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Staying independent in 2019: What do these agency leads have in mind?

The independent agency scene in Singapore has been growing rapidly over the years, offering a myriad of services. Often enough these days, they are seen giving the big network agencies a run for their money.It is a vibrant scene of entreprenuers who work hard and play hard.

Keeping this in mind, Marketing spoke to several independent agency heads on their plans for 2019, and how they aim to keep ahead of the game.

Jeremy Seow, managing director, WE Worldwide 

WE Singapore is an agency on the move. In 2019, we are investing heavily in our global agency IP (Brands in Motion and Stories in Motion), and our planning methodology (Momentum) across paid, earned and owned in order to help our clients tell stories across a fragmented ecosystem. Our points of view and planning tools are designed to help our clients harness the motion that controls their brand in order to drive their business agenda.

Due to our technology heritage, we are seeing more health and lifestyle brands working with us to help drive their innovation agenda. Such brands see their use of technology as a huge differentiator in their categories. We like such briefs. A lot.

Making cultural traditions relevant again – that’s us.

We’re are also re-evaluating agency traditions, and making it more meaningful for our people and communities. For example, ditching sending out mooncakes to clients, and instead spending time and sharing the mooncakes with the elderly. We’re also scaling back the usual booze-filled year-end agency party with a week-long initiative to spend time, buy and wrap presents for less-fortunate children in our community.

We are building capabilities in paid media, ensuring that our clients’ stories are appearing in front of the right audiences, at the right time. We will continue to build on our data and analytics capabilities, because without a strong point of view on the context and insights surrounding a brand’s environment, then we can’t be inspired to create amazing actionable outcomes. Outside of the agency, we’re focusing on providing not a “full service”, but the “best service’” offering with WE’s Plus Network, which puts our clients one-step away from a range of specialists and experts across a wide variety of disciplines.

At WE Singapore, we believe in three things – having great people, working with great clients on challenging briefs, and fostering a great culture. We’ll be spending our 2019 budget on investing in, and upskilling our teams in order to provide stellar talent for our growing portfolio of brands in Singapore and across the region. At the same time, we’ll be focusing on a strong office culture in order to retain this talent, which will in turn ensure the work we create for our clients is strong, consistent, and delivers measurable outcomes.

Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner, Happy Marketer 

We plan to focus on expanding Happy Marketer’s presence in select ASEAN markets such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand where we will be serving MNCs and large family owned businesses by advising them on their digital transformation strategies and help them implement cloud-based, data-driven marketing  initiatives for growth. We aim to achieve 50% Y-O-Y growth through this organic regional expansion. We will want to invest our budgets on upskilling the #HappyTribe on areas such as Artifial Intelligence and Machine Learning. This includes producing thought-leadership content to build our brand, business development initiatives for our regional expansion and in deepening relationships with partners.

Gary Tang, co-founder and managing director, The Media Shop

One of our key priorities in 2019 is to continue building strong client relationships and to develop close partnerships with like-minded independents that offer complementary disciplines such as creative, public relations, and events to position The Media Shop as a one-stop solution for our clients.

We are constantly pushing ourselves to improve the status quo so our clients and partners can see the value in working with an independent media agency. In 2019, we will focus on the 3 T’s – tools, technology and talent:

– Continue investing in media tools and ad technology to deliver insightful media advice and drive measurable business results for our clients.
– Talent acquisition and retention will continue to be the key areas of focus since we are in a people-industry. We are always on the look-out for talented and like-minded individuals to join our ever growing team. With the introduction of flexi-workplace and flexi-time in 2018, we are seeing a higher retention and employee satisfaction rate amongst the current team. We will continue to stay on top of training and development of our team in the foreseeable future.
– By equipping the right talent with the right tools, we will thus be able to design a campaign that cuts across all channels and deliver an impactful data-driven campaign.

Lina Marican, managing director, Mutant Communications 

We’ve grown a minimum 70% every year since we launched six years ago, which we will be looking to maintain in 2019. We will aim to achieve that by focusing on continuing to deliver smarter, integrated campaigns that drive our clients’ bottom line. Success gets success, and the more we can run lean, valuable experiences for clients, the more growth we get. 2019 will also be the year we push our expansion into Southeast Asia. We’re already working on several brands across these markets, and opened our second office based in Malaysia a year ago. In the pipeline is Indonesia and Philippines.

We are continuing to evolve as an agency and how we approach the market. Our content team has already driven massive growth for Mutant and we’ll be building out those capabilities. Next will be to target business development. We are humbled that our growth was largely thanks to word of mouth and referrals from current clients, but we’re now taking the reins to speak to brands in specific industries. With this new focus on business development, we’re proactively expanding our capabilities by seeking out brands and industries we know we can make an impact with.

In addition, we want to market ourselves better. We’ve been guilty of neglecting our own profile in previous years, so we’ll be ramping up our efforts through both increased thought leadership and other marketing. We aim to continue to build and maintain our strong team culture. Most of the budget will be spent on training and development. We’ve mapped out a robust schedule for each Mutant to have access to external and internal training courses. We’ve identified an external mentor for our creative designers to give them more inspiration.

We’ve hired some of the best folks in the industry, but we’ll need to stay ahead of the curve by constantly evolving and pushing the industry boundaries. It will also go into growth.

New offices and new staff don’t come cheap!

Fiona Bartholomeusz , managing director, formul8

We will be focusing a lot more on ex-Singapore markets namely Vietnam where we have real estate projects, and will be launching a new private bank, as well as Dubai where we have been since 2009. With the run up to Expo 2020 in Dubai and our appointment to the rosters of several Dubai government agencies including Dubai Tourism and ongoing work for our first ever client in Dubai – Meydan – we expect to see a big ramp up in work there.

We are still very much focused on the verticals we have built our brand on – real estate, banking, automotive and government work and we’ve been fortunate to work with some stellar brands who’ve been loyal to us for years.

Budget wise – we pretty much have a carte blanche POV for courses / training if our team requests for it. But we spend the bulk of our staff welfare on things that the the team prefers to do – such as bonding trips to resorts and concerts which we do several times a year.

Right now I’m typing this from Sydney where we’ve brought some of our team members to catch Taylor Swift and enjoy some R&R!

We all work really hard so it’s always good to let our hair down when we can with unique experiences beyond the norm.

For our company trip to Bali in October, our guys treated it like a pitch presentation and presented the rationale, concept and budget to me aka “the client” complete with a video and all … it was epic! Needless to say, “the client” signed off on it.

Preetham Venkky, director, KRDS Asia 

While each year, agencies tend to focus on aspects of their business such as talent, tools, data etc, KRDS’ focus for 2019 is not going to be any different from what it was for 2018. Vehemently, our focus is going to continue to be – the customer. We will be channeling a large part of our efforts in 2019 towards vertically integrating communication across all digital touch-points to power the ‘Target of One’.

At KRDS our focus for 2019 will also be on vertical multi-channel integration across digital touch-points. Our intent will be to use the strength of the brand to create content that can cascade to desired action from the user. This will ensure a focus on results with better measurability. We’ll also be razor focused on creating contextual brand content targeted to customer segments. While already the case, we’ll be leveraging data (first and third party) increasingly to determine the content direction. On the customer experience side, our focus will be on using automated learning systems to create customised and personalised experiences for each customer.

Being a digital agency, our expertise and output finally comes down to the talented team we have on board.

Some of our budgets will be focused on niche talent acquisition while a bulk of our budget will be focused on continuous up-skilling. We would also be investing a fair bit in new tools that will improve quality of output and productivity.

Charanjit Singh, managing partner, Construct Digital 

Data and martech will lead the focus for our 2019 agenda. Our clients increasingly want to talk to us about strategy, the customer journey and interception points based on behaviours backed by data. They want us to help them predict the likelihood of a prospect converting into a customer because that will help to prioritise marketing spend. They see the value, and so we can help them. That’s going to be the big focus for us in 2019.

We are also going to continue to focus on growth – but it won’t just be about quantity, it will be about the quality of that growth. Quality has always been at the heart of everything we do – and we know to serve our clients in that way we need to constantly re-assess and evaluate whether they are getting what they need from us, and how we can work to service them better. So that will continue to be a big part of our agenda in 2019.

Investments in AI, content marketing and regional expansion are also on the cards. We are also looking at how to give back to the general community and the industry at large, as service is at the heart of what we do.

Data backed storytelling will be key to our plans in 2019. Everyone always talks about data – and data-driven marketing. But we believe that while data can give you direction, it alone isn’t enough. Today, we see the trend of humanisation or storytelling, for brands to better engage audiences.

Everyone seems to be trying to tell a story, but as with the earlier focus on data, not everyone is doing it quite right.

We believe the future of the industry is a convergence of these two things: effective storytelling, backed by sound data insights. This is so that whoever ideas and stories are crafted and told for, it remains authentic and in line with the brand’s vision of itself. That’s the ultimate goal: to craft content that matters, and that can result in new business.

Kanika Agarwal, founder & CEO, Passion Peers 

We are a 2.5 year old independent digital transformation agency. As you can imagine given the competition in this space and us being a young agency, we were a bit overwhelmed when we signed off some big retainer projects with Marks & Spencer and Unilever last year. Our profit last year has gone up by approximately 600% and this year our plans is to go big on our risk taking in terms of the projects we undertake with our current and potential clients.

Our plan for 2019 is simple – go big but never lose our roots or compromise on our agility and creativity. That’s the biggest reason why our clients have loved partnering with us and what’s also helping clients differentiate themselves in the market.

Second action point on our plan is creating lot of unique thought leadership content that makes sense in the real client world. As an independent agency – credibility and showcasing capability is really critical and that is exactly what we are planning to do.

And thirdly, there are some critical capability measurements that we want to keep building on especially customer experience design and creativity- because technology and marketing channels can be replicated but creativity and ideas can’t. Even an AI powered marketing experience will have to be uniquely executed because now all brands are considering AI. And this is something we want to be able to do well for our clients.

Our biggest clientele vertical since our inception has been retail and consumer packed goods for the sole reason on how we place great emphasis on customer experience innovation. Hence our biggest focus from client services perspective is still going to be on strengthening customer experience for our current and potential clients by creatively connecting the physical and digital realms of customer experience. In addition, it is also combining CX, technology and data plus keeping creativity as the foundation will be key focus.

What are your hopes for 2019? Share with me at farzanahf@marketing-interactive.com.

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