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Mumbrella Asia: A new chapter begins

In her first week in the job as editor of Mumbrella Asia, Eleanor Dickinson sets out what she thinks is great about the publication and the direction she plans to take it in next

Being in the media business, we all know that brands evolve. With that in mind, the next iteration of Mumbrella Asia coincides with the launch of our new website design and my arrival as editor. It’s not a reboot by any means, as we will still be that critical friend to the industry and retain our robust editorial standards. It is certainly the beginning of a new chapter though, already somewhat kickstarted by the appointment of publisher Dean Carroll last year and further appointments still to be made.

For the past three years, Mumbrella Asia has been in the vanguard of covering the media and marketing industry. The website, and the tenacious work of erstwhile editor Robin Hicks, has widely been acknowledged as a candid industry voice that has put integrity, ethics and professionalism at the heart of every story.

Those core values will remain unchanged as we embark on a new phase of development and expansion within the region. As already mentioned, the most obvious change aside from my appointment is the website design. In fairness, it was probably long overdue. Now the makeover brings us in line with our Australian sister title.

Meanwhile, Mumbrella Asia is preparing to host its biggest awards ceremony to date. The awards show, now in its third year, has for the first time opened up eligibility to entries from Australia and New Zealand in the prestigious ‘APAC Agency of the Year’ categories. And by year’s end, we will have hosted three-day media and marketing festival Mumbrella360 Asia. It will be the regional version of our Sydney event, which was last year named Conference of the Year in the Australian Event Awards and attracted 2,000 delegates from across the world. All in all, it’s going to be quite a year.

So why the renewed focus on Asia from Mumbrella? And why now? Well those are big questions for someone in their first week on the job, but I imagine for many readers the answers are a given. Asia is one of the few markets today to offer a real prospect of rapid business growth; in part due to China’s growing global dominance, rapidly expanding middle class and consumer wealth.

But Singapore remains at the very centre of things as a global (not just a regional) hub, with the big international holding companies all vying for a slice of the cake here. That is not to say that the likes of Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines are not important too. They are. And most were represented with entries in the Mumbrella Asia Awards. That diversity is clear in the range of shortlisted entries too.

Returning to our base here in Singapore, there is much happening. Independent shop The Secret Little Agency, for example, has proved to be one of the more interesting models; expanding beyond its Singapore foundations into Hong Kong and more recently Shanghai with its unique brand of creativity and bravery. Its success highlights the promise and potential within Asia’s homegrown market, beyond the big holding companies, and should ultimately pave the way for many more independent houses to challenge the networks.

However, Asia’s growth and potential has over the past 12 months been overshadowed by a number of negatives that continue to bring the industry’s credibility into question. One issue Mumbrella Asia has continued to put under the microscope is scam awards work. Last year’s I-Sea app scandal at Cannes only reinforced the need for greater transparency and accountability. Scam is still a plague on the industry, not just in Asia but across the world.

And the suicide of Dentsu Tokyo employee Matsuri Takahashi also brought unwanted international attention for Japan’s brutal karoshi work ethic. The one silver lining being that change may soon be underway for the country’s mentally and physically taxed workforce, if the promised workforce reforms are implemented.

Then there is overbilling, copycat work, fake metrics and so on. The list goes on. For Mumbrella Asia has built its reputation covering contentious topics such as these with a candid approach. That is refreshing for me as a journalist arriving from a media market underpinned by unbridled censorship (Dubai, in the Middle East, where I was working on Campaign magazine), much of it self-inflicted by journalists too scared to report the truth for fear of deportation.

At the same time, Mumbrella Asia has strived to showcase, champion and celebrate work that is great. We want to continue to do so in a way that undermines unflattering and outdated stereotypes while providing a resource for industry professionals to call upon in order to help them do their jobs better.

Our focus will be to to encourage the best and most creative work from the region, whether it’s through the website or our events. This is more crucial than ever before. Because at times it seems like agencies have lost sight of what they truly stand for amid the tide of digitisation, changing consumer habits and the dominance of smartphones. The grandiose linear television ads of yesteryear no longer take centre stage.

So traditional creative agencies for example are increasingly distancing themselves from their ‘advertising’ heritage, preferring now to discuss their ‘full-service’ and ‘integrated offerings’. Given the economic challenges the industry faces from the rise of Google and Facebook, the response is understandable. Our role is to document and support the transition of the industry in line with the rapid behavioural shifts we are witnessing.

And the media agency counterparts too are also finding themselves caught in the headlights as digitisation continues at a pace. While the rhetoric applauds the shift from media buying units into the ‘full service model’, the reality is somewhat different. So far only a handful of companies appear to have made any tangible progress.

The watershed McDonald’s win for Omnicom in North America, and the zero-margins contract it entailed, is proof that agency performance is under the microscope like never before. And the rebate model that some have for so long relied upon is increasingly coming under threat across the globe.

But none of us operate in a vacuum. My own industry, journalism, is also struggling with an identity crisis. Although the demand for ‘content’ is more insatiable now than we have ever witnessed, there are relatively few readers willing to pay for it. Coupled with the emergence of ad-blockers, these are truly uncertain times for the publishing industry. But you have to adapt and evolve or risk irrelevance.

Mumbrella’s unique model – whereby our events are curated by the same journalists writing, editing and commissioning articles – ensures two things. Quality content and diversified revenue streams to pay for the journalism. That is why I have no hesitation in labelling our organisation as a disruptive media house. It is a new model, embracing the shifting media landscape as a world of new opportunities rather than one of managed decline. The latter being accepted as the inevitable narrative at more traditional media houses.

The global economy may be fragile. The media and marketing industry may be under greater pressure than ever. The social networks and search engines may be intent on hoovering up ad spends. But as media and marketing leaders have explained to me time and again, it is during challenging times that the more resilient players emerge stronger than ever. And if any market is to come out of the other side of the tunnel in better shape, following the period of instability, then it will be the Asia-Pacific region.

So it is great to be here among you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can email me at eleanor@mumbrella.asia or give me a call at our new office, The Working Capitol in Chinatown, on +65 6805 4050.

 

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