‘We are here for 2020’: How independents are gearing up for the new year

In August this year, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced that the GDP growth forecast for 2019 has been “downgraded” between 0% to 1%. This came amidst rising global trade tensions and given Singapore’s positioning in the global trade industry, it was no surprise then that the island was set to feel an impact.

But the hopefuls in us, might see a little bit of sunlight behind the cloudy skies as according to MTI’s recent data, there is a slight uptick in Singapore’s economic growth for the third quarter. In a CNA article, economists echoed that Singapore’s economy has passed the worst and that growth should continue to slowly recover.

In our numerous conversations with agency heads, both network and independents, many say that given the cutback from businesses, agencies may begin to feel the pinch. In this report, Marketing spoke to several independent agency leads on how they are planning for 2020.

Winnie Pua, managing director, antics@play

2020 will likely prove to be just as challenging as any other year. We plan to come out tops by keeping brave, through thinking, deep breathing before charging forward together.

  • Thinking – Long-term-ism is the idea. We want to push the thinking back to brand growth and development, strategic planning beyond campaign or digital KPIs.
  • Breathe – We plan to stay inspired and in turn inspire others, to chase that breath of fresh air in our work.
  • Charge forward together – Real-time market testing, co-creation, creative partnerships… there’s no better time for collaboration than now.

2020 will be engagement and play-time for us and partners.

Cho Pei Lin, managing director, Asia PR Werkz

2019 has been an exciting year for the agency as, after more than 20 years in the business in Singapore, we entered into conversations with other independent agencies in the region for possible joint ventures and embarked on our regional expansion plans.

Next year, we see a continued regional growth for start-ups, digital and social media marketing being closely intertwined in publicity plans, and marketers wanting more direct engagement with end-consumers/users. We are set to open our first regional office in Q1 2020 and will continue our conversations with other independent agencies in the region to continue our growth strategy. Amidst constant talk of a looming global economic crisis, we are determined not to just stay afloat, but to thrive and grow!

Luke Lim, chief executive officer, A S Louken 

For A S Louken, 2020 is filled with excitement as we enter our 20th year in operation. This year, we were privileged to be recognised by Ministry of Trade & Industry as one of the 26 organisations that demonstrated leadership in brand and business transformation. We are glad that Louken is well poised to work with transformative enterprises.

Louken also started an accelerator platform to groom and grow a community of carefully curated startups, which strengthened our ecosystem of service offerings to our clients. The marketing industry has changed dramatically in the past decade. Moving forward, this rate of change will only accelerate and or be exponential.

For Louken, adopting and infusing relevant technologies into our services is paramount, and everyone needs to embrace continuous learning. The New Year resolution for Louken and our group of companies is to hasten our own pace of change, provide a unique, market-oriented suite of services that few can offer, where clients find relevance and significant value.

Rowena Bhagchandani, co-founder and CEO, BLKJ

As an agency, we are the right size, have the right people, have like-minded client partners, our processes are fine-tuned, and we have great momentum. So we are confident that we can rise to any challenges that the new year might pose. Our resolution is to continue doing more of what we are already doing; creating work that makes the brands under our care famous and helps our clients seize opportunities in the most creative and rewarding ways. And to help our people meet their professional goals and have a lot of fun doing it.

Oliver Budgen, managing director, Bold Communications

In the fast-paced world of technology public relations, I don’t think there is such thing as an unchallenging year. Over the last 12 months alone, we’ve seen clients look for more agile, project-based services which are harder to plan growth against despite growing revenues. I think 2020 will be the year of the specialist, as clients increasingly look to partner with those that can balance fresh insights and ideas alongside a deep understanding of their industry.

Ultimately this evolution is good news for the industry, as small, independent challenger agencies like ourselves will be able to level the playing field against the larger incumbents, as long as they’re able to prove value, and be bold enough to take risks.

Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director, formul8

I think all economic indicators point to a slower year, not just for the advertising world but for most industries. Thankfully, we have spent years gaining a foothold in industries that are the mainstays of Singapore business, be it in real estate, government and several lifestyle verticals such as gaming and automotive. So we don’t expect to see a drop in business, in fact we expect to do even better in 2020 because of our growing portfolio and experience in these sectors. Clients will move to agencies that are tried, tested and proven and that’s where we come in. Next year will not be a year to be adventurous for clients.

Keeping our heads low and working hard and keeping our clients happy as we always do; I’m really not into the typical agency hyperbole about performance and wins, I’d rather let our numbers speak for itself. We’re 20 years young next year, a real milestone in this business as an indie, so I am sure my team will expect a blowout party! The one thing I always have my eye on is keeping the team happy and rewarded as well as dragging them to experience new sights and sounds around the world because we believe in working hard but playing harder. Here’s to an exceptional year ahead!

James Chua, managing director, Germs


2019 was a definitive year for GERMS. We not only celebrated our 10th anniversary, we charted our next 10 years with our lateral expansion via our investments in two startups – LUXIEE, an online diamond marketplace and AKINN, a fashion label in partnership with renowned designer Wykidd Song. We also incorporated a content production house which I am extremely excited and bullish about. I think we’ve read enough about the volatility of the market and the trade war so the economic outlook for 2020 remains uncertain.

Regardless of what happens, life goes on so for us.

So 2020 will be about strengthening the foundation of these different businesses and growing them exponentially. We will be working to seamlessly integrate these start-ups within our agency environment to create a more symbiotic relationship. I think the constant for us in the coming year would be the continued conception of great service, product and stories. And that can happen only because we have built a great team.

Pat Law, founder, GOODSTUPH

Small independent agencies like ours exposed to the international economy develop, by default if not by design, a degree of immunity to the vagaries of deglobalisation.

I see 2020 as a huge opportunity for us to build Singapore’s first micro-network in the face of deglobalisation. Or die trying.

Two years ago, we set shop up in Jakarta, Indonesia, not knowing if we’d even survive the unknown. Today, we have Bosch, BMW, Eu Yan Sang, Keppel Land and Porsche under our belt. More importantly, a new bank of knowledge and humility that cannot be acquired should we not have dared venture beyond our shores.

Personally, I feel it’s important to always maintain as a David, especially when the agency gets to a size of a Goliath. The constant need to prove our worth is extremely important to our growth. This year, we have been kept busy setting the infrastructure up for Bangkok, Thailand. We’re going back to ground zero again. And why not? We are not here for 2019. Or 2020 for that matter. We’re here for good.

Alvina Seah, managing director, GOVT 

Every year will have its own set of challenges. And it’s easy to slip into the notion of trying to do the same things harder, and hope to expect different results. This year, we will be pushing for active transformation, and working with a mishmash of diverse talents and business partners, together with our core teams, so that we force ourselves to think of creative solutions beyond standard templates. We always believed it’s not about waiting for the right timing or the right budgets to do anything, but choosing how we make every opportunity right. Our DNA of agility and being fearless, means we are always on our feet, thinking about “what’s next” and “what else” for our work, our clients and our people.

Terence Teo, co-founder, Meet Isaac

We foresee that 2020 will be an exciting year of change and growth for the agency. With the paradigm of social media constantly shifting, the inherent challenge for the team is to continually stay abreast of industry best practices in order to create impactful content and campaigns. To equip the team with the necessary skills, learning and development plans have been put in place for each of our team members.

In 2020, Meet Isaac will focus on expanding to key markets within the region, and enhancing service offerings to provide well-rounded strategies that drive multi-channel strategy and execution. This would include providing more data-driven content, CRM and loyalty consulting, and integrated marketing. This would be done by further strengthening our collaboration with Ascentis and marrying marketing services with technology.

Jonathan Seto, regional APAC director, MOI Global 

I think 2020 will be a very exciting year for APAC as more brands continue to shift their focus towards this region and we will continue to witness more burgeoning talents and unique marketing trends emerging from this region. Staying ahead of the change will be crucial. Our agency’s new year resolution is to stay true to our “Turning Heads” vision and ensuring that it’s in our DNA. Our theme for the year is to “Expect the Unexpected!”

Lars Voedisch, managing director, PRecious Comms

One of our biggest challenges will be to manage growth while increasing client servicing standards and people development standards. Nobody can foresee where the global economy is going but I strongly believe in the power and potential of Southeast Asia and that’s extremely exciting. We’re at the brink of the Southeast ASEAN decade! This means to stay focused and grow regional capabilities based on actual client demands and simply deliver excellence.

We are in the people business and have to refocus on really putting people first.

How can we empower our PRecious tribe to take risks and actively work with us on charting their professional growth path, sparking joy and curiosity and be brave enough to more often say ‘no’ to anything what we would only be able to do halfheartedly? We want to become more daring and encourage our staff and clients to become more bold, having a point of view and stand out by conviction.

Rosalind Tan, chief executive officer, PurpleClick Media

2020 will be an exciting year for us at PurpleClick. We are ready and well poised to help our clients build and manage the overwhelming amount of data that has risen in recent years. By leveraging first party data, our clients are able to gain in depth insights of their consumer journey that enable more precise and personalised marketing efforts. With better data insights, it increases both cross channel visibility and optimise offline to online solutions. So rather than challenging, we are confident that 2020 will be another breakthrough year for PurpleClick.

In the past, Purpleclick was known as a SEM Agency. In 2019, we managed to pivot ourselves to an independently owned, full funnel digital marketing agency. Moving forward, we are committed to continuously stay ahead of the curve, be innovative, and seek out digital marketing solutions that deliver business success and value to our customers.

Kristian Olsen, MD of Type A 

Every year is a challenge we meet head on. It’s been a while since anyone has said “Next years gonna be a blockbuster year!”.  All that means is that we approach each year as challenge to ourselves; to do our best and take our work to the next level, no matter the forecast.

Our aim next is year is not just about growth and expansion but bettering ourselves and exploring new solutions we can provide to our clients both existing and new;  at the same time giving the teams we work with the support and reliability they need and expect from us.

Yeo Ai Ling, managing director, Wild

Every year poses different challenges. Next year will be no different and we will go boldly. In the last couple of years, we have transformed our offerings, built up our in-house capabilities by setting up our production studio to cater to the increasing demand for dynamic content formats, as well as introduced data driven tools that offer greater consumer insights to our clients.

Our strategy has always been for the long haul, which includes strengthening our competencies in certain client segments and building inroads into new ones. We inspire the team to always be curious, continually upskill and self-learn. With these building blocks in place, the business and team have grown, and I believe we are poised to take on any challenge thrown our way. Our collective new year resolution as a team is to do cool! We’re ready for 2020!

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