Singapore’s independent agency collective IAN: A threat to the networks?

IAN logoAt the end of last year, a group of independent agencies in Singapore got together to form a collective of agencies called IAN, named after celebrated creative Ian Batey, one of the brains behind the best work ever created for Singapore Airlines in decades past during his time at Batey Ads.

In this interview with a number of IAN’s members, including Blak Labs founder Charlie Blower, Up & Up owner Anand Vathiyar, Wild’s Khee Jin Ng and the Alchemy Partnership’s Alvin Wong, Mumbrella asked how the model works in practice, if IAN posed a genuine threat to the established multinational agencies, and whether they had plans to expand beyond Singapore.

When you held your first meeting as a group, what were the key things to emerge in terms of what you want to achieve?

Charlie Blower

Charlie Blower

Charlie Blower, founder, Blak Labs: For the local business community, IAN offers a credible alternative to the multinational networks when it comes to sourcing for partners to collaborate with. For ourselves, we use IAN for social gatherings to share our successes and opportunities.

In the past few months, various members have used the IAN group to collaborate on new business opportunities where additional support was required.

We have also shared opportunities amongst the group. For instance when there has been a conflict and ultimately, this is part of IAN’s remit.

In fact as part of IAN’s “Made in Singapore” initiative, we are already working with a local start up with the potential to list. We are helping them with launch concepts and comms plans for their new product launch. The process has been very democratic. IAN agencies all contributed concepts and then we’ve collectively decided which work should go through.

The teams involved are now working to build the integrated plan for that client and deliver it. Once the work goes out, you’ll be the first to know.

What has the response been to the launch of IAN so far. Do you feel that the big networks such as Ogilvy and DDB see IAN as a genuine threat?

Khee Jin Ng

Khee Jin Ng

Khee Jin Ng, MD and creative director of Wild Advertising & Marketing: Independents are close to the heart of the 4As even though the 4As represents a far larger constituency encompassing MNC agencies and all sorts of businesses along the food chain. The fact that IAN has caught the attention of the 4As is a good thing. The 4As does not see IAN as a threat but as a partner to further the cause of advertising in Singapore and the cause of independents. And, of course, there’s strength in numbers. But, as I speak, I don’t believe contact between the two has yet been established.

Alvin Wong

Alvin Wong

Alvin Wong, CEO, The Alchemy Partnership: We’re quite sure that all the talent we collectively have under one banner definitely would raise eyebrows. But we try not to focus on what others think of us because we already have lots to deal with on our plate already. Having said that, we’ve been chalking up pretty decent wins of late, and I guess all that has to come from someone else who’s hurting.

Khee Jin Ng: I think IAN isn’t so concerned about what the networks think as we are about what clients think. And that’s the fact that Singapore is full of creative independents who offer a diversity of views and ideas, who are nimble and who offer a level of service and attention that clients cry out for, but don’t get unless you happen to be one of their top five largest clients.

If IAN agencies pitch together as a group, how will you ensure there are no disagreements over who will handle the business if you win?

Charlie Blower: From Blak Labs’ point of view, we clearly define roles and responsibilities upfront. I know Anand [Vathiyar, the owner of Up & Up] has also roped in collaborators from IAN to pitch business, and I’m pretty sure he takes the same approach.

Anand Vathiyar

Anand Vathiyar

Anand Vathiyar: As Up, we have a lot of fun collaborating with other agencies within IAN like Alchemy, Kult and BS. We usually get sucked into the brief, spend an obscene amount of time bantering and ribbing each other before we get to some quality thinking and cool ideas that clients seem to appreciate. We try and squeeze in some time in-between to divvy up the account/profits, etc, but never at the expense of trash talking or the fun of collaborating.

Have you discussed the possibility of IAN being acquired as a collective by one of the larger groups, or does that defeat the purpose of the IAN concept?

Khee Jin Ng: I suppose we speak as individuals here but, you are right, that it would defeat the purpose of IAN. IAN represents diversity. IAN represents independence. What you are suggesting is a possibility, if anyone buys into the idea.

Singapore is a notoriously tough market for independent agencies. As a collective, does IAN have plans to venture overseas? If so, how?

Charlie Blower: You’re right. Singapore is notoriously tough – for any agency. We have plans for expansion and of course, when the opportunity arises we will link up with like-minded groups to collaborate and grow.

The IAN team together

The IAN team


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