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#AOTYAwards 2021 spills: Moving Bits' hopes for the future as it punches above its weight

#AOTYAwards 2021 spills: Moving Bits' hopes for the future as it punches above its weight

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Moving Bits was founded in 1998 by CEO and director Jay Soo and is a Singapore and US-based project studio engaged in productions worldwide. This boutique studio comprises creative, production and post-production teams all under one roof. Among the list of clients it has worked with include CPF, Sentosa, Far East Organisation, Disney, Singapore Airlines, and Changi Airport Group. The agency is constantly pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo, which impressed our judges at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Agency of the Year Awards 2021.

Soo also took home the title of Agency Leader of the Year, beating out stiff competition. He shares with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE the proudest part about being with Moving Bits and the initiatives he has implemented to ensure its employees feel valued.

This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners' and finalists’ interview series for AOTY Awards 2021. To find out more about the awards, click here.

Tell us what these mean for you?

Soo: Moving Bits won the bronze award in the category of Best Production Company this year, and in the past, we've won Local Hero, Silver and Gold as well, so I guess we've come full circle.

It's nice to know that in the past half a decade or so, Moving Bits has been seen as one of the country's top production companies (as adjudicated by a jury of Singapore's top marketeers) even though we've never really seen ourselves as a video production house.

Let me explain; right from the beginning, we've always thought of ourselves as a creative team focused on coming up with ideas that help our clients' customers experience their products or services vicariously. And it just so happens that the best medium for a vicarious experience is the moving image. This explains why we work predominantly with video and why we are often perceived as a production house. Although in reality, we've been a hybrid agency since our inception. We were "hybrid" long before "hybrid" was hip.

As for winning the title Agency Leader of the Year, that was a huge surprise because there were others in the competition from much bigger agencies than ours, who I thought would surely win. But it's a wonderful title to have, and I am grateful that the judges thought me worthy, and the trophy will look lovely amidst our awards display in the studio. So thank you, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, for making this possible.

What makes you proudest about being part of your agency?

Soo: The fact that Michell Tan, our GM and executive producer, has been with us for more than a decade (13 to be exact), our CCO, has been with the company for 14 years, our chief editor, has been with me for 13 years, and even our "youngest" creative director, has been in the company eight years.

Of course, we have many new chaps as well, but I understand from my friends in other agencies that this HR track record is pretty outstanding for creative agencies like Moving Bits. Decades-old at an agency is almost unheard of. So I'm proud of that. I think that, if nothing else, I've given a bunch of really talented young people an opportunity to strut their stuff not just at home here in Singapore but all over the world.

I mean, we've worked with The Smithsonian and the World Bank in Washington DC; The Children's Television Workshop in New York, Universal Studios in Orlando & Singapore; the Kenya Power & Light Co. in Kenya; Pan Pacific in London; Hong Kong Disneyland, Hilton, Sennheiser in the Asia Pacific and closer to home, Disney+ in SE Asia; Genting Skyworlds, Keppel Corp., the Pan Pacific Hotels Group, Resorts World Genting, Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore University of Social Sciences amongst others.

So, it makes me so proud that as a very small creative agency on a tiny little red dot, we've collaborated, created and executed work for some of the biggest companies worldwide. I can't tell you how proud that makes me.

As Mike Amour, ex-Havas APAC chairman and CEO, once said to me: "many people can get meetings. What you've done is get real clients to sign on the dotted line and pay you. Now that is no easy feat." Coming from an industry veteran like Mike, that meant a lot.

What are some of the initiatives you have in place to ensure your staff feel proud to be associated with your agency?

Soo: No one in the office has the best idea. Not our chief creative officer, creative director. Not even me. We sell the best idea always no matter who or where it comes from. All staff are expected to treat everyone with the same respect, and that means the client’s auntie serving drinks gets as much regard as the CEO does.

I have a good friend who's no longer in advertising, but when I first met him, he was a "lowly" account executive (his words not mine) at a big network agency. He was the reason Moving Bits got to work on Universal Studios and Resorts World Sentosa. Our first big break.

Anyway, Jeremy Bek, who's now global head at Rakuten Travel, said to me, while we were having dinner one night in Tokyo, that the reason for inviting us to take part in a creative pitch that included some of the biggest names in the business was because: "Whenever I saw you in the office, you treated me like a long lost friend. The other suppliers ignored me and only acknowledged my bosses."

That made a big impression on me even though I was just my usual friendly self and because we got along really well. So many of our clients have become personal friends over the years. And finally, everybody here walks their talk. Because if you are phoney about anything at all, I (and the client) will sniff you out. Does that make sense?

How are you attracting talent to your agency?

Soo: Because we're so small, we don't go out of the way to attract talent. But I think the biggest draw for anyone contemplating working with us is that they'll get to operate worldwide and work with big-name clients in different parts of the civilised world.

And because every country is different, you get a chance to up your game. That alone, I think, is a really attractive reason to want to work at Moving Bits. Plus, with the kind of clientele list Moving Bits has, it does look good in a person’s portfolio.

Besides, one week the team is shooting on the backlot of Universal Studios in Orlando; next week, they could be in Hong Kong working on a Disneyland project. That same team is in the Maldives the following month, running around barefooted for a whole week. And so on. (This is an actual illustration of our work-life before the damn pandemic hit.) So now we all just sit at home and ZOOM around the world. (Laughs.)  Damn pandemic!

What are your hopes for the Singapore advertising scene in 2021?

Soo: There are hugely talented people working in the marketing industry here, especially in advertising. And I hope that these folks get the opportunity to wet their whistles and make their mark on local work that travels internationally, as well as experience working in different countries with different cultures.

Because Singapore is so tiny, understandably, marketing budgets in our home country are equally small (comparatively). So sometimes, it's difficult to do stuff with significant impact given the budgets available. But with more and more companies having their regional headquarters here, I think that's slowly changing.

This means everybody in this business gets the opportunity of doing nice stuff with a much larger scope and impact. I do not doubt that folks in the ad business can rise to the challenge; they just need the opportunity.

To sum it up, I hope that the Singapore advertising scene in 2021 goes big(ger), and we bring it home. So although we're small, if we prove ourselves capable and adaptable and willing to learn other people's cultures' then Southeast Asia becomes our playground. And it is so much fun because Indonesians, Malaysians, Thais, Filipinos, Vietnamese are all so different and talented, and we learn so much just by working and rubbing shoulders with our neighbours. This past year I've had the good fortune of doing precisely this, and it has been a ball.

Talking about fun, it is my philosophy that you only live once, so the goal in life and at work is always to have as much fun doing it as you can. Yes, it's stressful at times; it's damn hard work, but boy, it's exciting and exhilarating too. How lucky are we all who are involved in this crazy business of advertising?

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