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Tony Ahn

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This article is about the writer and entrepreneur Tony Ahn. For the South Korean singer, see Tony An.
Tony Ahn
Born James Anthony Hellmann
1975 (age 41–42)
Lemoore, CA, US
Residence Makati, Metro Manila
Nationality American
Alma mater Western Washington University
Pennsylvania State University
  • Writer
  • entrepreneur
  • digital public relations consultant
  • activist
Home town Oak Harbor, Washington
Title Chief Digital Architect
Board member of Game Publisher's Association, 2006–2008
Tony Ahn
Hangul 안지광
Hanja 安智光

Ji Gwang "Tony" Ahn (Hangul안지광; Hanja安智光; born James Anthony Hellmann, 1975), known as Tony Hellmann until a legal name change in 2009, now commonly known as Tony Ahn, is an expatriate American writer, activist, digital public relations professional, and entrepreneur, residing in Metro Manila. He is credited with pioneering digital public relations in the Philippines. He opened the Philippines' first reputation management consultancy in 2010 and first digital public relations agency in 2012.

Ahn's co-founding of the Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK), and subsequent development of a controversial public information campaign protesting government discrimination against foreign teachers resulted in dozens of foreign teachers filing formal complaints against the Korean government with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Parties opposing Ahn's work countered with a smear campaign against him, spreading completely fabricated allegations of sex crimes in order to discredit him. After a stint in China he moved to Metro Manila, Philippines, establishing the country's first reputation management consultancy and two years later establishing the country's first digital public relations agency. Ahn taught a graduate-level course on digital public relations at De La Salle University, speaks on the subject of digital public relations at a wide variety of industry conferences, and writes on the subject. He also contributes occasional news features to a number of national media outlets and writes literary fiction.

Ahn has been directly or indirectly involved in a number of controversies, including: ATEK; the impeachment trial of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Renato Corona; a controversy involving Wikipedia after The Daily Dot reported that Ahn has placed clients' Wikipedia articles on the main page and was labeled a "disgrace to Wikipedia" by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales; and snapping a photograph–carried by all major Philippine TV networks, newspapers, and online news portals–of what appeared to be Philippine National Police (PNP) officers wearing diapers while patrolling during Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines. The media confirmed that the men Ahn photographed were not police, and the perpetrators (who referred to it as "a social experiment") faced public condemnation, eventually apologizing to the PNP and to Ahn.

Early life and education[edit]

Ahn was born James Anthony Hellmann in the naval hospital at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, to two US Navy enlisted personnel: his father John, Jr., an aviation electronics technician, and his mother JoAnn (née Delfarro), a journalist.[1] He dropped out of Oak Harbor High School at age 16 and obtained a GED so he could enroll in community college. After completing his lower division coursework there, he transferred to Western Washington University (WWU). He earned his bachelor's degree in comparative cultural studies at WWU and a master's degree in Counselor Education at Penn State University.[2]


After graduate school Ahn moved to Seattle and worked as a psychotherapist.[2] In late 2002 he was dismissed from his job as the supervisor of a group home for at-risk youth in Seattle, after one of the residents accused him of hugging her and holding her hand. In a 2013 retrospective he penned for news portal Rappler, Ahn contended that her allegations were false; made in retaliation for his sanctioning her with loss of privileges for illegal possession of a controlled substance.[3] Thereafter he left the social services and found work in retail management.

Months later, the Washington State Department of Health's Office of Counselor Programs administratively charged Ahn with professional misconduct. As this was an administrative proceeding which culminated in a hearing before an administrative law judge conducted over the telephone, rather than a criminal proceeding before a Superior Court judge, Ahn was not entitled to a public defender in the event he could not afford a lawyer. Concerned he would not be able to adequately represent himself pro se against a seasoned state attorney, he entered an Alford plea and agreed to a ten-year revocation of his counselor registration.[3]

Technomancer Press[edit]

In 2004 while working his day job in retail management, Ahn co-founded Technomancer Press, a game publishing company that produced books for role playing gamers. Two years later he was elected Executive Director of the Game Publisher's Association, a trade association for publishers of role playing games.[4] Technomancer Press received media attention after launching TerraDrive Live, a live action MMORPG, which was debuted at PAX 2007 in Seattle.[5] On June 1 Ahn began encouraging player generated content by launching a wiki to allow users to help flesh out the TerraDrive universe[5] allowing the community to create factions, write backstory, and develop characters, which they could then role-play themselves during the live-action portion of the game at PAX.[5][6]

South Korea[edit]

In 2007 Ahn moved to South Korea as a communications consultant for the Republic of Korea Air Force Education and Training Command. In March 2008 he co-founded the Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK), serving as founding communications director.[7]

Sugye card given to Ahn when he joined the Jogye Order, bearing his new Buddhist name and signifying his commitment to keeping the Five precepts.

In June 2008 he underwent sugye at the Buddhist temple on the ROKAF base he worked on, and was given the Buddhist name "Ji Gwang" (meaning "to know light"), as shown on his sugye certificate. He adopted "Ji Gwang" as his given name, choosing the surname "Ahn" (meaning "tranquil"). In September 2008 he joined the Department of English Education faculty at Kyungnam University.[8]

In February 2009, ATEK was ready for its public launch. Ahn's first official duty was promoting the "Equal Checks for All Campaign" in support of law professor Benjamin Wagner, who filed a report with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) on February 4, 2009, asserting that HIV tests, drug tests, and criminal background checks required of foreign English language teachers entering Korea were discriminatory and in violation of the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to which South Korea is a signatory.[9] Ahn urged teachers to file individual discrimination complaints with the NHRCK.[10][11][12][13]

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea, after initially dismissing the 50 individual complaints, eventually recommended the government stop its mandatory HIV testing of foreign English teachers, after the commission allowed the case to be taken to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which told Korea in 2015 to apologize and pay compensation to a former assistant teacher at an elementary school who lost her job after she had refused to submit to an HIV test. The committee also told Korea to remove visa requirements for HIV testing.[14]

April 2009, ATEK Press published The English Teacher's Guide to Korea, a 351-page trade paperback designed and edited by Ahn, co-authored by him (under the name "Tony Hellmann") and three other English teachers. 1200 copies were printed under a partnership with the Seoul Global Center and distributed to foreign English teachers around the country.[13]

Rogue Magazine reported that "opposing parties countered with a smear campaign".[15] Ahn's political opponents included Korean organizations.[16] According to Ahn, an anonymous message was sent to Kyungnam University where he worked, alleging that he "had sex with two underage girls".[3] Ahn filed a criminal libel case against the accuser, a British English teacher living in Seoul.[3] The man retaliated by posting the allegations against Ahn publicly on his blog and in ESL teacher forums, starting a social media firestorm of condemnation. Ahn wrote that

In Internet forums I was called a "violent pornographer," a 'child molester,' and a 'serial rapist.' I began receiving hate mail. One of my detractors had this to say: "We will have won when you leave this country broken, blacklisted and when your name is a symbol of deceit, lies and a perfect example of what NOT to be in Korea. Only when your name is ruined will I be satisfied."[3]

The Korea Times reported that the unwanted public attention caused Ahn's department at Kyungnam University to not renew his faculty contract the following year, with a university official telling the Korea Times that "He wanted to work with us, but we are reluctant to do so, although he might be innocent."[17] In April 2009, Ahn departed the organization.[7] He subsequently moved to China. Months after Ahn's departure from Korea, the Korea Times reported that the anonymous allegations against him had prompted an investigation by Korean police which found no criminal record in his home country or any other evidence that would corroborate the claims against him.[17]


Ahn had already left Korea and was studying Mandarin Chinese at a university in China, where he began a relationship with a Filipino-Chinese woman conducting research for her doctoral dissertation. In 2010, he moved to Metro Manila with her to head a small market research company she owned there. They planned to marry, but their engagement came to an end shortly after her family decided to Google his name and read the spurious allegations against him.[15]

Digital public relations[edit]

Ahn opened the first reputation management consultancy in the Philippines in 2010.[18][19] He directed the Manila-based consultancy until it was acquired by one of the largest public relations firms in the country.[20] In 2012, Tony Ahn opened the doors on full-service digital public relations agency Tony Ahn & Co.[15][18]

Tony Ahn & Co.'s first client was Philippine Savings Bank, which tapped Ahn for reputation management after being subpoenaed by the Senate of the Philippines in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Renato Corona. Rumors of corruption arose when the president of PSBank was threatened with contempt by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile for refusing to disclose information about accounts held by Chief Justice Corona. Ahn arranged for a blog written by PSBank President Pascual Garcia, social media monitoring, and a specialized response to social media speculation about the bank president's suspected corruption: he hired an attorney to join identified online discussions and explain how existing bank secrecy laws prohibited bank employees from disclosing information about US dollar accounts.[15][20] Rogue Magazine reported that "in place of a potential media wildfire, public opinion was neatly won in nine days time."[15]

In 2013, Ahn again landed in controversy when The Daily Dot reported that Ahn's agency sold Wikipedia articles to clients and placed clients' articles on the Wikipedia main page. In the discussion of these practices, Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales called Ahn's actions a "disgrace to Wikipedia",[21][22] and "revolting,"[23] although The Daily Dot noted that not everyone was in agreement with Wales.[21]

The following month, national online news portal Interaksyon reported that after Philippine online metro guide When In Manila trended on Twitter subsequent to winning the Globe Tatt Awards—even longer than the award event itself trended—Ahn engineered it, explaining step-by-step how the day before the event, he wrote a draft article announcing the win, then instructed over a hundred When In Manila contributors to watch for it and tweet the link with a preselected hashtag as soon as they saw it, then retweet each other's tweets. When their win was announced, Ahn published the article within seconds ("before we even took the stage," he told Interaksyon) and his plan was executed. The announcement of the win trended from that evening well into the next morning.[24]

Several months later, industry press reported that Ahn's social media services included brokering celebrity social media posts endorsing his clients' products.[25][26]

In May 2014, Ahn began lecturing on digital public relations and marketing to graduate students in the Department of Marketing Management at De La Salle University's Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. He has been invited to speak at annual academic and industry association conferences including the 5th Internet and Mobile Marketing Summit,[27] the International Conference on Corporate Communication and Consultancy,[27] the Association of Health Maintenance Organizations Convention,[27] the 19th National PR Congress,[28] the Resiliency Forum Asia,[29] and the Mining Philippines Conference and Exhibition.[30]


Ahn has written five nonfiction books as "Tony Hellmann."

The following table can be sorted to show Ahn's books in chronological order,
or arranged alphabetically by title or co-author.
Year Title Co-author(s) Publisher ISBN or CCL
2006 The Critonomicon: A Guide to Critical Hits, Fumbles, and Magical Mishaps Technomancer Press 978-0-9769310-0-3
(Paperback, 92 pages)
2006 The Manual of Mysteries: A Guide to Puzzles, Codes, and Riddles in Your Fantasy Campaign Setting Technomancer Press 978-0-9769310-1-0
(Paperback, 56 pages)
2006 Player's Companion: Getting More Out of Your PHB Matthew L. Baldridge Technomancer Press 978-0-9769310-2-7
(Paperback, 92 pages)
2007 ConQuests: Four Ready-to-Go Adventures Technomancer Press 978-0-9769310-3-4
(Paperback, 142 pages)
2009 The English Teacher's Guide to Korea: Living, Working, and Thriving in Korea Sparkling Tom Rainey-Smith, Jason Thomas, Matt Henderson ATEK Press CC Attribution-NonCommercial-Share-alike 2.0
(Paperback, 351 pages)

In the Philippines, Ahn (writing as "Tony Ahn") wrote expository articles on digital public relations for the Philippine Star, ad industry periodical adobo magazine, and international social media, digital marketing, and business sites Convince & Convert, Business Insider, Marketing Agency Insider, Social Media Examiner, and Social Media Today. He has contributed news to media portal Interaksyon, and both opinion/analysis pieces and short fiction to literary magazine Philippines Graphic. He forayed into fiction in 2015 and his short stories have been nominated for the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards two years running.[31] In 2016 he began blogging for the Huffington Post.

Volunteer work[edit]

Ahn has consulted pro bono for the Armed Forces of the Philippines 7th Civil Relations Group and the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC). He was involved in disaster relief efforts after Typhoon Nesat (2011) and Typhoon Haiyan, and has also done volunteer work for the Philippine Red Cross.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Ahn at Bataan Death March Marker 100 on December 26, 2015

Ahn enjoys wilderness backpacking.[2] He is actively pursuing Filipino citizenship.[31]

"Diaper Patrol"[edit]

In January 2015, Philippine TV stations ABS-CBN and GMA Network; national news portals Interaksyon and; and national newspapers The Philippine Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer all reported on photos Ahn captured during Pope Francis' visit to the Philippines. While en route to Pope Francis' appearance, Ahn noticed men in police shirts and adult diapers standing together, monitoring the crowd, while a man with a video camera and an ABS-CBN shirt videotaped them.[32][33][34][35][36][37] Initially believing them to be genuine police officers in diapers, Ahn took photos of the men and posted them to his Facebook page with the caption:

You probably wouldn't believe this if I didn't have photos. I laughed so hard at Diaper Patrol that I almost peed my pants! That wouldn't slow them down though! UPDATE: The person who organized this has stated that it was staged. Not real cops. Although it was shot along the Papal Route, near Banko Sentral, during the papal visit, these are not actual police officers. Thank God.[32]

The man with the camera admitted to the press that the diaper-wearing men in the police uniform shirts weren't really police officers and that his group was conducting "a social experiment." After facing public condemnation from both the Philippine National Police and the general public, the head of the organization apologized to the public and to Ahn.[32][33][34][35][36][37]

Bataan Death March[edit]

In 2015, over Christmas, Ahn solo-hiked the 63-mile (101 km) Bataan Death March, eating only one cup of rice and drinking one liter of water per day, in order to raise awareness that Filipinos had also been forced to march.[38] Ahn followed the same route as the 1942 march, taking four days to cover the 55 miles (89 km) from Mariveles at the Bataan Peninsula's southern end to the provincial capital of San Fernando, Pampanga. He followed this on the morning of the following day with a bus ride to Capas—the prisoners were taken there via a railway no longer in operation—and an 8-mile (13 km) march from the old Capas train station to the Capas National Shrine at Camp O'Donnell.[31][38]


  1. ^ Brown, Eileen (November 21, 2013). "Still Talking". Whidbey Weekly. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Laing, Callum (July 29, 2015). "Tony Ahn, owner of Tony Ahn & Co.". The Asian Entrepreneur. Retrieved July 22, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Ahn, Tony (October 21, 2013). "Hard Lessons of a Reputation Manager". Rappler. Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  4. ^ "GPA Elects Board of Directors". Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c "TerraDrive to Launch at PAX". ICV2. May 17, 2007. Retrieved October 2, 2016. 
  6. ^ Kuchera, Ben (August 14, 2007). "Massive live-action role-playing game set on record attempt at PAX". Ars Technica. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b York, Rob (March 29, 2010). "One year later, ATEK struggles for recognition". The Korea Herald. Retrieved November 3, 2016. 
  8. ^ Ahn, Tony (December 2, 2016). "Profile". LinkedIn. Retrieved December 3, 2016. 
  9. ^ Kim, Mi-ju; Leaver, Kate (February 5, 2009). "Visa rules for foreign English teachers challenged". Joong Ang Daily. Seoul. Archived from the original on February 1, 2010. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  10. ^ Glionna, John (February 24, 2009). "Trying to teach South Korea about discrimination". LA Times. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  11. ^ Kwon, Mee-yoo (March 11, 2009). "English Instructors Start Network Against Discrimination". Korea Times. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  12. ^ Kang, Shin-who (May 8, 2009). "Immigration Office Lax in Screening Drug Users". Korea Times. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b York, James (May 30, 2010). "Organization seeks to help foreign teachers". Korea Herald. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  14. ^ Kerry, Paul (October 6, 2016). "NHRCK backs teacher's complaint over HIV tests". Korea Herald. Retrieved October 6, 2016. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Lim, Arianna (June 26, 2015). "How Tony Ahn Pioneered Digital Public Relations in the Philippines". Rogue Media. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  16. ^ Card, James (June 20, 2008). "Teachers unite in South Korea". The Guardian. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  17. ^ a b Kang, Shin-who (September 23, 2009). "Foreign Teachers' Calls for Help Left Unanswered". Korea Times. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  18. ^ a b "2015 Design Trends". adobo magazine. Sanserif. July 15, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Professional Bio". Tony Ahn & Co. July 15, 2016. Retrieved September 25, 2016. 
  20. ^ a b Tribdino, Raymond (January 7, 2015). "Laying down a real world digital marketing architecture". Malaya Business Insight. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  21. ^ a b Sampson, Tim (June 8, 2013). "Is Wikipedia's Main Page for Sale?". The Daily Dot. Retrieved September 25, 2016. 
  22. ^ "Meet the man who will write your brand's Wikipedia page". Mumbrella Asia. May 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2016. 
  23. ^ Sampson, Tim (June 11, 2014). "Major PR firms promise to play by Wikipedia's rules". The Daily Dot. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  24. ^ "Winners of Tatt Awards honored, one pulls Twitter stunt". Interaksyon. July 14, 2013. Retrieved September 30, 2016. 
  25. ^ Bayani, Oliver (July 2, 2014). "Tony Ahn & Co. launches StarNet micro endorsement platform". Marketing Magazine. Retrieved September 25, 2016. 
  26. ^ "PR man Tony Ahn on the merits, ethics and effectiveness of sponsored celebrity tweeting". Mumbrella Asia. June 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2016. 
  27. ^ a b c Ahn, Tony. "Tony Ahn: Speaking". Tony Ahn & Co. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  28. ^ "Top foreign and local PR, digital, brand experts to speak at 19th National PR Congress". GMA News Online. September 24, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  29. ^ "Resiliancy Forum Asia 2013 Speakers". Resiliancy Forum Asia. 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  30. ^ "Conference Program" (PDF). Chamber of Mines. 2013. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  31. ^ a b c d Ahn, Tony (January 14, 2016). "TRAVEL DIARY: Hiking the Bataan Death March 2015". Interaksyon. Archived from the original on January 15, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  32. ^ a b c Pedrasa, Ira (January 20, 2015). "PNP slams 'social experiment' on diaper-wearing cops". ABS CBN. Retrieved September 25, 2016. 
  33. ^ a b "Project Awesome says sorry for 'cops in diapers experiment'". ABS CBN. January 23, 2015. Retrieved September 30, 2016. 
  34. ^ a b Aurelio, Julie M.; De Jesus, Julliane Love (January 21, 2015). "Diaper 'cops' video rankles police, public". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved October 2, 2016. 
  35. ^ a b Fonamillas, Lei (January 21, 2015). "PNP disappointed with viral photos of cops in diapers". Philippine Canadian Inquirer. Retrieved October 2, 2016. 
  36. ^ a b Felipe, Cecille (January 21, 2015). "PNP dismayed by viral photos of cops wearing diapers". Philippine Star. Retrieved October 2, 2016. 
  37. ^ a b Chiu, Patricia Denise (January 21, 2015). "PNP frowns on 'diaper cops'". GMA News. Retrieved October 2, 2016. 
  38. ^ a b Ornauer, Dave (January 20, 2016). "American walks Bataan Death March to raise awareness of Philippine involvement". Stars & Stripes. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 

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