FCB Malaysia has rebranded to FCB SHOUT and co-owners, Shaun Tay (pictured left) and Ong Shi-Ping (pictured right), have also launched a new creative holding company called The Shout Group. The Group houses FCB SHOUT and sister agencies Ignite and MDWActivation. This move comes nearly five years after the local management team in Malaysia bought out FCB, with 2018 being Tay's and Ong's first full year of ownership.
FCB SHOUT is still part of FCB with full access to the network's resources and business opportunities. Tay told A+M that FCB SHOUT is co-branded as such and is a testament to the agency's "best of both worlds" positioning. In fact, both he and Ong decided during the early days of the buyout that a measured approach that focused on creating the fundamental groundwork of a sustainable, reputable agency was more important than having their "names on the door" from the get-go. Hence, it leveraged FCB's equity in Malaysia and injected its "No Plan B" attitude and distinctive feisty personality to reshape the business.
Tay added that the new names are a reflection of the team's personality and character. "We always have a point of view and we’re not shy to share it. That’s what our clients pay us for – honest opinions and work that’s refreshingly bullsh*t-free," he said.
Moving forward, the group plans to transform Ignite to focus on brand consultancy as it is seeing plenty of opportunities in that area both in and outside of Malaysia.
At the same time, FCB SHOUT will continue to handle the bulk of the group's creative work. "Just enhancing and refining our abilities these two alone will keep us busy for some time to come as we always going to be more craftsmen than snake-oil salesmen!" Tay explained. "As seasoned operators who own the business and aren’t in a rush to sell out, we have our industry’s greatest asset – we have time," he said.
Meanwhile, Ong said: "We have all the pieces in play – ability, ambition, and the accolades – to make The Shout Group and FCB SHOUT not just a common fixture in our market but soon, a louder presence on a larger stage."
Ever since the buyout, the agency has worked with global, regional, and local brands: RHB Bank, Resorts World Genting, Spritzer, Touch ‘n Go, Mamee, RedOne, Domino’s, Marigold, Darlie, McCain, Twinings, Quaker Oats, Tohtonku, and Match Group’s Hawaya.
Ong explained that he and Tay put themselves in a very unfamiliar place when they took ownership of the agency. "Even though we decided to keep the FCB name, we became very much a start-up company overnight, where everything had to be rebuilt from the ground up," he said. Both Ong and Tay also created the foundations of the agency by handpicking generational talents who share the same vision as them to take on leadership roles.
While that may seem like a daunting and unfavourable situation to many, both leaders saw it as an opportunity. "With all the old legacy accounts exiting prior to the buyout, it gave us a chance to reset our reputation, enabling us to better connect with like-minded clients who had the same challenger mindset," Ong said.
Aside from bagging renowned clients, FCB SHOUT has also won several awards at A+M's Agency of the Year, taking home Overall Agency of the Year in 2021 and 2018. It was also the most awarded Malaysian agency at A+M's Marketing Excellence Awards Malaysia 2021. Its efforts on behalf of RHB Bank have also led group CMO Abdul Sani Abdul Murad to win Marketing Leader of the Year at Marketing Excellence Awards Malaysia 2021.
Beyond the accolades, the Group said it has been earning increasing profits in the years since the buyout. Despite having had to weather the past two-and-a-half years of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and economic uncertainty, 2021 ended up being the Group's most profitable year.
"How has the journey been? Like a perpetual rollercoaster! It's pretty much a non-stop adrenaline-filled ride since the buyout as even when we are not working, we’re thinking about work and how we could make the work better. But that was the conscious choice that we had made originally. As owner/operators, we get to control the destiny of our agency and how much we want to invest in it," Tay said, adding:
And in true No Plan B style the decision was to go full-on, hands-on, always-on from day one!
What is the No Plan B style?
From a business perspective, Tay explained that its No Plan B ethos acts as a filter for potential clients looking for a creative partner because it defines the type of agency it is and provides an insight as to how the team would work on their brands. "If they find our positioning appealing, the conversations start, and we keep talking. It’s also, as you imagine, our culture and therefore our filter for talent," he added.
According to Tay, there have been several joyous highs that range from celebrating success with its clients, finding the right next-generation talent, winning over a new business to hitting a new financial target. "There were also low moments which thankfully were less numerous, most of these involved outcomes that just didn’t meet expectations," he said.
When it comes to talent, the group focuses on being a people-before-profit organisation, doubling down on its belief in investing in talent who are ambitious, looking to shake things up while also realising that sustained growth requires effort and personal dedication to incubate. Aside from Tay and Ong, its leadership team also comprises GM Syahriza Badron, head of creative Wang Ie Tjer, head of operations Jamie Tan, and associate creative directors James Voon, Suah Boon Chuan, and Jonathan Chan.
"The leadership team we’ve assembled is the embodiment of this belief. They have proven their mettle time and again and are invested in the agency – just as how we are invested in their growth because when they win, we win. Our people are the very core of who we are and will continue to be the driving force that enables our growth and expansion plans," Tay said.
Read the rest of the interview here:
A+M: You have several renowned clients on your roster. What were the key factors that helped foster a strong client-agency relationship?
Tay: There are three things and the first is the reputation we’ve built. When we bought the business, we started by leveraging our own considerable personal reputations to make FCB attractive to a new breed of Malaysian clients. And with every new client that we successfully delivered good work for our reputation was further enhanced, cumulating in the past year where we had won multiple Agency of the Year titles across three different award shows.
The second is the knowledge that our clients have direct access to the top talents in the agency including Ong and myself. Besides a small operational team, everybody in our agency works directly on our clients' business. Our clients know that their fees translate directly into the work that we do with minimal diversion into overheads.
The third is the simple fact that our clients know Ong and I own the business and are invested in its growth. We’re not some hired guns that are just marking time until their next regional posting nor are we simply milking the dregs of the agency for money. We’re in it for the long run and after the past years of constant change and upheaval, the consistency we bring is a big attraction for far-thinking clients.
A+M: Moving forward, what type of talent and skills are you looking to hire?
Tay: It starts and ends with the attitude. If you have the willingness to learn and the fortitude to do the hard yards necessarily to make the work good, we will invest time to teach you what we know and create opportunities to help you grow. This was especially true of our leadership, the generational talents that Ong mentioned. They aren’t just department heads to us, they are the future of our agency.
As a start-up, we had to keep the size of the team sustainable during the early years but that’s changing now. We ended 2021 with about 30 people. We’re now 45 and will be 60 by year’s end.
A+M: It's common for agencies to say that they put their people first and focus on talent growth. What is FCB doing differently in this case?
Tay: One of the great things about being part of the FCB network is that we get connected to an amazing pool of talent development programmes. These range from knowledge opportunities in areas such as data science and sustainability marketing to thought leadership engagement on topics such as DEI, talent profiling opportunities to the huge number of innovation webinars, workshops, and conferences that are always available to us.
But if you are looking for tangible proof of putting our people first, here are some examples. In our first year of profitability in 2019, the first thing we did was spend it on a company trip to reward our people for getting us to this point. We also consistently promoted our best performing talents even during our reboot/start-up years.
During the last two years of pandemic, we didn’t retrench a single person nor even cut staff salaries except for two - Ong's and mine. And the first thing we did after another profitable year in 2021 wasn’t a salary payback (not planning to do it) but doubling down talent with another round of promotions to our top talents and rising stars as well as additional investment in new talents.
A+M: The past two and a half years have been challenging but also eventful, especially 2021 since it was your most profitable year. Why did you think this was the case?
Tay: We already had more than two years operating as a reboot/start-up and thus were already lean and agile before the pandemic. With minimal overheads and our hands-on approach to work, pivoting was second nature to us, and we found a lot of new client opportunities open to us in 2020. That trend accelerated in 2021 and looks set to continue this year.
That said, all credit to the team for jumping on and really owning these opportunities when they materialised. Without the effort they had put in, this article likely won’t be out now! And that’s why the decision Ong and I made to put people before profit were easy ones to make!
A+M: What are some trends and innovations are you and Ong excited about?
Tay: The trend of more clients viewing locally owned or independent shops as being more relevant and committed to their businesses. This excites me more than any universe.
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