Dentsu Singapore’s new CEO Rosalynn Tay on the Tiger Airways rebrand, how to please clients and going agency-side again

Rosalynn TayThe ex boss of Tiger Airways, once fondly known as ‘mother Tiger’, has just taken over the reigns of Dentsu Singapore replacing long-serving CEO Anthony Kang.

In this interview with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks, Rosalynn Tay talks about her task ahead, Tiger’s rebrand and the transition from client to agency side.

You ran Tiger Airways – now known as Tigerair – for five years as MD of the airline’s Singapore operations. What do you make of the recent rebrand?

Tiger's old logo

Tiger’s old logo

Tiger's new logo

Tiger’s new logo

My personal view is – with the caveat that I left the company two and a half years ago – that rebranding is an exercise companies sometimes feel they have to do. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right. There’s a new management team in place, and they must believe it is necessary and have identified it as a priority. In my view, the brand is still young, and you don’t see the likes of Coca-Cola or Apple rebranding too often. Tiger is a brand close to my heart. I used to be called ‘the mother of Tiger’ and ‘mother Ros’ because I was there from the start. The brand initially had the .com in the logo, because they do a lot of business online. I’m not sure they should have done away with that. Just my personal view.

What’s the biggest difference you notice between client and agency side?

You’ve seen the photo of me. I’m older than I look. I’ve been working since I graduated, for more than 20 years. My résumé is unusual. Part of my career has been on the agency side [Tay worked for Leo Burnett as deputy MD between 2003 and 2005]. The other part on the client side [she also worked for DBS bank as MD, head of marketing for consumer banking and was marketing director for Yum Restaurants International in Asia and the UK]. I’ve never favoured either side. I’m industry agnostic in that sense.

The most important thing for me is the challenge. I thrive on challenges. I’m not one for joining a smooth sailing ship. I like to do things that require a dramatic level of effort. For Dentsu, there’s a need for us to reinvigorate the network. It’s the world’s largest agency brand, but does anyone really know that outside of Japan? No, not really. When people challenge me on this, I say Google us. We’re enormous. Our task is to translate the Japanese model to the rest of the world. And in Singapore, the question is how we take the agency to the next level.

Now back to your original question. Ultimately, we’re very similar. We sell stuff. Clients sell products. Agencies sell creativity. But we both have customers.

If there’s a difference, I have noticed that agency folk are a passionate bunch. That’s not to say that people client side aren’t, but that energy manifests itself in a different way. How often do clients walk into meetings and say, look, this sucks, let’s do something else. In agencies, I’d say there is more freedom for self expression.

But ultimately, both sides have customers that they have to satisfy. We both want our customers to love us, we want them to come back to us more, and we want more of them.

At Dentsu, I want to simplify things for our customers. There’s so much jargon out there that isn’t useful. The industry needs to be demystified.

How will you now treat Dentsu’s clients differently having worked client side?

All too often you hear a client say to their agency, hey, you don’t really understand my business, you don’t really know what I want. I have seen things from the other side, having run a P&L at a budget airline, which is super challenging. It takes discipline and a sense of consistency. A focus on the product. And what I hope to bring to Dentsu goes beyond advertising. I want to bring a broader business perspective. An ability to interpret what the client really wants. Too often agencies misinterpret what a client wants. The purpose of an agency is to provide ideas and solutions – to find a way to show customers how your brand is relevant to them. It’s not rocket science.

Dentsu has a lot of government and public sector clients. What’s the secret to keeping this sort of client happy?

This is only my second week in the job, so it’s not an easy question to answer. Our client list is actually quite diverse. That we have local clients shows that we have an understanding of what makes Singapore and Singaporeans tick. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how quickly we can turn around work for these brands, despite what you might think of the way government clients work.

What do you see as the biggest challenge Dentsu faces in the Singapore market?

We have to raise our profile. The perception of Dentsu is that it’s a Japanese agency. Well, of course it is. Does that matter? Ogilvy was founded by a Scotsman. But is Ogilvy thought of as Scottish?

We have been too quiet. But I think that’s an Asian thing. It’s okay to be humble. But we need to be more proud. We need to talk more about the good stuff that we do. We need to be more visible.

People must have thought I was mad taking this job and returning to advertising. But I look at Dentsu and know that it stands as good a chance as any of the Western multinationals in this market. I was enjoying life outside of business for while, but I’ve still got lots of juice left in me. I’m ambitious. And I want to be part of a team that realises our potential.

What sort of legacy has Anthony Kang left you?

No one leaves you with a job that is complete. If that was the case, there would be no point in me taking this role. Anthony was here for 11 years. That counts for a lot. I jokingly said to him, if I was your age I’d be playing golf and drinking piña coladas. He’s left the agency in a pretty good shape. But now it needs to be taken a notch up.

What plans do you have to work closer with Aegis?

It’s exciting news. When I heard my pupils dilated. But it’s still early days. We don’t know how it’s going to pan out. But I know that Dentsu means business, and I’m chomping at the bit. I hope my energy is infectious. Watch this space.


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