Tony Hon on the true meaning of advertising

For eight years TURN Creative has been quietly building a business based on creative excellence and what owner Tony Hon describes as simplicity, beauty and being direct. He tells Jennifer Chan why maintaining a low profile can often work to your benefit.

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Your business ticks all the right boxes for being part of the 4As, yet you chose not to. Why is that?

TURN has established as a mature firm in eight years with a strong client base, we remain a small scale business with no more than 10 people and we like to keep it this way. I have no intention of joining the 4As. Even for its awards show, some deep-seated problems remain. Declining credibility, scam ads…you name it. There is no need for my firm to be glorified by this label as the greatest is people.

Clients take into account the performance of past campaigns and not the number of trophies the agency has received. I believe quality agencies have no need to rely on media hype or trophy glory to stay on the road to growth. At the end of the day, the real fuel behind winning clients comes from the company's profile, the relationship with your existing clients and the understanding of a client's business. One important question to ask yourself regularly should be: When was the last time you bonded with your clients?

How would you describe the work from TURN?

Our work revolves around three main areas - simplicity, beauty and being direct. In much the same vein as brand positioning, agency personality matters a lot in this small ad circle. Creativity and innovation are the greatest assets for an agency. The need to have a unique and consistent style to distinguish your work from others should be a priority. Building a unique creative character for to distinguish yourself from others is just as important as building a brand personality for your clients. Not only does it narrow the expectation gap between clients and the agencies, it also makes your firm irreplaceable.

Which campaigns stand out as your proudest?

In the Olympus case, the integrated services we have provided have brought our partnership with the client from local to regional. One immensely important factor that is often overlooked is the consistency of a campaign. As much as how customers tilt towards online to gain brand information, final purchase always comes down to offline retail. We need to make sure each integrated campaign takes a shopping experience into consideration, for instance, our work for Arome Bakery covers even product packaging.

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How often do you do pitch?

We seldom do pitches. I don't see the reason for pitching. Before having a thorough understanding of your potential clients, I don't see what makes a pitcher qualified for giving advice. In many cases, marketers already have a clear idea of which agency they prefer. The pitch process is a required company policy in disguise. Big agencies are trapped in a vicious cycle where deep-seated problems from the pitching system like long working hours and low productivity, remain unsolved.

What is the most important aspect of running an ad agency?

Maintaining a work life balance, I'd say. I give my staff a lot of free time as creativity involves insights from social activities. Creativity is all about emotions inspired from life experiences. At TURN, we control the workload and make sure our presentations to clients on each project stay within two sessions. But all in all, a positive work environment makes good business sense.