Ogilvy MY's co-chiefs on resetting the agency to 'reinvigorate the founder culture'

Ogilvy Malaysia has undergone significant changes over the past year, with the most recent one being the departure of creative directors Jarrod Reginald and Maharis Azman. Weeks prior to that, it split from J. Walter Thompson nine months after the agencies combined resources under a single leadership team.

Following the split, Ogilvy named Nizwani Shahar (pictured right) and Campbell Cannon (pictured left) co-chief executives, tasked to drive the agency's next phase of growth. Now that the agency is starting on a clean slate with new leadership, A+M speaks to both leaders to find out what their vision for the agency is moving forward and what the new dawn means for Ogilvy Malaysia and its clients.

Cannon told A+M that Ogilvy is very proud of its diverse talent mix in Malaysia. One factor which distinguishes Ogilvy, Cannon said, is the combined passion among the team to ensure creativity, with technology being the agency's enabler. With this focus in mind, Ogilvy is able to forge deeper bonds for brands and their customers at the moments that matter.

He added that the split from JWT offered Ogilvy an opportunity to further galvanise its own brand identity, especially with the completion of Ogilvy's own global transformation. Cannon said:

The dual reset in Malaysia has enabled the agency to reinvigorate the founder culture that makes Ogilvy so distinctive and timeless.

"We are in an extremely fortunate position, having built great partnerships with our clients who are at the helm of some of the strongest brands in Malaysia. Our clients can expect to see a more agile Ogilvy, ready to draw on the power of our network and local talent to help drive business transformation and innovative growth for them," he added.

Nizwani concurred, adding that the dissolution of the joint venture meant that it was an opportunity for Ogilvy to "refocus" its efforts on understanding the root of their business challenges and design experiences which deliver on the agreed outcome, on time and on brief.

"Our greatest blessing is we have build relationships that span a long time. The brands we make matter are steeped in strong partnerships and appreciation for one another. We also have clients who are strong Ogilvy advocates for our take on brand building, ideas and modern marketing," she said. Nizwani added:

The commitment has always been to marry great minds with seamless operations, and we are satisfied this remains the same now.

Nizwani told A+M that the 22 years of combined experience at Ogilvy between her and Cannon is the distinguishing factor, making them "true advocates" of the business and brand.

Read the rest of the interview here:

A+M: It is important for agencies and clients to localise brand messages and be familiar with the preferences of local consumers. How is the agency planning to do that?

Cannon: The beauty of Ogilvy Malaysia is we believe in pervasive creativity, meaning everyone in the agency has the right to come up with an idea. And Kurt Novack, our new ECD, is a great advocate of this virtue, sharing the same vision of driving collaboration across capabilities as well as cultural backgrounds. That's also where our fortune of having a very diverse talent pool comes into focus, knowing that our team will always push for  culturally and locally dialled in ideas to drive deeper connections with Malaysian consumers.

The secret sauce is being able to balance local relevance with a worldly view, and that is personified in Nizwani and my partnership, permeating through the rest of the agency.

A+M: Cannon, you've been with Ogilvy for 14 years while Nizwani, you've been with the agency for close to a decade. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen coming from clients in recent times?

Nizwani: Digital transformation has undoubtedly pulled the carpet out from under some of our key clients and their brands. We are proud and grateful to work with strong brand-builder clients who have shown good resilience and foresight to ride this wave and embrace modern marketing without losing the fundamentals of brand building. A younger leadership team and executive committee puts us in a strong position to partner clients through this wave.

We are native to the environment and have complete appreciation for the new customer experience systems that needs to be designed to engage and build relevance.

Cannon: The industry dialogue around data and digital transformation has obviously driven a rush for marketers to realise the nirvana of personalised marketing at scale. The reality is a lot of clients are still grappling with the fundamentals of planning out that ambition in a pragmatic way, so that it's appropriate for right now, yet scalable for their long term ambitions. We're lucky at Ogilvy that we have the power of our regional Ogilvy Consulting practice and Martech Centre Of Excellence to engage and support clients in a meaningful way, helping to nudge them along the journey.

A+M: Clients are on the lookout for agencies that are nimble. How do you plan to meet this need?

Nizwani: We need to turn the narrative from "nimble" to "agile". Nimble sometimes merely speaks of being fast with a risk again of not having a clear understanding of brand and business. That's when brands start becoming tactical with neither brand purpose nor soul.

Being agile is less about speed and cost; it is about being efficient and effective with the brand integrity intact.

We look at a brand through a world view and pulse ideas generally have a specific need to be agile, yet with the broader brand idea at the heart of it.

A+M: What are some skillsets required to succeed in today's advertising industry?

Cannon: There's obviously a long list of specialist skillsets I could number off, but for me the key to succeeding in today's advertising industry is having the right personality traits; resilience, curiosity and self-motivation. The marketing landscape is complex and ever-evolving.

To navigate the shifting sands, everyone needs to become somewhat of a specialising generalist. To do that effectively amongst day to day operations, it requires a lot of resilience but that in itself is not enough.

One needs a relentless curiosity to uncover the richness of insight that ensures our clients' brands remain culturally and behaviourally relevant at every interaction.

Lastly, there's very few industries that require higher levels of self-motivation in order to build relevant, hybrid skills, whilst still being able to deliver against our clients current challenges.