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Malaysian agency heads react to 2-week lockdown

Malaysian agency heads react to 2-week lockdown

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Malaysia has kicked off its two-week lockdown until 31 March. Since the announcement was made on the night of 16 March, businesses, schools and citizens had 24 hours to put in place work from home measures. Firms in Singapore were also scrambling to find accommodations for their Malaysian employees before the lockdown was officially in place, multiple media outlets including The Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia reported. This is the first time Malaysia has implemented the Movement Control Order, which sees travel being restricted, banning of movement and assembly nationwide, as well as closure of schools.

A+M speaks to agency heads on how the two-week lockdown will impact the local advertising industry.

Sandeep Joseph, CEO, Ampersand Advisory

sandeep joseph ampersand advisory

The two-week restriction of movement is extremely necessary for health and safety reasons.

This is one of those times when advertising and business must take a back seat compared to health and life itself.

The ad world will adjust, as it always does. Work from home, conference calls, collaboration tools, greater understanding and flexibility are the order of the day. Paradoxically, I see clients and agencies potentially getting closer as we all work through the same challenges.

To me, what is interesting is what comes after 31 March. Will this lockdown change the way we work for the better? I hope so! It could hopefully lead to less unnecessary proforma face to face meetings, more clarity in written communications, less time spent commuting, more flexi-work in terms of locations and hours, more focused conversations and virtual meetings.

Financially, 2020 is definitely going to be a very difficult year for everyone: consumers, businesses, agencies, media owners. To survive, one must be prudent, confident, go the extra mile and reinvent how we work and deliver. Value your people and trust them to deliver. Partner your clients and go the extra mile. Relook, revisit, reset, reimagine. And take difficult and necessary decisions when needed.

Tania Tai, managing director, DIA Brands Consultants Malaysia

tania tai dia brands

The impact of the two-week lockdown is far more devastating in these times, especially when the economy has yet to fully recover from the prolonged recession. It will be tough days ahead for businesses, as they grapple with ongoing fixed overhead costs without any incoming revenue. This is when, we will realise that the only way to fight the disruption brought on by the outbreak, is to disrupt.

Resilience to tahan (endure) will come from these sources: organisational agility, radical innovation and the Internet of Things.

When times are good, it’s easy to be a star, but when times are bad, these will be the defining moments for the true character of the brand to shine. Following closures, the Viennese opera and The MET opera have started live streaming of performances for free to connect with audiences around the world. While closer to home, M Group has reached out to help the marginalised tide over this period with free meals. So the big question for brand owners: what will these tough times say about you?

Prashant Kumar, founder and senior partner, Entropia

prashant kumar entropia 2

COVID-19 will affect out of home consumption dramatically which includes restaurants, travel, hospitality, outdoor entertainment, and sports and others. However, it is expected to provide a big boost to in home consumption and delivery businesses across FMCG categories.

Semi-durables and durables purchases are expected to get affected as people postpone their purchase decisions focusing on the new living paradigm. Healthier alternatives within different categories are expected to explode in demand, so it is a big opportunity for advertisers to rapidly move to help people lead healthier and more immune lives. In terms of economy, and hence short term consumption levels, the worst affected segment will be casual blue collar workers - a huge segment - who may not have the security of a regular salary and permanent contract to tide over these times. This can dampen consumption unless policy makers take hard steps to help them.

Eventually, as per a Harvard study, the virus is expected to infected almost 70% of the global population. However, between those who will suffer from its expression and those where it may not show any symptoms, the difference will lie in immunity levels. So it is now time for relevant brands and categories to bring right solutions to the fore. The net multiplier effect of all that is happening around the world in addition to US China trade war, slowing Chinese economy and disrupted supply and demand chain, may precipitate a major recession resetting growth curve.

At Entropia we have a complete lockdown in effect with all business being conducted virtually since Sunday evening for next four weeks. We welcome the government's decision for a two-week lock down. In the long run, it is clear that we need a global health regime with deeply co-ordinated contagion response protocol, that can effectively anticipate, isolate and resolve similar or worse contagions unfolding in future. Such a protocol will need to involve public bodies, civil society and businesses in a highly interoperable control systems.

Shaun Tay, co-owner and CEO of FCB Malaysia

shaun tay fcb

Forced to rethink and adapt on the fly, the restricted movement act will be a true test of an agency’s character and culture.

Agile, adaptable and fundamentally sound cultures will preserve.

This fact is not new but this situation does pull a spotlight onto what we call the new normal of business operations in uncertain times. With flexibility and adaptability at the core of FCB KL’s culture we’ve always tried to be one step ahead of the situation. For example, being the first major agency to switch to a co-working space for location flexibility and to implement a work from home or off site policy even before the government restrictions came into play.

Andrew Lee, group MD, Havas Malaysia

andrew lee havas

Situations like these challenge us. They put us in a position of making decisions that we have never made before. The first and foremost priority in these uncertain times is safety. The lockdown in Malaysia may be disruptive to businesses but it will save lives. 

The temporary financial losses are minor inconveniences compare to the lives we can save.  

Our clients are also facing the same challenges and pressures that we are. They need us more than ever right now, and we are committed to help them navigate uncertainty, pivot plans quickly and to offer them support.

Dorothy Fong, founder and CEO, IDOTYOU

dorothy fong idotyou

The two-week restriction on movement has definitely impacted our business. A number of scheduled production shoots over the next two weeks have now been postponed and some even cancelled. That said, our clients in the F&B and retail markets will still continue to operate partially with the allowance of deliveries, drive-thrus, and eCommerce services during this time. Hence, we expect to see a shift in marketing budgets to drive customers to purchase online, rather than a cut in budgets entirely.

Ryan Ong, CEO of Kingdom Digital

ryan ong kingdom digital

The two-week nationwide movement control order was a commendable move by the Malaysian government. As an agency leader, nothing is more important to me than the safety and health of my team. Hence, I am all for it.

I consider myself and my team to be very fortunate as our nature of business (digital agency) gives us the flexibility to work from home during these trying times. I believe the same can be said for other agencies or businesses whose work can be conducted online as well, as this means that the day-to-day could still be carried out.

Many, if not most, businesses are feeling the effects of the virus. Brands and marketers need to ensure they are adjusting their marketing strategy accordingly, which could mean reducing ad budgets or pausing certain ad campaigns. If one’s nature of business deals with items that are now flying off the shelves quickly or low in stocks, it is important to keep the ads and/or social postings up-to-date and communicate them clearly to customers.

That said, this partial lockdown will definitely affect workflow, deliverables, and revenue for not just us but all the other agencies as well, as brands and marketers err on the side of caution when it comes to marketing or advertising strategy. But I believe as long as we have a proper plan and infrastructure in place, maintain an open line of communication with our clients, alongside a committed team, we should be able to go through this difficult time.

Nizwani Shahar, chief executive, Ogilvy Malaysia

nizwani shahar ogilvy

While the two-week Movement Control Order in Malaysia is necessary for us all to commit to social distancing in an effort to flatten the curve, it will see us all as Malaysians and advertisers having to adjust to a new normal. Activations, sampling, media events and campaign launches are the first to take a hit as we remove all public assemblies. Brands will now be over-indexing on in-home media increasingly (i.e. pay TV or free-to-air) while digital and social will be the platforms to be cluttered as brands fight for attention.

Brands that thrive and overcome this phase are those that provide service and value through these tough times.

Brands that speak to consumers and empathise with the situation. Most important for us at Ogilvy is to support our clients through these turbulent times. We are primed to do so and we have also been agile in our delivery to ensure our clients' brands are able to pivot in messaging and marketing efforts without losing sight of its brand essence.

Casey Loh, chief creative, The Clan

casey loh the clan

We are establishing business continuity and contingency plans now and briefing the teams our standard operating procedure for daily reporting and brainstorms. As my partner, business chief Syed Nasir, has said too, this will really test our people’s ability to work remotely and efficiently. As we are all about people and collaboration, having to work remotely may limit the sense of synergy that we’ve always enjoyed at The Clan.

Though it is not something we have not done before, the circumstances now are different from having to call in for a brainstorm or video call a pre-production meeting. To constantly be in touch with each other while juggling clients'requests can be quite a challenge. However, having the right systems and team leads in place can make all the difference so we have to be agile enough to adopt a new strategy as the days play out.

I think in a way this Movement Control Order is a forced reset on the industry and how clients' demands are met with more structure in place.

It is forcing the industry to rethink the way it interacts with each other and perhaps even do away with the multi-layered approval processes which can sometimes hinder speedier turnaround. And yet with all the tech and connections we have set in place for the way we keep track of things, I still think getting people to huddle together every once in a while is a great way to feed of each other’s creative energy and find a solution that would not be possible when working in isolation.

Now seems to be the perfect time to deploy even more dynamic tools that will help clients chart the progress of their campaigns and for team members to jump in and out of different milestones to save time and manpower. We are still in the midst of perfecting this ourselves so hopefully this will give us the insight we need to make the tool even better.

Sivanathan Krishnan, group CEO and founder of Trapper Media Group

siva trapper media group

The advertising industry in particular now has to adapt to new working conditions as well as the changing media landscape, albeit for two weeks. The understanding of how media is consumed in the next two weeks will make or break an agency or media owner. Media agencies will now need to find out or hypothesise which media is more consumed versus others.

With the stay home order, naturally, the consumption of TV and digital will see a substantial increase. TV3 saw almost 20% increase in ratings since the outbreak began in December 2019 versus March 2020. This period may be a high risk period for some advertisers, especially reserved ones. Campaigns may be postponed and cancelled, which is understandable, given the nature of their product and industry. However, there is an opportunity here for the industry to work together and show how we can elevate our clients' brands and achieve their goals, not by capitalising on the outbreak and lockdown but to show that a brand cares for the well-being of the country and its citizens.

On the agency front, there is constant updates and huddle between team leads, their people and the management team. Minimal impact as the agency is agile since most of what we do is on cloud base, therefore we can work from practically anywhere. Our teams are in constant contact with clients thanks to Zoom and Google Hangout and, yes there are some campaigns that are affected but thankfully only minimally.

According to Darwin’s theory, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survive nor the strongest that survives. But the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to its changing environment. So who knows? We will find that in two weeks, people can actually work from home and yet deliver the goodies to clients and the organisation. As such, agencies will adapt. Customers who have never done anything online, such as ordering for food or essentials, will adapt and find true meaning to their understanding of technology. So we are positive that in all risks, there are opportunities abound.

Jules Nadan, agency director, 16TWO

jules nadan w

It has become so important now, more than ever for agencies to be intuitive, adaptive and responsive to clients' needs as well as shifts in consumer attitudes and behaviours. With people spending considerably more time at home on their phones or screens, and with their families, we can expect significant shifts in budgets to online, social, and OTT, etc. With that said, it is time to creatively and strategically challenge ourselves in terms of providing timely, relevant and contextual ads that best speak to our audiences at this point in time.

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