Sima Saadat is the Head of Marketing, APAC at General Assembly – a pioneer in education and career transformation, specialising in today’s most in-demand skills. In this interview, we discuss how her team works together to create awareness for General Assembly’s courses, how localisation helps make their content more relatable and the current landscape of tech talent in Asia-Pacific.
The career path that led to her role at General Assembly
Right after college, I started working in human resources. I did recruiting for a bit until I decided that I wanted to get into marketing. Since I did not have any marketing experience, startups were the best route for me. I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area where working in startups is the popular thing to do.
So, I joined a startup, and it was a great learning opportunity for me, and I was able to dip my toes into marketing. After that experience, I moved around in a couple of other startups, mostly in the advertising and the AdTech world. Eventually, I landed at TCI, a tech education company, and I worked with them for four years in California.
My husband then got an opportunity to work in Singapore, and we made the decision to move. I continued working for TCI from Singapore but after a while decided it was best to learn something new and work for a company in Asia. So, I ended up getting the job at General Assembly (GA). I started as an Events Producer and focused on building our community in Singapore.
Soon, I was promoted to Partnerships Manager because my strength lay in relationship building. In this new role, I was in charge of building partnerships and relationships with different companies in Singapore and educating people on why they should hire our grads.
A few months ago, I was promoted to Head of Marketing, APAC and took on managing the Singapore and Australia marketing team. I was already working very closely with both the teams since COVID hit. The new role was a great transition, and I am excited to be doing this.
The structure and responsibilities of General Assembly’s APAC marketing team
The way our team is structured, we have a marketing manager for each metro, so one for Singapore and one for Australia. We also have what we call classes and workshops (CW) producers that focus on workshops, as both events and workshops fall under the marketing umbrella. We have marketing associates that help with activities such as how to market our events and CWs or deciding whether something should go up on Facebook or Eventbrite and ensuring it gets the most views.
Our marketing managers are in charge of our big event series. For example, we just finished our big Break into Tech event series. Our marketing managers work very closely with our CW producers as they build out the agenda for the full week. The manager and the CW producer work together on matters such as the number of events to take on, the right companies to partner with, the speakers for the events and then ensuring the event is marketed as much as possible for the highest reach.
We also work on marketing projects outside of events and CWs. We step in based on our bandwidth and our strengths. We function like a start-up, which means that our team has quite a flat structure. While we are looking to hit a certain number of events every year, we also are open to experimenting and trying out new things.
Part of my job is to manage the team, but they do an amazing job of running events. I come in mostly for new projects and address matters such as how do we want to expand, how do we want to do new things or what are the other possible initiatives we can try. I work very closely with the global team at the headquarters to gain visibility into what they are working on. I then look into how we can implement some of these initiatives and make them more ‘APAC friendly’. Similarly, I work closely with my counterparts in the North America and EMEA region to see what they are doing and if it makes sense for us to share events, courses or workshops. That way we can open up resources to try experimental things such as TikTok or curate video content into blogs. Of course, my team helps me with all this, but our work depends on what is the priority.
General Assembly’s approach to marketing their courses
Our main product is our full-time and part-time courses meant for people who are looking to completely shift their careers or upskill themselves. A career shift is an important life decision. If you’re quitting your job to do a course for three months, in order to find a new job in tech, it has to be something you are passionate about. It must be a decision that makes sense to you. From a marketing perspective, what we can do is educate people on their options and assure them that General Assembly is here for them. It doesn’t make sense to do a hard sell in such a situation because it’s not going to lead us to happy students. Our job is to just inform people of the options out there. If people have some interest about technology, we get them more excited through our events.
We give them a taste of what GA classes and instructors are like through a workshop, which is a two-hour session. My job is more around creating brand awareness and building a reputation within the community.
While we make the biggest splash through our events, classes and workshops, we also market our courses through social media, email marketing and our global blog. Some other marketing channels are our partnerships and the different ways we work with companies. We have partnered with a lot of brands such as Shopify, HubSpot and Accenture . Often when we work with companies, we curate content together. For instance, we partnered with Shopify for an event called “Looking Ahead: What’s Next for Ecommerce in 2022”. We brought together subject matter experts to discuss the changing consumer behaviour, emerging players, increasing ad rates and other ecommerce trends.
Partnering with smaller organisations also works out very well. We partner very closely with an organisation called Moms at Work, which focuses on getting moms back to work. We benefit greatly from big names as well as small firms that work at a grassroots level.
We use our marketing channels a bit differently based on whether we are targeting individuals or companies. For example, TikTok videos and blog posts provide valuable content for individuals. Some of that content also helps with SEO, as it allows us to come up as authentically as possible if someone searches for ‘courses in Singapore’ or ‘data science courses’.
When it comes to targeting companies for partnerships, it’s more about building relationships. It involves meeting with hiring managers or marketers from different teams and understanding the diverse ways of partnering and developing mutually beneficial partnerships by tapping into each other’s audience.
How General Assembly localises their content for the APAC region
The audience in APAC is not that different from other regions. However, the content and job testimonials should reference local students and local companies so it can be relatable.
It’s also important to make our events relatable. The things that are done globally must be done a little differently at a local level. For instance, February is observed as Black History Month in the US. The events there revolve around Black people in technology, which is great and absolutely needs to happen. But we can talk about diversity through a different lens here in the APAC region to remain relevant in the local context.
We highlight speakers, companies or people in Singapore that are doing cool things because that’s really what inspires people. We do a huge event series in March for International Women’s Day called How We Got There. The event allows women leaders to talk about the issues and challenges they faced in the APAC region and that makes it more relatable.
We have been in some talks with the US team to maybe explore local channels such as Telegram that are not as big in the US. Basically, we want to include local aspects to everything we are doing on a global scale.
The high demand for tech talent in APAC
There was always a market need for employees that have diverse tech skills, but COVID just expedited that need. Currently, there is a hiring surge in the tech field but there is a deficit in demand especially for data scientists, software engineers and UX designers.
That’s where General Assembly can help. We see a high demand in tech talent and organisations have many roles open, and they desperately want to hire local talents. Because of COVID, it’s more difficult for companies to hire international candidates, so hiring locally makes the most sense in all aspects.
A lot of companies come to General Assembly to help with their hiring needs. Our graduates come from varying industries, backgrounds and demographics, so we can help companies diversify their talent. We are able to produce some awesome talent coming from different walks of life.