It’s not about partnering big or small agencies. It's about commitment, says EDB

The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is making waves in the marketing industry as it looks to boost innovation and steer the country towards an era of digital disruption.

Most recently, EDB signed a three-year deal with Ogilvy & Mather Singapore in a bid to advance the nation’s capabilities in modern marketing services. These include data analytics, customer engagement marketing, marketing automation, user experience (UX) design, and digital media.

For O&M, the initiative aims to foster Asia-led innovation from the Singapore office for its global network and at the same time develop Singaporean talent in the space. This will take form in the creation of a modern marketing lab, an affiliates program to develop talent and a modern marketing training program to strengthen O&M’s creative services talent.

O&M isn’t the only agency EDB has paired up with.

Late last year, EDB undertook a partnership with similar goals with DDB in the creation of Equator, a global centre of excellence for creative technology and innovation which also looks at boosting talent. In 2014, it supported the creation of global excellence centres Dentsu Aegis Network  and Mindshare for its Future Adaptive Specialist Team (FAST) services. It also collaborated with Nielsen which made an initial investment of SG$14million for an innovation centre.

In a conversation with Marketing, Clarence Chua (pictured), director of professional services at the Singapore Economic Development Board said these were all done in a bid to signpost the country’s goal to be a rising hub for digital innovation. This is also largely because the marketing industry today is increasingly real-time, data-driven and tech-enabled.

“This digital disruption is a great opportunity for Singapore, which is well-placed to strengthen its position as a leading global hub for digital marketing,” Chua explained.

As such, the EDB is actively working with brand owners to push the boundaries of digital marketing for Asia and beyond, alongside with marketing agencies and adtech firms to build corresponding capabilities.

“This is with a view to develop Singapore as the hub for companies to develop, pilot and scale up innovations in areas such as data-driven marketing, contextual content, creative technologies, mobile-first approaches and omni-channel commerce,” Chua said. Chua explained that the path of digital transformation has led to companies creating and centralising new job roles in Singapore such as programmatic specialists, data scientists, innovation consultants, creative technologists, mobile developers and UX/UI designers.

He added many of these roles did not even exist in marketing just a few years ago. Hence, there is a pressing need for marketing professionals to continuously build new skill sets.

But what exactly does it take for EDB to invest in these partnerships?

When Marketing first published the article on EDB partnering with Ogilvy, many raised the question of whether or not EDB chooses to partner mostly the “big players” of the ad world.

Roth Observatory’s managing director Paul Davies said a common conception might be that these partnerships seem to be reserved for the “big boys” of the ad world.

“We fear that the start-ups, independents, smaller marketing services companies including agencies, martech, professional service companies (UX / CX consultancies; specialised consulting businesses) and other similar organisations will view it as biased in favour of the big boys,” Davies said.

He added this could make it harder for the start-ups and independents to compete in the space – and they are seen as the lifeblood of any future industry.

"However, full credit still needs to be given to the agency partners for striking these deals to help their business develop and become more competitive," Davies added.

In response, Chua said first and foremost, these companies  need to have a strong commitment and track record to talent development and innovation. He added:

As an age-old industry and profession, marketing is at an inflexion point. We welcome interested parties coming forth with their ideas to collectively work towards building Singapore’s vision in this modern marketing world.

He added that across the government, EDB is putting in place industry-wide initiatives to ensure the Singaporean talent pool is equipped for these exciting opportunities, working closely with schools, training providers and industry associations to do so.

What’s next?

Both Davies and Darren Woolley, founder and global CEO of TrinityP3 agreed that what is next is knowing the KPIs set for the various partnerships. That way the evaluation of the impact of these partnerships can be done better.

“Any type of government investment requires some sort of measurement of financial and/or cultural return,” Woolley said. As such, that when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of these relationships, it is important to ask what the KPIs are, what the government is looking to achieve, and how this can be measured over a certain period of time.

“This is especially when it comes to creativity, where specific KPIs are needed in order to allow everyone involved to see how they are able to perform against expectations,” Woolley said. He added that governments everywhere invest in a particular identified industry sector which contributes to GDP growth. For a governing body to identify advertising as a sector worthy of investment and partnership is definitely heartening. He said:

Often advertising and marketing are seen as simply a service providing industry and not recognised as a wealth creator.

In comparison with countries such as the United States and United Kingdom, Woolley explained that investment in innovation usually goes into the technology companies. Hence the focus on advertising agencies is definitely interesting and recognises the increasing role that technology and innovation are having in the sector. This may also lead to the development of advertising technology that can be exported around the world.

Roth Observatory’s Davies added that measuring the impact can also be done through knowing the results of the previous EDB partnership has undertaken within the industry.

Singapore could be the ‘enabler’ bringing together creativity in all forms with data and technology, and this enablement would help create the insights and solutions marketers need.

“Maybe the agencies which partner up with EDB can look into developing technology that is used by networks around the world which drive ROI back to Singapore. One example would be the development of new content management systems, workflow management and services,” Woolley added.

The push on talent

The impact on talent would also be significant through the fostering and encouraging of talent in Singapore, enabling them to be world-class innovators.

“Not only does this drive value for the country, building talent in this industry will also lead to great return on investment (ROI),” Woolley said.

Agreeing with Woolley is Roth Observatory’s Davies, who added that the partnerships should help develop local talent which will enhance the overall industry talent pool.

“But as the number of participants involved appears small it would seem a rather limited impact,” Davies said.