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VaynerMedia bags Gojek’s creative SVP VJ Anand, ramps up Asia growth plan

VaynerMedia Singapore has appointed VJ Anand (pictured left) as executive creative director, SVP. In this role, he will oversee the agency’s creative product in the Asia Pacific region, and report to Avery Akkineni (pictured right), head of VaynerMedia Singapore. Anand was most recently SVP of creative at Indonesia’s first and largest decacorn startup, Gojek. The appointment is the latest hire since VaynerMedia Singapore opened its Asia Pacific operation in July this year.

“The Asia Pacific region is an important market for our clients, therefore it was imperative to establish our presence here,” said Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO and co-founder of VaynerMedia. “Our Singapore office is growing and VJ is a key hire as we continue to scale our business in the region.”

At Gojek, Anand led the company’s internal creative agency where he built and spearheaded creative, social media, digital, events, activation and in-app content for the brand. During this time, the department was named the best media agency in Indonesia. Prior to joining Gojek, Anand was executive creative director at BBDO Malaysia and TBWA Malaysia, working on clients such as Fonterra, Taylor’s University, Guardian, UMobile and Mercedes.

Head of VaynerMedia Singapore, Akkineni added, “We are already seeing exciting traction in Asia. The addition of VJ, who is an amazing creative leader with extensive traditional agency experience, allows us to accelerate and uplevel our creative capabilities to complement our media services. We’re intent on building a unique regional office – recruiting digital natives from across Asia Pacific to give us diverse perspectives for better thinking. VJ is a critical part of the founding team, and we couldn’t be more excited to officially welcome him on board.”

In a conversation with Marketing, prior to the announcement, Akkineni also explained that bringing Anand on board was a major tuning point for Vayner Media as he brings a depth of regional experience and out-of-the-box thinking, which she hopes will take VaynerMedia’s creative product to the next level in Asia and beyond. Akkineni added that the team is currently planning on making a few more hires as building up its Singapore office is one of her key focus’ this year. For the longer term, VaynerMedia is exploring opening an additional office outside of Singapore, and potentially satellite offices for key client partners.

She added that the agency is currently primarily focused on global and regional work in APAC, but it has also spent a fair amount of time partnering with brands in Australia and Japan. “One thing that we’re extremely proud of is that all our current clients in the Singapore office are Asian brands, based here in Singapore. Over time, this will certainly change as global needs develop across VaynerMedia, but it’s been a great entry into the market,” she added.

When asked what clients in Asia were demanding more of, Akkineni said speed was the number one demand. She said:

Moving from New York, I thought things couldn’t get much faster. In Asia, it is next level!

“It’s been a fun challenge to partner with brands which operate at such an exciting pace,” she added. Commenting on the evolution of the agency space, she explained that in her view agencies today remain critical partners to marketers, but the “AOR only” days are dwindling, even for major brands. As such, the role of the agency is fundamentally stewardship – of brand, product, and investment – to satisfy business needs.

“Those business needs have not gone away, and smart agencies are pivoting to the new world of marketing – embracing flexibility, agility, data, transparency, and in-house models. At VaynerMedia, we’re fortunate to be able to lean into these realities quickly as agility and speed is our advantage,” she added.

Meanwhile, Anand who starts his role in November 2019, added that VaynerMedia’s growth and unique approach to creativity is what drew him to the agency. “We live in a world where social is first. After being client-side at a tech giant, I could see the need in this market for an agency that can marry content, media and social well, and VaynerMedia is that. I was also stoked after talking to Gary Vaynerchuk and learning how being an independent agency makes us more nimble. His people-first and empathy-focused philosophy really hit the spot for me.”

More on his shift back to the agency world here:

Marketing: What made you choose to shift back to the agency scene after holding an in-house client role?

It’s funny that I chose to come back to an agency, when many people are saying that agencies are dying, and when most agency folks are trying to jump into a tech company or client side. But I don’t think agencies are dying; I think the wrong kind of agencies are.

The reasons I chose VaynerMedia are:
1) It’s not part of a big network.
2) Gary Vaynerchuk is a super interesting figure. He is the modern-day entrepreneur, CMO and CCO rolled into one person and he’s an effective practitioner on social media.
3) Having worked on the client/tech side, I can see very clearly that there is a huge need in the market for an agency that can do both data-science and creative-magic in one place. VaynerMedia can be that agency in the Asia Pacific market.

So, I’m not just shifting back to an agency – I’m shifting back to the right kind of agency.

Marketing: What were some of the learnings at GOJEK that you will bring with you to Vayner?

Working on the client/tech side has really opened my eyes. For one, you work with a huge amount of data. You focus on the conversion and what’s right for the business. You learn how to innovate and move fast. And, having sat in on multiple pitches and agency meetings, I’ve realised that everyone comes up with very similar ideas; it’s how you execute and integrate it with the business strategy and products that makes the difference.

At Gojek, we learnt how being hyper local and true to the product. How important doing work that brings believe to a brand is important. In my two years at Gojek, I’ve learnt how to build a cult brand and how work can move a nation and change/impact culture. Working in a massive country such as Indonesia, which is progressing and moving forward you learn a lot. I would like to bring that experience and work with other brands across Asia.

Marketing: What are some of the creative trends you are seeing?

Content and social-first campaigns. Co-creating campaigns with your users. Hyperlocal and culturally semi-sensitive, yet insightful work. Collaboration and knowing popular culture, plus trend-jacking is so important these days. Things that you already know but choose to ignore, maybe.

Marketing: What are some of the challenges you feel ECD’s face in today’s era?

A lot of network agencies are still pushing their ECDs to win awards. It’s unhealthy. I think the focus should be doing what’s right for the clients and brands you work on. What is good for the brand is not necessarily what’s going to make our agency famous. So many ECDs are being bullied and pushed into doing work for the sake of winning and I think that’s wrong. On the other hand, a lot of creative leaders are either not moving on with times, or are finding it hard to move on with times.

Times have changed; it’s a content and social-first world, consumers are becoming smarter than us, they are creating content and rejecting traditional ads. How do you move on with times and work with data to see opportunities and sharpen your ideas? It’s a huge creative cultural shift happening and if you don’t change as a creative leader, then it’s going to be tough for you.

Marketing: Will you be growing the creative team at Vayner?

Yes, we are starting from zero in Asia. With the kind of work that VaynerMedia does, and the huge gap I see in the market, we are building a creative team that is a hybrid team. Not your old school art and copy, but creatives who can do everything – create content, shoot, edit, do motion graphics, as well as write and produce. Creatives with a special twist to them, poets, doodlers, fashion photographers, instagrammers. Just makers. Everyone wants to build a creative department with these types of creatives, but VaynerMedia is already doing this kind of work, and with Gary as the leader of the agency, we can attract new age creatives who think of content and social first.

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