Robert Gaxiola set to exit manghamgaxiola mcgarrybowen

Robert Gaxiola (pictured), one of the two co-managing partners of manghamgaxiola mcgarrybowen, will be leaving the agency at the end of the month. Co-managing partner Stephen Mangham will stay on.

Manghamgaxiola mcgarrybowen is part of the Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), which first made an initial 20% investment into Singapore-based creative agency Mangham Gaxiola in 2015 to help expand the mcgarrybowen brand into Singapore. Prior to the investment, the agency was known as Mangham Gaxiola, and was headed by both Mangham and Gaxiola.

The duo broke off from Ogilvy in 2012 where Mangham held the role of group chairman of Ogilvy and Gaxiola was ECD. The agency kick-started its operations with CIMB Bank and quickly rose to service international and local brands such as NIVEA, Samsung and Subaru.

In an interview with Marketing, Gaxiola said he first decided to leave manghamgaxiola mcgarrybowen several months back, during the Chinese New Year period this year. As such, a smooth transition process has been in the works. Describing the working conditions at DAN as unique, he said: “It’s an amazing place. I’ve never worked anywhere like this before. We have the best meeting rooms, agile working spaces and the coffee is always fresh. The Dentsu Aegis Network team created a great space here for people to work with each other and the mood is very collaborative. It’s quite a vision.”

He added that the M1 pitch was proof of the great working culture where many specialist agencies come together. Following his departure, Mangham will stay on to head the M1 with Andy Greenaway and strategist Udara Withana.

When asked what is next for him, Gaxiola said, “ I will be looking for a new job! I made the tough decision to leave, but that also means by this time next week, I will be very unemployed.”

He added that this new chapter could be a senior role inside an agency, but he is also keen to look on the client side as well.

“There are so many interesting companies out there, I’d love to join one and make a real difference. I am also willing to leave the country again. I haven’t done that since I returned home to San Francisco to work at Goodby, a move that first opened my mind to digital creative and new ways of working,” he said. Speaking on his experience running an independent agency, he said it is an experience every ECD should try at least once.

“I never wanted to start an advertising agency, but I think every ECD should try it at least once. It gives you an entirely new perspective about our business.  We created a great place to work too and I am proud of that. I think I’ve done all I could do here and I’m excited to move on to whatever comes next. I’ll miss my team for sure, while I’m very grateful for what we’ve done together, I know it’s time to take a walk,” he added.

Read the rest of our interview with Gaxiola below:

Marketing: Given that you have been in the local scene for so many years, what are some of the biggest shifts in clients you have seen?

Gaxiola: The biggest shift I’ve noticed is that our clients have more places to take their business and they are also armed with the exact same creative tools we have. Thanks to technology, clients can now cut their own videos, shoot and retouch their own images and write their own copy. Some of them do it very well too. So yeah, you need to be on your game because it’s pretty obvious where this is going.

We need to embrace this co-creative atmosphere and not be scared of it. Some of our clients now have their own creative directors and some are quite brilliant. I also suspect they have better hours, healthier lunches and have an intimate understanding of the problems at hand.

Marketing: Do you feel that it is harder to create great work these days than in the past, given that client budgets are shrinking?

I actually think there are more opportunities for creativity. These opportunities are just different from what we are used to. We could all use a little more entertainment in this town that’s for sure and the digital space is the place to do it. That said, we all have to work harder with smaller budgets, less time and smarter media.

Marketing: As an ECD who has been through the shifts in media from traditional to digital, what has been the biggest challenge for you?

Gaxiola: It’s always been hard recruiting great talent and also getting clients to push their boundaries in the digital space. Sometimes I feel we are getting into a rut here in Singapore. We are still stuck in a vortex of microsites, banners, EDMs, and content videos. We could do so much more.

The focus now is more on analytics and data because numbers are everything. Right now everyone is buzzing about “digital transformation”. The reality is, great digital talent will go to markets where they have more opportunities to do projects with greater scale, budgets and creativity.

On the flip side, digital can be more than an annual campaign that shows numbers, likes and impressions. Digital too can build brand equity, but doing so takes time and a clear narrative - be it online or offline.

I’d say we need to be advocates of change, but so many agencies are using the same processes in the way they operate, staff themselves and even think. Advertising is such a different animal today and yet the irony is most agencies can preach the gospel of innovation and change but we are very often the last ones to practice it.

Marketing: How do you keep up with changes?

There is just too much I don’t know and it’s all happening so fast. But that’s what is exciting about it. I surrounded myself with smarter, younger and way cooler people for a reason. They are the makers and curators of what’s happening. It’s inspiring to see how they use their talents to find fresh creative solutions.

As a teacher, I am still teaching classes on marketing, writing and concept development. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I am always learning something new from my students.

As a student myself, I’m quite addicted to UCLA’s online courses, Hyper Island, General Assembly and others. There are just so many places online to pick up new subjects, I used to get the same feeling inside a great bookstore.

Marketing: What do you think are some of the skill sets necessary to be a fantastic creative in the modern world?

I think you need to communicate well within you team. You need to work with confident people who love it, and also get it. We all must also be agile enough to flow at a very fast pace and be open to new ideas.

One thing the kids taught me is that you really can win together. There is just so much to gain by sharing ideas and creating together. You can’t do it by yourself, nobody can.

Marketing: We know you’ve been working on several projects with (your wife) and celebrity Denise Keller. What has the experience been like?

I love her like crazy, she’s a real talent. Right now she is developing a new show for Discovery Channel on Kashmir. She is so great in front of the camera, but she can also write and produce the hell out of anything. Whether she is producing a content video, a documentary or a still shoot she always delivers a high level of quality.

Social media too has given us so many new opportunities to work with brands in different ways. She remains my all-time favourite host on MTV and Discovery Channel so working with her is amazing.

In fact, right now we have a few new projects lined up. One of them is onboard the Genting Dream cruise ship. This is a very different style of storytelling and I can’t wait to see where it will take us. So yeah, we will be spending some more time onboard an amazing cruise ship until something new comes up on the horizon.

Marketing: What do you enjoy most about your job?

As a creative person, I live to tell stories with art and copy. You can lose touch as an ECD. It’s too easy to get sidetracked by unscheduled meetings, management duties and award tallies. But in the last six years, I was very hands on with our team. Technology helps with that too, Google slides and programs like Slack have really changed the way we work on the fly. But ultimately it’s the culture that keeps it fun, not the billings.