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What Malaysia’s adland can expect from its new 4As leadership

Earlier in June this year, The Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of Malaysia (4As) saw the exit of executive director Kenneth Wong, with ad industry stalwart Khairudin Rahim being appointed in the newly created role of CEO.

A respected name in the industry, Khairudin was last chairman of Lowe & Partners Malaysia, before retiring from the role two years ago.

A+M speaks to Khairudin on what adland can expect from his leadership at the 4As.

The first thing on his list of priorities is to introduce pitch guidelines, educating advertisers on the most time efficient and effective ways to choose an agency partner, said Khairudin.

“The 4As Pitch guidelines will adopt global best practices including a robust set of evaluation criteria for advertisers to refer to. Consequently, this will then become the professional benchmark for pitching agencies to meet and exceed, to help raise industry standards all round,” he said.

After enforcing mandatory pitch fees nine years ago, the 4As has still been maintaining its mandate with the practice.

“4As members are fully aware that if they agree to pitch before the advertiser has agreed to an undertaking to pay the pitch disbursement fee, the members risk membership suspension for up to two years. To date, only one member has been suspended. So I think it has been effectively upheld,” said Khairudin. This comes shortly after the 4As issued a letter to MAS to pay pitch fees, after the latter held a major pitch, initially calling up to 15 agencies.

Across the board, clients have been known to commit the worst sins in pitching. For example, already having an incumbent or agency in mind during a pitch; constantly changing criteria and a lack of transparency. Read also (Exposing bad pitch behavior).

Khairudin points out that ad or communications agencies are simply not recognized for their role in brand building and driving profitability for companies.

“This especially amongst home-grown brand owners who have yet to understand that in today’s world of product parity, the last unfair advantage a brand can have is the power of a “high value idea” from their advertising agency,” he said.

He sees part of his role at the 4As as promoting value of advertising agencies to marketers and brand owners. Raising industry standards, fostering professional development of agency talent are on his list of priorities as well.

Struggling with the traditional agency model

It’s no secret agencies are looking for their sweet spot when it comes to their business models.

“The compensation scheme from clients is unfair – all the media agencies are making the money, and right now the creative agencies in this country lack direction,” said Foetus group founder and industry strongman Tan Sri Vincent Lee, in an earlier interview with A+M.

Khairudin echoes the same sentiments, saying that agencies need to stop generalising: “Agencies can no longer be everything to everyone and risk being nothing to anyone,”

“Agencies need to de-commoditise. Most successful agencies are usually distinctive in specialty, philosophy, process, capabilities or any other area of agency operations. It is almost impossible to be different but you can be distinctive. I find the need to evolve the traditional advertising agency business model as our biggest industry challenge. The 4As will facilitate and provide input for our members to re-configure, re-boot their agencies to evolve from “Story Tellers” to “Story Amplifiers”,” he said.

The 4As is hosting the IPA (UK) to present a report on the future of marketing and agencies, as a start to creating awareness on the issue.

“This will provide the catalyst for our member agencies to understand the future of the advertising agency business and the four new service models that have emerged,” added Khairudin.

He describes his leadership style as “consultative, collaborative, supportive but autocratic or authoritarian should a situation call for it.”

For the past two years during his break from advertising, Khairudin was co-owner of a luxury country side resort AmanRimba in KampungJandaBaik, Pahang, he reveals, working on the resort’s marketing.

“Now I know how it actually feels to be a real brand owner,” he joked.

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