Malaysian agency leads share their hopes for 2019

This year was a year of mergers and restructuring for the marketing industry. The agency world, in particular, saw a gamut of changes, with WPP most recently announcing that it will spend approximately US$400 million over the next three years for restructuring purposes, and will carry out a gross headcount reduction of 3,500 globally. This saw the integration of VML and Y&R, as well as Wunderman and J. Walter Thompson.

On the local front, the Malaysian media industry also underwent changes, with Astro and TV3 offering employees voluntary separation scheme and carried out manpower rationalisation exercise respectively. This was in a bid to put customers at the centre of their capabilities. With the rapid changes occurring in the industry, A+M speaks to agency leads in Malaysian on what their focus for 2019 will be.

Nicky Lim, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia

If there is one certainty going into 2019, it is that technology will continue to disrupt all major industries and economic sectors in the world. Evidently, the media and ad industry is not spared from it. In fact, we are at the forefront, leading the change and navigating our client marketers through digital transformation.

Digital will be mainstream and my wish is to see digital contributing even more to the regrowth of the industry.
Advertising expenditure growth has been rather flat for the past few years, so I wish nothing more for spending to pick up and give our industry a much needed boost as we continue to transform.

And as with any transformation, there are challenges, mountains of them sometimes, especially in the uncharted realms of the digital business.

Is there a panacea for all these challenges? I’d like to think that better agility and collaboration across the entire ecosystem – marketers, agencies, media owners and specialist vendors – to tackle common issues for the greater good of the industry is a step in the right direction for a more vibrant and robust industry in this digital economy,

If a "new Malaysia" is possible, then surely a new, reformed and collaborative media and ad industry isn’t so far-fetched, is it?

Bala Pomaleh, CEO, IPG Mediabrands

As we close the year and look ahead at 2019, one thing resounds – YEAH! Yes, 2018 has been challenging, but we have managed to steer a good course for ourselves. To make 2019 more successful, we will be looking at four key areas to develop:

Yourself: For the year ahead, I want everyone in my team, including myself, to look within to see how we can reinvent ourselves to remain relevant. The new age and fast pace caused by digital reinvention and change is the only constant, and each one of us carry the responsibility to train, learn and delve into new spaces to stay ahead of the game.

Effectiveness: Every action and move of ours has to yield results. We are no longer in the business of just creating exposure, we need to move mountains with our suite of tools and wealth of data. How quickly and effectively those mountains are shifted will differentiate the disruptors from the dinosaurs.

Accountability: Looking ahead, we will be looking more closely at accountability across a wide number of areas. Our approach with clients is to be partners, and that means sharing the burden of their toughest KPIs through our communications, planning and consulting expertise.

Health: Above all, we recognise that to do this well, we need to be healthy, both physically and mentally. The past year has seen us introduce programmes such as wellness initiatives, free counselling sessions, mindfulness programmes, a futsal club, and yoga in the office to name a few. This will be ramped up in 2019, and the aim is to provide a wide range of initiatives and relevant resources to keep our talents engaged with something that resonates for each of them.

So "YEAH" to 2019 and the year ahead!

Chanchal Chakrabarty, CEO, GroupM Malaysia

My aspiration for GroupM Malaysia, as the largest media investment consultant in the market, is to impact the communications industry positively so as it grows significantly after these consecutive years of stagnation and decline.

I also hope to do so by leveraging real-time data driven rich insights, help brands develop campaigns that impact the Malaysian culture positively, as well as help create the digital ecosystem which delivers these culture impacting "viewable" communication to real audiences in a brand safe environment.

This would definitely impact demand and consumption positively, spurring significant brand growth. Thus, resulting in increased brand investments and delivering the much desired growth for the communication industry.

Kristian Lee, CEO, Naga DDB Tribal

I know that my hopes for 2019 might seem like wishful thinking, however, if I had one wish, it would be for an industry in which the fate of an agency's remuneration and appointments by clients are not left in the hands of the procurement departments.
The days whereby agencies are given the short end of the stick, begging and scrapping for a barely decent sized fee just to break even has to come to an end.

Marketing and advertising to anyone who knows their head from their behind are recognised and acknowledged as tools that builds brands and businesses. They are not frivolous expenses to be cut up and chopped like excess or unnecessary fat during hard times.

Our industry needs be given the opportunity to flourish and for healthy competition to exist between "rival" agencies, and that can only happen if the better agencies are given the means to invest in the best new talent and are able to have the financial means to retain their high performers.
Squeezing an agency's margins is in fact short sighted and does not benefit any party in the medium to long run.

Meanwhile on our side, we have to place our focus on elevating our standard and quality of work. A more realistic hope is that we can push past our own perceived limitations and produce insightful, effective and creative output that will be recognised on the world stage. Optimism, perseverance and ambition are traits that we need to adopt if 2019 is to be the year we want it to be.

Datin Sri Lara Hussein, CEO, M&C Saatchi Malaysia

In the absence of a crystal ball, my sense of 2019 will bring more challenges and uncertainty than 2018. I think the economic and political climate will be bumpy. Obviously this will make it increasingly challenging for our industry. Not only are we striving to succeed in a highly complex tech driven ecosystem comprised of consultancies, specialist digital agencies, media, venture labs and in-house teams, but also having to find new ways to stay competitive and relevant.

Given this demanding and highly unpredictable time, we must stay absolutely focused in what we do and not get distracted and tempted to venture into areas that sounds good, but doesn’t really bring about tangible growth or dollars on the table. Our priority will be to continuously reevaluate our business model, better our  integration, look for opportunities in marketing automation and focus on strategy, data effective creative and diverse talent.
We want to make our talent pool richer in skill sets and create an interesting  diversity of culture.

We don’t want to become too big and lose sight of who we were when we first started as a new kid some years ago. Our humble beginning has created a strong culture in all of us and  we will strive on our in built resilience and survival instinct. In a nutshell, it will be a year of critical decisions to stay competitive.

Sean Sim, CEO, McCann Erickson Malaysia

The direction for 2019 is to be a truly valuable commercial partner for our clients. We know it’s the bottom line that counts. As such, we want to engage our clients with a deep discussion on what’s the best way for them to achieve their KPIs. We may need to shift the way we use to do things. By focusing on outcomes, rather than inputs - currently the norm in the industry. It’s not going to be easy, but if we want to move back up the food chain, we need to show that we are willing to co-partner our clients on their goals to deliver.

Prashant Kumar, founder and senior partner, Entropia

On business front, we have just opened an office in Manila and we hope to be able to do some neat pieces of work for clients in Manila. In Kuala Lumpur, we have invested heavily in middle layers as well as further deepening our differentiation. A lot of businesses are still struggling to ascertain the right place for new skills in their value chain, especially in a tougher economic climate. There are both delights and disappointments. We hope to be able to help there better.
Also we sense that in-housing as a trend is slowing down, in many cases failing.

Clients are becoming more discerning in terms of what’s quality and what truly works. They are also able to work their internal stakeholders better around change, So we aspire to have a more aware ecosystem to create the future. A lot of the global networks are in deep flux right now - struggling with margins, restructuring for efficiency and better future readiness. It’s all great, as I look forward to a stronger, sharper, healthier industry discovering a higher relevance.

Shaun Tay, co-owner and CEO, FCB Group

We’ve had a massive first year as a locally owned agency - the buzz, accolades, victories and sheer amount of work accomplished is real testament to how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. Next year is all about refinement, where we’ll be focusing on several areas of opportunity that we had successfully experimented with this year, eg. collaborations with other agencies both in and out of Malaysia. As an independent, we’re not bound by network obligations and can use our flexibility as we see fit to work like minded business partners. Another is talent. We’re very clear about the type of people we would like to have working at FCB and will be looking to attract precisely the right ones as we continue to grow the business.

Sandeep Joseph, CEO, Ampersand Advisory

2019 is going to be rocky - uncertain, low-growth, disrupting and unsettling for the industry. For Ampersand Advisory, it’s going to be about balanced growth and improving that elusive work-life balance for all, and digital nativism with dominance, strengthening our deep knowledge and concocting more secret sauces. We will also focus on deepening the inroads we’re making with data consulting, and having more meaningful C-level conversations, as well as combining media, creative and data seamlessly, smoothly and effectively. I would like to see more meaningful work from brands that have strong purpose and cultural connections, greater focus on results, not impressions, clicks or “engagement”, clients that ask tougher questions of their agencies and their own staff, and greater digital and data literacy, all round, from clients to media owners to agencies.

Yee Hui Tsin, managing director, TBWA\Malaysia

As we close off 2018, a year where external market pressures challenged the dynamic of the agency’s existing operating model, TBWA\ underwent its own internal transformation. We drove change across the company; deepening digital and data capabilities, knowledge and talent. And now our focus is firmly on securing a greater share of the future for our clients and ourselves in 2019. We foresee opportunities across mobile, voice activation and emerging ad tech players, with video on mobile- first social platforms being the biggest driver for digital growth.  Also, with the rise of e-commerce start-ups entering the market, mobile ad-spend will likely grow at a faster pace on 2019.

Casey Loh, chief creative (pictured left) and Syed Nasir business chief (pictured right), The Clan


2018 was a great year to build on as we added tech and experiential design to our repertoire of capabilities. 2019 will be a year to focus on our team growth as we prepare to groom a few of our founding Clan people for bigger things. We’re also going to be adding on to our team’s skillsets through internal as well as external training and sharing. Of course, the biggest thing for us in 2019 will be the creation of our own tech-powered tools as we aim to increase efficiency with our clients.

Kenny Loh, CEO, Geometry Malaysia

This new marketing landscape, though the furthest away we’ve been from “the conventional”, holds a plethora of possibilities waiting to be optimised. Clients are more focused on customer segmentation, and the only way for us to keep up is to embrace the “new” if we are to deliver omni-channel communications and a brand experience that drives seamlessly through social platforms and e-commerce spaces. We need a new approach to tackle such hurdles with a new set of tools - an agile and nimble way of working. 2019 is nothing short of new beginnings for all of us, and we need to embody “the new” if we are to earn a seat at the table.

Kasper Wandi, CEO, Consider iProspect

2018 has been a defining year for Consider iProspect. We’ve developed solid capabilities around consultancy, data and CRM, and amidst market headwinds, we’ve doubled our business for the second consecutive year. But before we pop the champagne, we’re charting our course for next year. We’ve never been afraid to set big goals and come what may, we aim to continue our strong growth trajectory.

Clients are now operating at a different speed, which means as their business partner and consultant, we have to up our agility game so that we can develop innovative and relevant solutions for them, and in turn, help them achieve their business objectives. All things considered, the agency’s success would not have been possible if not for our talented workforce - 120 digital specialists and growing! So, nurturing our performance driven culture as well as sharpening our people’s skillsets will continue to be high on our agenda. Time to toast! Three cheers for all our people and for 2019!

Peter De Kretser, CEO, GO Communications and director, GO Group

Upon lifting the Premier League trophy at seasons-end, legendary Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, would gather the team in the dressing room and famously say, “Well done but next season starts now!”

As we conclude 2018 on the back of a terrific year for the agency, plans are very much afoot to kick-start 2019 like Usain Bolt blazing out of the starter blocks. The GO core focus for 2019 remains largely at the epicenter of the agency’s ethos, to "focus" on the work! Campaigns that are unique, accurate in message and a direct correlation to bottom-line results.
In the service industry the focus must revolve around people, developing and harnessing talent to become leaders of the future.

Malaysia moves into 2019 with some uncertainty and interpretation. Clients may understandably be conservative in their approach, however, PR continues to be a more cost-effective and powerful communications weapon in reaching out into the hearts and minds of the desired audience.

David Lian, managing director, Zeno

I think we’re entering an exciting time for the industry as a whole in 2019, as technology and society continue to collide and new norms emerge. This translates into a very fluid, dynamic and integrated communications landscape.

For Zeno Group Malaysia, we’re focusing on our ability to help clients tell cut-through, purposeful and authentic stories in this environment. Stories today need to be anchored in the real context of what’s happening in society, and brands need to understand their messages do not exist in a vacuum. Furthermore, the media landscape continues to fragment, with many new formats and sources of information. Thus, we introduced our data analytics team in 2017, and today we integrate data into our storytelling for clients so they can connect with the zeitgeist of society and be relevant, purposeful and authentic.

Of course, fundamental to this is also re-imagining the role of a communications consultant in this age – and our belief is that the best consultants today need to not only understand the art of storytelling, but must be capable of visioning the best story into a compelling execution and understand what are the best media (digital or traditional) to reach the intended audience.

Marcus Osborne, CEO, Fusionbrand

My focus for 2019 will be an almost obsessive determination to ensure Malaysian business owners understand that if they are to compete in a dynamic and disruptive world, where technology and trade agreements mean that Malaysia’s consumers are increasingly accessible for even more aggressive international firms with deeper pockets, they are going to have to invest in building brands that provide a personalised and frictionless buying experience for customers so that those customers will stay loyal to the brand. The ones that don’t ‘get it’ will see their businesses fail. The ones that do will see their brands grow and thank me for getting them to invest in brand building.

Shanker Joyrama, founder and CEO, Orion Digital

Definitely growth. By growth, we don't just mean charging forward, we mean the calm before the storm. When we entered 2018, we returned to Orion's original blueprint, restructuring our plans and recruiting a group of talented individuals to build up an arsenal for our upcoming 2019 targets. This time, we've narrowed our focus so we can launch forward — hitting our targets faster, and harder. For 2019, we're aiming to exponentially scale up our digital solutions to provide new services for our clients and to align with the soaring wave of digital activity. This includes our leap into e-commerce whilst spearheading a big data initiative. In short, we're really optimistic and confident about Orion's revenue and growth. All this because we're staying true to our tagline of #OnwardsNUpwards!

Ashvin Anamalai, chief strategist, Be Strategic

2018 has been a year of consolidation and strengthening the foundations of Be Strategic. We are now ready and roaring to go in 2019. As 2020 fast approaches, we are focused on implementing new approaches and technologies to the way brands and organisations tell their stories to an audience with fickle loyalties and finite attention span.

Be Strategic is now increasingly sought-after to create strategies that cut across channels and optimize budgets to broaden the influence among customers and stakeholders and manage positive reputation. We truly believe there should be no swim lanes where each agency paddles individually to reach its finish line.
Effective and creative campaigns are a result of collaboration of disciplines and integration of execution.

Quality communications impacts positive market perception; building reputation and influence. We're bringing together experienced consultants via the best collaborator network that offers specific skills, industry knowledge, international exposure and C-level consulting. Importantly, what we can offer to our clients in 2019 – One Strategic Agency, integrating end-to-end communications

Vicknezan Selvadurai, CEO, 16TWO

If the fourth quarter of 2018 is any indication of 2019, we are definitely off to a great start and I’m very optimistic to what the year has in store for us. With change comes great opportunity and as the new Malaysia settles in we are seeing more clients expanding their risk portfolios and making bold moves. Also, as digital continues to be the forefront of every marketing initiative we ourselves continue to explore new platforms, tools and breakthroughs in data science to keep delivering our promise. Excitement, growth and diversification are words that come to mind when I look towards 2019.

What are your hopes for 2019? Share with me at