Local agency leads speak up on 4As' decision to exclude Ensemble

Yesterday, we reported a story on the 4As rejecting creative agency Ensemble’s (under the media agency group IPG Mediabrands) application to be a part of Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As).  This resulted in prominent marketer Su Lin Lau standing up for the agency’s right to be included.

In a press release issued today by 4As, Johnny Mun, 4As president stated that Ensemble’s application to join the (4As) was rejected as it did not comply with the rules of the association.

Mun explained that only a registered company can qualify to apply to be a 4As member. Ensemble, part of the IPG Mediabrands Group, is a “brand”, not a company. Ensemble subsequently applied to be a 4As member through Futureplay, an IPG Mediabrands Group company, but failed to qualify based on two administrative criteria.

He added that the rejection bears no relevance as to whether they are a creative or media agency. “Ensemble is aware of these requirements as clearly stated in a letter rejecting their initial application,” he said. Mun added that questions regarding its failure to meet the criteria should be answered by Ensemble. He also said that the agency was encouraged to re-apply after fulfilling the required criteria.

Mun, in the press release, stated that applicant must adhere to the pre and post membership obligations.

“We are mindful that the advertising industry is evolving and we must institute changes to be relevant in the current environment," he said, adding:

However, rules are rules, and we must abide by them to maintain professional standards.

Mun emphasised that while the 4As valued and championed outstanding creative work, membership in the 4As is not solely about awards shows. The stringent criteria for membership is to ensure a high level of quality and credibility of agencies representing the 4As.

In view of the above, A+M reached out to a few agency heads, to analyse what they make out of this move.

Syed Nasir, business director, Govt  said, "The definition of a creative agency must definitely be widened. We have to look out for agencies who put out creative work regardless of the company's nature of functioning." He stated that at the end of the day, it is ultimately about the impact of the creative work. Any work that has a strong creative element should be taken into consideration, regardless of its root.

"The industry has to realise the importance of  move forward accordingly. The criteria need to be definitely relooked and not be dated," he added.

Similarly, Alvin Teoh, ECD, Naga DDB said, "Good creative work needs to be celebrated. We need to re-look and reflect various criteria to allow that to happen. Therefore, there needs to be a proper dialogue for the association and the industry to strike the right balance."

On the other hand, Tanner Nagib, regional client service director and general manager at Hakuhodo had a slightly different opinion. He said,

While the definition needs to be re-looked, the 4As' decision has its own merits as in the past it has recognised good quality work and will continue to do so.

While 4As may have rejected Ensemble's application, it is no surprise that many media agencies are also hiring creative minds to help give client a holistic experience.

Seema Punwani, senior consultant, R3 Singapore said, the conversation today has moved beyond just media versus creative agencies. Clients have been moving creative functions in house, building content teams and even crowd-sourcing.

At the end of the day, whoever delivers data driven insights, attracts best creative talent and can measure business impact will have an edge.

“R3 is totally agnostic about agency models and with the increasing grey areas, creativity is not the birth right of creative agencies anymore,” she said.

Regional marketing manager for Chang beer Kenny Tang from International Beverage Holdings did not agree that media agencies alone were taking away business from the creative players. He attributed the shrinking dollars to the competition from “various forms of content producers and not just media agencies.”

Today the agency dollars thinly spread with smaller specialised content producers, social media influencers and others also entering the mix.

Tang does however note that media owners are increasingly eyeing the creative dollars. And they are not alone, media owners such as publishers, Google and Facebook have now started up their own creative shops to help clients develop the best content for the media channel.

As such the battle is not just about creative versus media, but rather the entire ecosystem is at war.

“I see them as the next major player in the advertising world,” he said.

Creative agency feeling the head from media agencies?

With more media agencies ramping up their creative services, we ask local players how they feel about media agencies eyeing their dollars.

Teoh said that media agencies provide a “packaged service“. While, this may seem enticing for clients, agencies still need to work in the "soul" department because just volume is not enough to build a brand, he said. Nevertheless, creative agencies have been changing their business models to provide better service and solutions.

With this, he explained that the “pendulum” will keep swinging between the two agencies.

He stated:

"This competition would keep the industry on their toes and will ensure that things are not taken for granted,”

On the other hand, Nasir, head of business, Govt Malaysia claimed that it is not difficult for media agencies to bridge creative gap with an abundant number of creative freelancers available in the industry.

He explained that with better access to data and insights, media agencies are slowly chipping business away from the creative agencies.

He said:

They are being slowly recognised as a competitor and it is up to the creative agencies to choose our battle.