Landor & FITCH APAC president explains restructure choices, eyes US$10m revenue from SEA over 5 years

Southeast Asia poses "a huge opportunity" for Landor & FITCH, said president of Asia Pacific Jonathan Cummings (pictured), who told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in an interview that he is hoping to bring in up to US$10 million in revenue for the region within the next five years, if not earlier. Currently, present in Singapore and Indonesia, Landor & FITCH's headcount for Southeast Asia amounts to 20 individuals and forms 15% of the agency's total Asia Pacific revenue. 

Following a merger early last year of the Landor and FITCH brands, Cummings took on overall leadership of the Asia Pacific entity. Unfortunately as the business evolved, the company saw several recent exits including the likes of  Singapore MD Evonne Chung and Australia MD Nick Foley, along with Landor Singapore's Kristina Liu, executive director, client services; Filipe Rocha, design director; and Tang Meng Kiat, production manager. 

Addressing the claim of only individuals from Landor being made to leave, Cummings explained that of his direct reports, majority of them were previously with the Landor side of the business. They include business development MD, Asia Pacific, business development Janice Siu, Greater China MD Doris Ho, Australia GM Trish Folan, and India MD Lulu Raghavan. "We realigned [according to] what our clients need, and the people [who left] just happened to be in roles that were less of a priority for us, which is often the case when businesses restructure. There is nothing sinister," Cummings said.

"I'm the one who was from the FITCH side of the business. I'm not sure if it would count as unusual but maybe because of that, it feels that way. So, the fact that somebody from FITCH became president might have raised a couple of eyebrows. But the majority of the leadership team across the region came from the Landor side of the business," Cummings explained. 

Southeast Asia's potential

While he described Singapore to be the "centre of gravity" for Southeast Asia, he explained that the Singapore team is also actively involved in projects for clients in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. "I feel that there is so much more opportunity out of Indonesia and some of the other Southeast Asia markets to develop further, as they start to mature as economies. Businesses, both local and MNCs, are starting to really look to invest in beyond just building a brand through advertising. There's a huge opportunity for us to partner and help them to do that, so I'm hugely ambitious and excited," Cummings explained.

Southeast Asia is currently led by Thomas Sutton who was handed an expanded remit recently, after having led Indonesia as country director since 2014. Among the list of clients Landor & FITCH has worked with in the region include P&G, Singtel, AirAsia, Heinz ABC, Nestle Indonesia, Kino, Maxis, as well as a renowned insurance company in the Philippines.

While Landor & FITCH does not have any "firm plans" at the moment to open offices in other Southeast Asia countries, Cummings said it will look at the opportunities available in the region and decide if it requires any capabilities on ground. At the same time, it will also beef up its team in Singapore and Indonesia further. Aside from these two countries, Philippines is another active market for the team. That said, he also acknowledged that Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand are also traditionally strong markets for Landor & FITCH, and he would not necessarily prioritise one over the other. He added:

It is important to take a pan-Southeast Asia view, because there is so much going on. You cannot limit your thinking around individual geographies.

With Southeast Asia being a diverse and fragmented region, Cummings believes the region cannot be treated as a monolith. Companies need to understand the historic and cultural nuances.

Asia Pacific plans

As for Asia Pacific as a whole, within the next five years or less, Landor & FITCH aims to increase its Asia Pacific billings to over US$50 million. According to Cummings, majority of it would be from organic growth, but the company will also consider potential acquisitions along the way, especially in new markets where acquisitions can be a solution for its expansion. 

Greater China now forms 40% of its Asia Pacific revenue, of which Hong Kong takes up approximately two-thirds of the pie. This is because Hong Kong carries certain capabilities that serves the rest of the region, he said.

Currently, Landor & FITCH's Asia Pacific digital team, for example, is based in Hong Kong. Hence, it focuses on providing digital and technology expertise to clients in the region. Historically, Cummings said Hong Kong is one of the biggest of its studios in Asia Pacific, especially from a revenue point of view. Now that the Hong Kong office has been folded under the Greater China banner for the company, it is led by Greater China MD Doris Ho who is based out of Shanghai.

When asked if Landor & FITCH is building up its regional headquarters in Hong Kong with its leadership team mainly based there, Cummings quelled the claim, saying that there is "no plan at all, and never has been a plan to do that".

Hong Kong is an important part of the region for sure, but it is definitely not the headquarters, nor do we have any intention to build any one studio into a central gravity.

In fact, Landor & FITCH's current leadership team of 11 individuals are spread across Asia Pacific. Five of the individuals from the leadership team are market leaders in Australia, India, Southeast Asia, Greater China and Japan, and the remaining six are in what Cummings describes to be "pan-region roles". They include regional ECD Hidetaka Matsunaga; MD, Asia Pacific, client growth Cally Williams; MD, Asia Pacific, business development Janice Siu; MD, global business innovation Mark D'Costa; and people director Anne Ng. 

"D'Costa is in Mumbai, Siu will be in Singapore from next month onwards and Matsunaga is based in Tokyo. That's very much part of our philosophy. It is not to equally spread our people around. I just want the best people for the job and I do not really mind where they are physically located," Cummings explained. 

Embarking on a five-year plan

To better serve the needs of its clients, Landor & FITCH shifted from having multiple small studios with about 20 to 25 individuals each to being one big team across India, Japan, Australia, Greater China and Southeast Asia. 

"One of the bigger challenges we have faced is how to take advantage of the synergetic opportunity we see as we pull a big team together. Instead of a hierarchical studio structure and instead of it being geography-based, we are creating teams based more around disciplines and clients," Cummings said. For example, all creatives will be part of a creative community and there will also be strategists, new business, production and so on. This is to ensure that employees feel they are part of one big Asia Pacific team instead of teams within a team.

At the same time, Landor & FITCH is also putting together client teams that are non-geography specific. For example, a client based out of Singapore could have a team from all over the region because that is "the right shape of the team" that it wants for the client. According to Cummings doing so helps employees feel part of a bigger community, much more than they did historically. 

This restructuring is part of its five-year plan that comprises three major phases. Cummings said the agency is only at the end of phase one, which is restructuring the team to be better set up for growth across Asia Pacific. The rest of 2021 going into 2022 will be focused on embedding the structural and cultural changes it has put in place and ensure Landor & FITCH operates as seamlessly as it can as a team. "As we go into 2022, that is when we'll hopefully start to see the big growth drivers kick in," he added.