#MarketingExcellenceAwards spills: Golin looks to be Asia-tailored in 2021 and beyond

Bagging the gold award for the category "Excellence in Communications/Public Relations" at the Marketing Excellence Awards 2020 is PR agency Golin. Amidst the pandemic that plagued 2020, Golin embraced its focus on being rooted in data around the customer/stakeholder journey, and got creative with various campaigns for its clients. Some of these included helping craft a programme to ship medical supplies, as well as paying tribute to frontline workers.

In an exclusive interview, we speak to Darren Burns, president, Asia Pacific, Golin, about some of the agency's more interesting work in 2020, and its plans for the next year. Read more about it here.

What are some of the expectations your clients now have for your agency?

Burns: Our clients tell us in surveys - and anecdotally - that the key for us is to deliver strategy that moves their business, deliver high quality work and to be responsive.

We are hyper-focused on creating strategy rooted in data around the customer/stakeholder journey. Everything starts from this at Golin.

Clients still demand high quality work that hits the mark with external and internal stakeholders. This has been particularly challenging during COVID-19 as we pivot and repurpose to remain relevant and of value.

What's increased this year is really around responsiveness. Given the pandemic our clients appreciate flexibility and adaptability as we remain in a fluid and rapidly changing pandemic. I think rapid response has been key.

How has your marketing/your clients' marketing plans shifted this year?

Burns: With the massive societal impact of the pandemic, we've worked with our clients to try and deliver value to society, while managing myriad issues and crises, and of course accelerating the move to digital communications. This is manifest in some of the more interesting work we've done this year.

For Qatar Airways we help craft a programme that shipped in medical supplies donated by Chinese communities worldwide, delivering real value for people in affected communities.

For the Financial Times we pivoted our New Agenda campaign, calling for leaders to achieve fairer capitalism in a post-Covid world. This included the “Lead without example” spot.

And for McDonalds, our client since 1957, we helped celebrate healthcare workers and first responders by transforming the iconic Happy Meal into free “Thank You” meals.

The massive shift around DEI in the US, prompted Crayola to introduce 24 new specially formulated crayons designed to represent over 40 global skin tones so children could accurately colour themselves into the world. “Colors of the World” crayons were launched by Crayola and Golin to increase representation and foster a greater sense of inclusion.

What are some of the trends you see carrying on post-pandemic, and how are you readying your workforce to be ready with these trends?

Burns: There is a great quote from Lenin (via Scott Galloway) that really sums up what's happening in our sector during COVID-19 - “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

COVID-19 has been the great accelerator of trends that were already in play pre-COVID-19 period - eCommerce, remote working, data analytics - all these have been pulled forward by many years.

The companies that have done well are those that have a real values-driven culture and are willing to embrace the new unusual and experiment with new ideas and platforms. This comes through in the work above.

What do you think makes for great marketing these days?

Burns: One of my former colleagues, Tom Beckman, once said that in the old paradigm awareness used to create value - now it's value that creates awareness. I think there's a lot to that. Brands increasingly need to be solving “real” problems for stakeholders versus creating frivolous campaigns that serve no purpose.

We are only just starting real purpose marketing and we will see more multi-stakeholder engagement as a result of the Business Roundtable declaration in 2019 - it's now being driven by the CEO and is a whole of company mission.

The value a company provides to its audience creates real earned engagement, and real business impact. That's the future of great marketing.

How are you planning for 2021?

Burns: As the region looks to recover after COVID-19, we need to be firmly in Asia for Asia to capture that opportunity by delivering work that really connects with our stakeholders. We increasingly need to develop solutions that work in various Asian markets - and not cookie cut from the US or Europe. We see this innovation in China and this is something we need to evolve in Southeast Asia in particular. In a way, we are entering unchartered territory now that Asia Pacific is the largest trading market in the world.

Oh and I'm looking forward to supporting our clients at Davos in Singapore!