Dentsu Aegis Network SG outlines leadership structure and biz model across 3 units

Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) has witnessed several changes over the course of the year. Prakash Kamdar took on the role of CEO of DAN Singapore in September 2019, while leadership changes also included the departure of Dick van Motman, Ted Lim, Audrey Kuah, and SK Biswas, among others.

According to DAN then, the management shuffle was in line with the network's One Dentsu strategy aimed at driving greater simplification and joined-up thinking. In December last year, the network also aligned with a new global business model split into three key pillars of creative, media and CRM. Meanwhile, a DAN Solutions team will sit across all brands to drive best practice. Led by CEO Yusuke Kasahara, Solutions is designed to build new revenue streams, create strategic client opportunities, accelerate product development and cultivate meaningful partnerships.

In an interview with Marketing, Kamdar said the One trajectory at DAN was established as clients want ease, expertise and joined-up thinking. It was really about fewer agency relationships that can solve bigger problems, he added. According to Kamdar, the role of the CMO is well evolving and it is well documented to becoming a chief growth officer, where one is expected to bring more value, business growth, drive insights and transformation towards innovation.

"They are wearing many many hats, and they believe that investing in big ideas and creativity is more critical than before. But at the same time, they want all of this integrated as opposed to it being fragmented," he said, adding:

[Clients] want ease, expertise and joined-up thinking, hence this sums up the concerted effort towards becoming One Dentsu. It is ultimately in response to a client demand and a client need.

As such, DAN has in place a unified market approach, which deep dives into the data-driven, idea-led, insight-grounded and technology-enabled landscape. The new business model across DAN currently serves several clients, with work that cuts across at least two, or more of the three lines of businesses. These clients include Apple, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Mastercard, Standard Chartered, Shiseido, NTUC Income, and several others.

In Singapore, the leadership structure consists of:

dan sg leadership

Kamdar explained that DAN Singapore's business model is organised as one that is client centric, recognising all elements of the customer lifecycle and which is ultimately towards winning, keeping and growing its clients’ best customers. "What is really important is empowered client leadership, strategy, creativity, data and technology. We believe this is not something to be owned by one particular type of business, but are capabilities that stretch across all our lines of business and are critical towards delivering client centric and joined-up thinking," he added.

He also said that every individual in the DAN Singapore executive team believes in the purpose of being One and has the clear mindset and belief that it is where the agency is headed towards. This is the reason why DAN is able to make progress.

"It is not just about the business people, but even the core practices and capabilities are aligned under this ONE vision and in terms of where we want to go. And they’re in that sense the orchestra conductors, in terms of stringing it altogether and to meet our clients’ golden objectives as well," he added. 

Switching up creative

As part of the One Dentsu strategy, Phil Adrien, now helms the role of managing director, Creative Group, while Jean Lin oversees the unit as global CEO. The Creative Group consists of dentsumcgarrybowen, dentsu X, Isobar and John Brown agency brands. Dentsu X Singapore's head of creative Joao Flores now takes on the role of chief creative officer of Creative Group, while Stan Lim has been handed the chief experience officer title. Meanwhile, Fauzi Rachman is now the chief technology officer at Creative Group.

Adrien told Marketing he was approached by Kamdar sometime in October 2019, to pilot a new business model and lead the creative unit. The agency then integrated Isobar which has expertise in experience design, dentsu X which represents the best of creative and media integrated together under one team, and the newly launched dentsumcgarrybowen. Dentsumcgarrybowen was previously known as dentsu Singapore previously and exemplified DAN's creative prowess.

The joined-up team is a global-first and led from Singapore, Adrien said, adding:

The end goal and the journey that we are on, is to be the integrated experience agency of the future.

"It is an ambition that has already been brought to life. Our focus and the role of our creative line of business is, we want to provide idea-led experiences designed for the digital age delivered at global scale across the customer journey," he said. 

Since its new model of business, the Creative Group has worked with two big clients and evolved from just a creative agency to aid these clients in brand transformation. While the team is unable to disclose its clients at this time, Adrien said the work was done for world’s largest social and data platform, as well as for a leading telco brand.

"Over a short period of time, we at the creative line of business have been pioneering what the future of the story of the creative will be, not just in Singapore but the world, by being the first to bring together the capabilities of Isobar, dentsu X and dentsumcgarrybowen," he added. 

Evolution of media

Prerna Mehrotra, managing director, Media Group, currently oversees networks brands within the Singapore media line of business which include Carat, Vizeum, iProspect, Amplifi and Posterscope. Meanwhile, Peter Huijboom is in charge of the media line of business as global CEO.

Speaking to Marketing, Mehrotra said the role of the media line of business was to build a product offering that is "world-class and differentiated". This comes as the agency recognised that the true competitive advantage for DAN will come from its ability in not just strengthening its media product but also connect with the other lines of business to create an integrated proposition.

Driving global consistency is the media unit's second imperative, by harmonising its offering and lastly, using enterprise-wide systems and platforms to improve efficiency and speed, she added. The media team worked on Standard Chartered’s global brand campaign nine months ago using its new model. According to Mehrotra, StanChart recorded strong engagement rates and longer time spent on website, and realised the role of owned media, when amplified with paid, played a very critical role in driving deeper engagement.

"It really helped us to grow our engagement from just being a media partner, to have a Dentsu-wide engagement across our agencies. Leading this line of business, I can share with as much authenticity that it would not have been possible unless we have the ways of working at DAN – our ability to partner and group, and create SWAT teams and enabling us to drive business results for our clients," she highlighted. 

Marrying data and CRM

With Merkle’s acquisition of Happy Marketer last year in February, Prantik Mazumdar is overseeing DAN Singapore’s CRM unit. He is also the managing partner of Happy Marketer, A Merkle Company. Ted Bray helms the title of chief growth officer of CRM Group, while Sanchit Mendiratta now takes on as the data lead position under DAN Singapore. Agencies within the CRM line of business include gyro, Merkle, dwa and Happy Marketer. Mazumdar explains to Marketing the CRM line of business is essentially the "leg of a tripod", and is aimed at helping the company be data-driven and technology-led.

In the CRM business, data and tech is at the core of what we do.

"We live and breathe data analytics, and we help our clients get real and clean data that is the typical starting point of the journey. We also want clients to focus on business metrics, and help to solve problems around customer lifecycle value, and help clients figure out how to maximise their existing customer base," he added. 

This part of the business requires Mazumdar and team to work closely with the likes of Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle and Google. "We help our clients understand and segment their audience and nurture them through automated, personalised journeys across multiple online and offline channels. This is also the part where it allows us to compete with not just agencies but also the consultancies, this is the part that we genuinely fuel and enable this aspect," he said. According to Mazumdar, Dentsu has collectively aided NTUC Income in driving personalisation at scale which ultimately reduced CPA by 50%.

Recently, DAN implemented cost saving measures across the company, as a result of COVID-19 business impacts. The measures included implementing an immediate hiring freeze, delaying salary reviews in 2020 and temporary salary reductions with the top management team taking the highest percentage cut, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson clarified that as part of the cost saving measures, it implemented non-people measures first before taking measures related to staff.

The network recently poached DDB's global president and CEO, Wendy Clark, to helm the role of global CEO. Clark, who is synonymous with the DDB brand, is recognised for her modern leadership approach that includes her philosophy "Lift as you climb", translating to taking talent with you as you grow. The appointment comes into effect this September.

Here's more from the interview with Kamdar, Adrien, Mehrotra and Mazumdar. 

Marketing: Where do you see DAN headed in the next five years?

Kamdar: It depends where the world is headed, where the business is headed and where our clients are headed. What we are clear about is that, the drive we have is and journey towards the ONE business model is only going to get strengthened and get clearer. There is a reason why data is the new oil. It is the fact that ultimately we as a consumer, want to feel what value am I getting from interacting or purchasing from that brand.

The need to understand the customers’ motivation and needs is going to be greater than before. And the need to better harness data and provide more for the consumer. But it also is about communicating with the customer in a real time manner, such as understanding how and when they want to be spoken to. If you want to orchestrate all of that, you can’t do that unless you are more integrated and will not be possible if you are bound by common ways of operating. I personally believe that’s where things will go more and more towards, and it is only going to be accelerated, especially in the digital phase.

Adrien: I do think that Singapore has been looked at as a pioneer of this operating model and we are much further ahead of the rest of the world in our transformation and aligning. This also includes the principle in being open and transparent to say this is a journey we have just started. From a creative line of business standpoint, what we have done in six months, and from a client standpoint, I am excited for the real business challenges that we will be able to take on and if we have done this in the first six months, I can only imagine what the next six months or five years have to hold.

I am also excited internally to say “Hey look at what we’re doing at little Singapore" and how can we help other places with the same transformation, and share the good, the bad and the ugly. I mean, there’s going to be good and bad days but again with the principles of humbleness and openness, we want to lead and pioneer this, and also help the rest.

Mehrotra: Value exchange is getting very imperative. And the future of our line of business is, the lines are no more lines, they are getting so blurry. But it is really the approach we are taking in becoming a trusted partner, and it is about the role we can play as a unified team to be able to drive solutions. For us to be a trusted partner, as long as we understand the business and create solutions that are based on customer intelligence and have brilliant storytelling, we will continue to have a seat on the table.

Marketing: Will the Dentsu offices in Malaysia and Indonesia for example, align with the new operating model?

Kamdar: Absolutely. One of the beauty and curses of being in Singapore is that we are seen as the pilot market and in many ways, folks like us, we enjoy the challenge. We were the first to bring the three line of businesses, in terms of that trajectory, that is very much part of our agenda.

The other markets are also following suit, to bring the One model, and this will be deployed all over the world.

Marketing: Has there been any more cost cutting measures? Any new or prominent hires?

Kamdar: Certainly there aren't any cost cutting measures coming up. But businesses are dynamic and right now are undergoing all sorts of pressures. We are very focused externally on how do we help our clients. And in their success in coming from this period lies our success as well. if we are helping them through this period, there has no reason for us to have any.

We haven’t had any new hires, as the big part of our strategy was to consolidate and unleash the talent that exists in the building, and get them more "joined up". We saw no need at this juncture, and maybe along the way there will be but right now, it is about unleashing the fire power within the organisation. 

Marketing: Consultancies are still giving agencies a run for their money. Which areas do you think agencies can still learn from consultancies?

Kamdar: It is fair to say that certainly in terms of organisational sort of transformation, and especially when it comes to business support systems, consultancies have traditionally structured in such a way they have key vertical expertise. That’s an area that I can imagine as an agency holding group, we will over time make more investments  by bringing in talents with that amount of experience in certain areas.

But, I agree with Mehrotra that lines are getting blurred. And I will go out and say we have a seat at the table right now that we never had before. We have CIOs, CTOs, CXOs asking us for our consultancy services as well. We have worked with consultancies before and they have given us a *funded slideback* but they are not there to see us through the end to end, from thinking to delivery. It is all well to spend on strategy but we want to see that translated to reality, and that’s where we are coming to the table.

Mazumdar: I will give you the two sides, we have partnered them in some cases and also off-laid them. The nuance for me is the two kinds of consultancy firms. The top tier management consultancy firms – BCG, McKinsey, Bains - and then the tech implemented consultancy firms such as Accenture, IBM, Deloitte. We, as Happy Marketer, partnered with BCG three to four years ago, and they continue to work with us once we were acquired as part of Merkle. BCG told us they needed someone with digital marketing domain who can go beyond the surface, and right now, we have a seat on the table as a Dentsu agency.

Meanwhile, with the Accentures of the world, we definitely go head on, especially the CRM line of the business. But what I admire about Accenture is that from my conversations with the folks here in Singapore, bulk of the work they do is in other parts of the world such as Brazil. They have joined up thinking as well, and from what I have seen, beautiful project management.

But where we have gone head on against with the likes of Mckinsey and Capgemini, is the implementation layer. These consultancies are good at powerpoint and thought leadership, and we are getting better at it. 

It is the transformation and the ability to drive powerpoint to profitability which many of these guys cannot do.

Clients value our thinking and implementation and using Singapore as a check post, and they are happy to see the three lines of business have come together to run successfully.