Agencies facing major challenges in Asia

11 August 2010

SINGAPORE: A "revolving door" of leadership is symptomatic of the considerable challenges facing creative and media agencies in Asia Pacific, a report has argued.

According to figures from R3:GC, the consultancy, eight of the 18 premier multinational creative networks in the area have appointed a new chief executive in the last year.

Five of the 14 largest media planning and buying specialists witnessed similar developments in this period, equating to a turnover of 41% across the two disciplines.

Recent high-profile moves include Digby Richards leaving his role as Asia Pacific ceo of Bates 141 after four years, and Ruth Stubbs stepping down as president of MediaBrands Asia Pacific.

Alex Crowther was named as ceo of MediaCom's local operations in July, replacing Kevin Clarke, who now heads up GroupM Thailand.

Toby Hayward has taken on the corresponding position in Singapore.

MEC has also announced Joost Dop's three year tenure as Asia Pacific chief executive will end in December 2010, and this is to be assumed by Stephen Li, its current ceo of South/South East Asia.

This trend contributes to what R3 termed a "triumvirate of turbulence", as marketing directors enjoy limited longevity in APAC, and client–agency relationships are often of equally truncated duration.

For example, R3 found that 1,109 accounts had changed hands in Asia in the first half of 2010, an uptick of 50% year-on-year.

Typical billings have also decreased by 21% to an average of $1.5m (€1.1m; £953m) for creative briefs, and have declined from $2.6m in 2008.

"Agency CEOs are naturally incentivised to crack key wins and make an instant impact - you don't see headlines of accounts celebrating five year anniversaries," the study stated.

The normal partnership between brand owners and their agencies is just 2.7 years long in China, where 43% of creative assignments are project-based and extend to less than 12 months.

India delivered a comparative total of 3.5 years, while many advertisers point to "inconsistency" in the capabilities of individual networks across the region as a whole.
Speaking in an interview with the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Nirvik Singh, ceo of Grey Group Asia-Pacific, outlined several obstacles.

"Talent management is especially heightened when the economy's doing better, as there are more job opportunities and more companies hiring," said Singh.

"Plus, I find Asians are willing to relocate far more than people in some other parts of the world, so there's this constant churn."

When combined with shifts in consumer behaviour, the rise of modern retail, the explosion in popularity of digital media and the cultural nuances of each market, agencies are required to respond quickly.

"In Asia you've just gone suddenly into racing mode. It's all about growth and where's the next opportunity and how do you get talent on board," Singh said.

Data sourced from R3/Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff