved about being a journalist as opposed to being an editor. There’s always a new tilt, a new story and a new discovery, whether it is a client or a news item...and you get to ask the dumb questions and get a proper explanation without being dissed...because it’s your job! Oh, and I never tire of peddling the beauty and uniqueness of the country I love.
Debe Campbell may be contacted through her email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or check out her company’s website: www.theworksbali.com.
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Copyright@2004 Al Hickey
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