Will OLIVER, the in-house agency, fly in Asia?

Nick George

Nick George, the former Asia MD of production company Tag, has just taken on the job of leading the regional expansion of OLIVER, a marketing services agency that hand-picks advertising teams to work on a client’s premises.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella, George explains why an approach that challenges the traditional agency model will take off in Asia.

Briefly explain the idea behind OLIVER.

One of the things that warmed me to the OLIVER approach is its simplicity. We create bespoke agency teams that are aligned to the needs of our clients, and place them inside their organisations. And we give support to the on-site teams with strategists, creative technologists, designers, writers and so on, from central regional hubs. The idea is deliver better work, faster and more cost effectively.

Where does the idea come from and why will clients buy into it?

A single in-house agency doing everything from planning and execution, to adaptation and delivery – that is what is appealing to clients.

Global clients are still asking local and regional marketers to adapt from central brand communications, but we are seeing a shift towards more locally-developed initiatives. We can offer a consistency of messaging across media and markets, but we are also focused on providing services to local markets wanting to create local work for the markets they operate – the markets they understand better than anyone.

Do you think the big established top agencies like Ogilvy and DDB are nervous about the competitive threat a model like Oliver’s poses?

These top agencies have been around for years and have their advantages. If anything, we might just complement them.

Can you give us a bit of detail on exactly how the remuneration structure works for clients?

A monthly flexible cost is charged to the client based on the resource within the bespoke team. This allows the client to plan and manage their budget without having to worry about any sudden spike in cost. Clients are not charged for any resource that they do not need.

What would you say is the most successful example of the OLIVER model working so far, and why?

We’ve created in-house agencies for the likes of Starbucks, Vodafone, AXA, Pepsico and 3M. The logic behind placing staff in-house is to build a level of intimacy and understanding of the brand that companies cannot get with the traditional agency model. It’s also about reducing the communication time lag between us and the client. We can work together on delivering real-time marketing and seeing results faster.

Oliver is well established in Europe. What makes you so confident that the model will work in Asia?

I think the model has appeal regardless which part of the world you are in. You could argue even more so in Asia, where cultures are so diverse. Marketing across Europe tends to lend itself well to adaptation – a piece of creative developed for the UK market can fairly easily be adapted to work in, say, France or Germany. However in Asia, the markets are so varied, not only in language but also in culture, which demands local creative that will touch the local consumer. Local marketing campaigns are a must.

One problem with the OLIVER model could be putting people inside a client’s building who don’t fit with that company’s culture. How do you tackle that issue?

An implementation team will immerse itself in the client’s environment to understand their culture, process, what their needs are, and the key people that the team will need to work with. Also, clients can play a role in interviewing and assessing shortlisted candidates before they are hired and placed on site.

What’s your approach to sourcing talent in a region like Asia, which was a serious talent issue?

Our employer brand has a big role to play. When you take a closer look at the resource we have available, it is encouraging to see the amount of good and dynamic talent available who want the chance to diversify and apply their skills across brands. We have attracted good talent in the UK and US with this model. I have personally worked in Asia for 10 years and have always been inspired with the high level of talent in the region, not just creative, but in account servicing, technology, etc.

What are your hopes for the first 12 months of the Asian business?

Establish our brand, set up our core hubs, expand our client base, produce good work and enjoy it. There’s no point in doing anything if you don’t have fun in the process.


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