Q&A with Ogilvy APAC COO Kent Wertime

Kent WertimeKent Wertime is the chief operating officer of Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific, one of the region’s most powerful ad agencies. He’s also just been handed a new role as chairman of the agency’s Malaysian operation.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella, Wertime talks about the task ahead in Malaysia, how Ogilvy maintains its competitive edge, the opportunities and challenges for brands as publishers, and what worries him the most about the industry.

You’ve landed a new role in Malaysia. What is it about Ogilvy Malaysia that needs fixing?

My spending time here is not a sign of a problem as much as a sign of an opportunity. We don’t have a weak link in our network in Southeast Asia. We have very strong offices and very strong managers; Alex Clegg in Vietnam, Katryna Mojica in Indonesia, Punnee Chaiyakul in Thailand. I’m focusing my time here because we’ve seen, as ASEAN comes closer together, more and more cross-market development opportunities with clients, Singapore and Malaysia being a good example.

What is your first priority for your role in Malaysia?

I do know this market very well. I’ve been coming here for 25 years, originally as head of Ogilvy Interactive, then head of OgilvyOne, now as COO. I’ll be doing what we’re doing in a number of other markets, and that is to focus on the shift to content and social. We’re soon launching a social media content studio in Malaysia that will allow us to do interesting things beyond traditional channels.

We’re a big believer that mastering an intelligent understanding of content is key going forward. There is a lot of ‘drift net’ content out there. There’s a real need for brands to become publishers, but they need a grip on what their own story is, and to look at how to produce great content rather than jumping on the latest trend.

A recent study by a rival PR agency Waggener Edstrom suggested that the main reason why people in APAC follow brands in social media is not because they want interesting content, but because they want discounts and special offers. What’s you take on this?

A big challenge of the days of digital is that there are so many different components. It’s the same thing with content. There are so many different kinds. Data suggests that people go online to learn how to do stuff. Yes, people respond to content that sells, but they also respond to stuff that helps them help themselves.

What do you make of the rise of YouTube stars in Asia? Do you see them as a threat to the agency business?

I was recently at a global meeting in LA. We were meeting with content makers. This isn’t a world we’re shying away from, we’re embracing it. The industry would be stupid not to have its eyes wide open to embrace new opportunities like this. It’s a question of whether you see us being supplanted by it, or see it as a rich source of partnership, a new form of inspiration, and a new way to work with clients.

Not all creators understand the brand they’re connected with. Just because you have a few million followers, this doesn’t mean you’ll fit with a brand or be suited to help a company build a brand. There needs to be a narrative that fits with the brand.

What worries you the most?

My biggest worry goes beyond Ogilvy. The industry is struggling to attract the best young talent. It’s the kind of industry that people want to stay in. I’ve met fabulous array of great people in my time in the industry. But I am not sure we’re getting the best and brightest at the moment.

Ogilvy has for some time been the region’s top creative agency. What’s the secret to maintaining your competitive advantage?

If you take the traditional view of success, which is geographic, then yes we are in a favourable position in all of the big markets in the region. But running through the agency culture is David Ogilvy’s philosophy of “divine discontent” [A famous quote, which outgoing global Ogilvy boss Miles Young lists as his favourite, is: “We have a habit of divine discontent with our performance. It is an antidote to smugness.”]. We’re not the type of company that rests on our laurels. We’re in a very strong position, but we’re still growing. Being a market leader is more than about size, it’s about moving on to the next stage of client services – and content is the next big play in that area.

What do you make of the saying that a client in a market such as Singapore will call a pitch having chosen Ogilvy until proven otherwise. Do you think this saying is still applicable?

We’re fortunate that we do have strong brand recognition in the market. Clients will usually want to include us on a pitch list. But for me, that’s where it ends. We’re not about living on reputation. It’s about proving yourself to clients; to keep up the momentum and stay competitive. It’s also important to make sure that in a world where clients have more and more partners to work with beyond advertising, and a lot more work to do to string them all together, that we stay integrated and are easy to work with. We need to keep looking at ways to be a better partner.

So what are the areas that need to be develop now at Ogilvy?

Clients have got to configure more on their side than ever before. They’re working in multiple channels, and how using new technology platforms. They want to know how to make sense of it all, so they don’t spend the day managing 30 different partners. Being able to help clients understand emerging areas of the business, and list the right partners to help them do so is important. There are lot of market challenges. Ogilvy has to answer these market challenges, and that’s where we’re spending our time. It’s not about filling a hole in the network, the challenge is the constant evolution of what clients are looking for.


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