Charging towards 2020: Malaysian independent agency heads remain bullish

In the blink of an eye, another year has flown by. Once again, the Malaysian ad industry was overcome with pitch fever and the topic of burnout was still rampant, with industry players calling for the issue to be addressed. In September this year, the Ministry of Finance reported that the Malaysian economy expanded by 4.9% to RM348.8 billion, after recording a growth of 4.5% during Q1 2019. This prompted industry players to discuss if advertisers should ride the wave of growth or remain cautious.

Despite the challenging times, the independent agencies in Malaysia remain tenacious and constantly strive to prove they can take on the big boys. A+M speaks to leaders of independent agencies on what they are looking forward to in 2020.

Ashvin Anamalai, chief strategist, Be Strategic

The world around us is changing rapidly including landscapes, industries and societies. This will also have an impact on the entire sphere of the industry. We can already see brands shifting their strengths towards automation, big data, IoT and others, making a profound impact on how consumers are thinking and how content is consumed in their daily lives.

Be Strategic's 2020 plan will be to firmly ride this rapid shift and assist brands toward major breakthroughs, and making smart investments in the unknown.

Our roles are evolving and key focus will be to shine a light where it is dark. As we prepare for a new uncharted future, strategic partnerships will be crucial as we embark on brand transformations that will enable brands to communicate more effectively.

Staff training will also remain our key priority as the need for knowledge and competencies continues to increase.

As always, we remain committed in our mission to help brands to tell their stories, but in new ways for a new decade. It may sound like a challenge, but, with imagination, collaboration and preparation it can and will happen.

Fazil Fuad, CEO, C27

A big year for C27, we see 2020 as the year we double down in our endless pursuit in spreading the gospel of digital enablement. We have been experimenting internally on how the latest digital tools of our time can be a companion in unlocking amazing brand experiences of the future, particularly bridging the O2O gap. If you look at the recent boom of e-wallets, marketers can’t afford to ignore the impending digitisation of the entire consumer experience.

We are not just talking about user engagement in the upper funnels of digital but right down to transactions on the ground.

We will see the early building blocks of O2O marketing ROI attribution as digitisation takes over and the gap between sales and marketing will start to disappear.

It’s glaringly obvious that fundamentals of how modern marketing will be done in the next 50 years will emerge in the year to come. We also see increasing accessibility of digital services to being a key drivers of our business. As consumers get more sophisticated with their needs, digital SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy, we have a vision to accelerate our nations agenda in digital enablement and we will only move the needle if we start being inclusive in servicing businesses across the economic spectrum.

Well it definitely won’t be easy! There is ongoing disruption on every aspect on our business, not just in a daily basis but it seems to happen hourly these days. Keeping up and evolving is half the work, internally we have recognised if we take more than a quarter year to master something, it might already be irrelevant.

Partnerships are more crucial than ever, digital engagement has gave birth to new methods of brand engagement but it has also created an extremely fragmented market and that’s always a challenge. A one-size-fits-all agency will be a thing of the past, we are seeing niche services popping up left right and centre and working well with people at the forefront of disruption will be an advantage to anyone. However, the rise of “niche services” is also an indicator of market maturity, which makes all of this a lot more exciting.

Casey Loh, chief creative (pictured left) and Syed Nasir business chief (pictured right), The Clan

Both business chief Syed Nasir and creative chief Casey Loh agreed that it’s time to reinforce the bonds that binds Clan to the right people and clients. Syed said the agency is going to continue to keep its eyes and ears fixed on the ground to ensure that its offerings are relevant to tomorrow’s needs.

It’s a year to streamline the narrative of various communication platforms with contextual creativity at the forefront of our offerings.

As for Loh, he said that the agency will bolster the leadership within its team by giving its employees the right roles to make the shifts they want to see in the agency. The Clan will also add on to its media department and put plenty of focus on growing its tech and experiential design teams.

Tania Tai, MD, DIA Brands Malaysia

What a year 2019 has been! Brands had to grapple with the longest and most challenging 11th bull run in global economic history, whilst navigating digital disruptions on all fronts. But hey, look on the brighter side. All this is making brand owners, agencies and fellow industry collaborators, more resilient and ready to take on the 2020 turnaround.

Off the top of my head, here are the top three things that will define market success in the upcoming year:

1. Be trust building, not trust busting: In a world where every form of brand messaging has become white noise, meaningful connections will allow brands to form a less invasive and more genuine customer experience.

2. Lead with purpose and digital agility: Purpose brings clarity and focus to what we do. It becomes even more powerful when it’s a source of restless reinvention and digital transformation.

3. Wellbeing on the corporate agenda: With burnout officially recognised as an occupational health phenomenon by the World Health Organisation in May 2019, we foresee more organisations taking employee well being more seriously. Take for example, DIA’s work with the Chemical Company of Malaysia. A company-wide initiative was launched to help CCMers rejuvenate from within, reinvent the workplace and restore joy in society.

Prashant Kumar, founder and senior partner, Entropia

The year 2020 is going to be most importantly about people. We have a company full of hungry young leaders, who we have carefully curated to groom them as the next generation of industry leaders.

We have had an above 90% retention this year of our high performers, and we are quite proud of that. Next year my wish is for it to be 100%.

Next year is going to be about humility. As we expand into frontier areas of technology and experience design in the fourth Industrial Age - extended reality, AI and IoT - we expect to be both very very hungry and very very humble. Also this year we were the most awarded agency in all the four major awards - two local and two regional - that we participated in. It was a hundred percent domination and we hope we can take it up a notch next year. Hope that’s not too greedy.

Shaun Tay, co-owner and CEO, FCB Malaysia

Growth and empowerment will be FCB’s guiding principles for 2020. We’re coming off a massively successful 2019 that delivered significant organic growth, over 20 new business wins and a ton of local and regional awards including back to back agency of the year wins. We will continue to build on this momentum by doubling down on what makes us the #1 Malaysian owned and operated agency - our people.

We’ve spent the last year looking for and bringing in very specific types of talents that will thrive with our challenger mindset.

The hands-on, hearts on sleeve characters who are invested in creating an agency that they can proudly call their own.

Their personal growth and that of FCB’s is intertwined and we will be looking at empowering them to take the next step forwards as business and creative leaders.

Jeff Chang, CEO, FOREFRONT

The year 2019 has been a fruitful year for FOREFRONT, albeit the challenges within the industry. We’ve restructured our core services internally and launched a new F&B outlet, deepened our capabilities and kept our brand partners excited for what we can offer. For 2020, expansion continues to be our focus, whether we’re growing our businesses in the various industries we’re in, such as F&B or real estate sales, or breaking new ground across Southeast Asia.

Plans are in the works to diversify our digital solutions.

At the same time, we are dreaming up unique ways to deliver brand experiences for our clients and acquiring talents that will add to FOREFRONT’s value. We’re looking forward to 2020 and all that comes our way.

Peter De Kretser, CEO, GO Communications and director, GO Group

For the optimists, 2020 provides us with much to be excited about! The Olympics (and Paralympics), EURO Football Championships, US elections, Visit Malaysia Year or the simple fact that we all celebrate a leap year already tick a few boxes on the calendar of what is shaping to be a game-changing year, both domestically and across the globe.

At GO Communications, we are equally enthusiastic to unleash more dynamic campaigns for both clients of old, together with a fresh inbound of new brands recently added to the GO portfolio. The year 2019 proved to be a positive year for the agency but also one of introspection (how we can improve), investment (in people, tools and culture) and emphasis with our ever-expanding digital operation.

Next year provides the perfect platform for us to push boundaries within the digital sphere, elevating brands through imaginative ideation coupled with tangible results.

The New Year allows us the continuation of developing and further harnessing great talent, developing blockbuster ideas into accurate results-orientated campaigns and just as importantly delivering it with passion and a smile. I say, bring on 2020 – it’s gonna be all systems GO!

Ryan Ong, managing partner, Kingdom Digital

Kingdom Digital has had robust growth in 2019 – from retaining and winning multiple clients to newly expanded office space for the growing team and establishing our first Southeast Asian office outside of Malaysia. Our Singapore operations is off to a solid start with several opportunities in the pipeline. We are also looking to bolster the Singapore team with more local hires to ensure we deliver on these projects with experts.

Riding on this momentum, we aim to drive our business forward in the new year with the following goals in mind:

1. Spread our wings further across the Southeast Asia region, particularly in Indonesia and Philippines in the coming months.

2. Embrace the latest innovations and trends in social media & content marketing to deliver never seen before results for our clients

3. To become the top five agency in the region for social and content marketing

Ann Chong, MD, LEWIS

These are challenging times, especially for our local media giants which have all, in some way, taken a hit the past year. As a result, the pool of channels for brands to capitalise is shrinking. This trend will likely continue, and the elimination of traditional models will make way for alternative media.

The year 2019 has largely been about diversification for LEWIS – we’ve ventured into new business segments by helping our clients increase their market penetration through new channels. We will continue to embrace change in 2020 as we anticipate increasing difficulty for brands to get in front of consumers and influence conversion.

In this respect, businesses that are not afraid to experiment with new tools, channels and technologies will thrive.

My wish for 2020 is that the industry takes more chances and push their limits in experimentation for greater gain.

Lara Hussein, CEO and founding partner, M&C Saatchi

We will be going through a fundamental shift in 2020, and our priority will be to stabilise the current businesses and look for new opportunities for growth. Our goal will be to create companies that are specialised and can contribute to our bottom line and making our staff become a part of the business through an attractive scheme. This reflects our "creative entrepreneurship” positioning globally.

We currently have The Source, a marketing research company; Design Factory for social media; and Watermelon for content and activation. We will be setting up CLEAR, a marketing consultancy, in January and possibly looking at creative technology companies next. The beauty about M&C Saatchi as a network is that nothing stops us from building new start ups as long as our base remains fundamentally strong.

In terms of our underlying business, we will focus on talent,training and technology, and how we can be better at these 3Ts. To upskill our teams, we make sure we keep pace with technology and are able to offer innovative solutions to our clients.

Last but not least and something I am personally very passionate about is how to further our diversity and inclusive mantra and initiatives locally.

And globally, how do we empower and attract young fresh talent, especially women, to join the industry to boost up the creative sector. There are currently very few women in creative senior roles and in strategic planning, and I want to champion this.

Shanker Joyrama, founder and CEO, Orion Digital

With more businesses understanding the importance of digital marketing and moving away from traditional media, we can definitely expect to see a continued surge in demand for digital agencies. The competition is fierce in this industry with multitude of agencies out there but, we, as Orion Digital stand out by offering our bold, nonconformist idea to brands — not only as trend identifiers but as consultants.

Consumer power is growing and in 2020, we are expecting to see a shift with more brands riding on this wave and personalising content around their audience.

With the breadth of our experience and integrated approach to digital marketing, we plan to bring these brands onwards and upwards.

Read also:
SG and MY marketers share learning lessons from 2019
Malaysian agency leads share their hopes for 2019
Marketers and agency leads in Malaysia share their wishlist for 2018