Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Jeffrey Seah

Jeffrey Seah made headlines when he left Starcom in 2016 after more than seven years as Southeast Asia CEO. He also previously had 15 years of association with the agency in two stints - being part of the management team that launched Starcom and Starcom IP Digital Services in Asia Pacific, setting up its inaugural Singapore operation, and returning to helm the Southeast Asia operations and the VivaKi chair.

Since then, he has jumped straight into the venture capital scene, joining companies such as IncuVest, Mettle & Salt Partners and Quest Ventures. "My time with Starcom seems so long ago. It has been a journey since then. I have been almost like a fly on the wall, witnessing the changes in the industry, " Seah told Marketing in the latest podcast episode of the Life after advertising series. According to him, startups today are reminiscent of the Ogilvy days in the 1990s, where individuals fulfil their maximum potential through their ideas and disruption.

Listen to his journey here

Marketing: Can you tell us a little bit about Quest Ventures?

Seah: Quest Ventures is a venture capital company which started in 2011 by my partner James Tan 11 November 2011. While everyone was shopping online, he was buying a domain space. The primary goal at that time was to encourage the development of the tech ecosystem. The idea was that technology would bring economies of the traditional world into the digital world, that speed would bring a lot more value and optimisation of people's lives. Quest Ventures at that time showed that if you apply technology, and many other things correctly, what you will get is a lot of whole scale replicability of thinking, of businesses changing. If you think of a better word in today's world - transformation. We invested in companies that encouraged that at very early stages, such as Carousell, ShopBack, 99.co, SGAG and Style Theory.

Marketing: What do you feel are some of the issues plaguing the media industry as a whole?

Seah: For all media companies, everyone starts with genesis of a question. First, they think that content is sacrosanct. It is a secret aspect that cannot be touched. They also feel that commercialisation of content sometimes affects the integrity of our content. So, where is the balance and where will the dividing line be? That's one part. Second, many media companies are often not a content company.

They are actually a channel company, and are held ransom by their channel. The channel refers to the container that holds the content.

A publishing company, for example, like in newspapers, is held ransom by the amortisation of its printing plant. TV stations are amortised because of the infrastructures required that they put in place to transmit messages. Today, good content of media companies remain very relevant to people, in fact, they are highly sought after. If they are not sought after, there wouldn't be such things as click bait. Click baits are by nature things that people want. Most people who click on click bait articles want an article, that's why they click into it. Likewise, there's also a lot piracy because people want content.

The question is, how do you put content, and in what containers should this content reside, and are the containers of the past still relevant today?

Marketing: Is there anything that you really miss about the advertising world?

Seah: I miss quite a lot of things about it. One, I felt that there was always a mission in advertising world. A mission to change to make things better, better than it was yesterday and to bring a lot of delight to customers. We found that we were like the original place of what I call a demilitarised zone, because there were corporate guys who were very famous. Big, smart and intelligent, such as my P&G, Unilever and Samsung clients. On the other hand, there was that guy who said: "Hey, let's try to do this better. We can do this better, this can change the world, this is a game changer".

In between, there were advertising guys who were trying to straddle both sides of the world. We were 50% confident of what we know. Some people think that we are egoistic. On the other hand, the other 50% of us were very paranoid. One thing to say was, "My goodness, how does this all work out?".

It was a bipolar culture, and the bipolar culture works very well with people who are comfortable with working in shades of grey.

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