DDB Singapore foursome launch creative shop BLK J

Four long-time senior executives have moved on from DDB, one of the market’s most stable and consistent players, to form their own ad agency.

Rowena Bhagchandani, Joji Jacob, Khalid Osman and Lester Lee have left DDB to launch creative shop BLK J

Rowena Bhagchandani, Joji Jacob, Khalid Osman and Lester Lee have left DDB to launch creative shop BLK J

Regional creative chief Joji Jacob, MD Rowena Bhagchandani, and Singapore creative directors Khalid Osman and Lester Lee have formed an agency called BLK J – pronounced “Block J” – using the initials from their names.

BLK J’s founding client is StarHub, a client all four have worked closely with at DDB, and the venture will have some backing from DDB.

DDB has responded by raiding J. Walter Thompson for Chris Chui to replace Jacob, although for a local not regional CCO role, and Melvin Kuek from Y&R to replace Bhagchandani as Singapore MD.

DDB Singapore released the news yesterday that it hired eight creatives, preempting the planned launch announcement for BLK J today.

The Omnicom network will give the group access to resources as well as DDB’s premises in Kallang to work from.

The new agency’s founders have declined an offer from DDB to take an equity stake in the business, and an agreement is in place not to poach another’s staff and clients.

The foursome take more than 40 years of DDB experience with them.

Jacob, as group ECD for Singapore, has been with the agency for seven years, and as of January head of DDB Asia’s creative council, with responsibility for Hong Kong, China, Korea, and India.

He will be BLKJ’s creative partner.

Jacob commented: “The marketplace and media are getting increasingly complex. Blk J is really four people coming together to do one thing well. Solve business problems in as many ways as possible with as few buzzwords as we can. We are also thankful to DDB for giving all four of us the greatest of opportunities during our time here and for supporting us as we go independent.”

Osman has worked for the agency for all of his career, for almost 15 years, and Lee for seven years, joining from McCann as a copywriter in 2009.

Bhagchandani has been with DDB since 2005, rising the ranks from brand director to MD in 2013, and given responsibility for TracyLocke Asia earlier this year.

She will be the new venture’s CEO. She commented: “We believe there is place for the small and nimble in the market today. Agile agencies that can help brands navigate a landscape that is changing in real-time. We may have sixty years of experience combined but this is day one for us and we are raring to go.”

David Tang, long-time boss of DDB Singapore, told Mumbrella: “Joji, Rowena, Lester and Khalid have this dream to be the next Droga5, and it came to the point where they felt they were still young enough to do something that’s amazing, and do really creative cutting edge work.”

“When they came to me, I said why would you want to go totally independent without someone supporting you? It’s a big world out there. If you want to do this, you’ve got to be pitching for the Google phone business, you’ve got to be going for great, global opportunities.

“And I frankly find that it’s going to be tough doing that just in Singapore.”

“Don’t get me wrong. All four are like our children. We’ve invested in them, groomed them, seen them grow up. I said, why don’t you do it with us? I’ll back you.”

“We can provide a good safety net, support, clients, some kind of service agreement. I do think that we can have a much more collaborative model, where it’s not ‘for us or against us'”.

Tang pointed to Adam & Eve DDB, a successful London agency the DDB network eventually bought into, as a path the new venture might take.

“They [Adam & Eve DDB] have done some amazing work, not just for DDB clients, but recently picking up Samsung. To me, Chuck [Brymer, DDB Worldwide’s global CEO] was blown away by the fact that a London agency, now set up as Adam & Eve DDB in New York and a global force.”

Tang said there was more potential for BLK J to scale with network support from DDB, and pointed out that Singapore is tough environment for startup agencies relying on local business.

“I do genuinely see the four as our children. We’re going to house them. We’re going to pay them some money. We’re going to help them in terms of the planners that we have, the digital guys, the systems we have. We’ll even put a team together for creative and account servicing to help them.”

“Of course, the big question is about ambition. If you’re going to do something as outrageous as this, do it like David Droga has. Take it to a world class league and do work that other agencies are scared of doing.”

DDB Singapore’s new-look management line up includes new planning director Guillaume Pagnoux, hired from TBWA in October, joining a team including Tang, and fellow long-timers creative head Neil Johnson and digital chief Jeff Cheong.

DDB Singapore's new-look management line-up

(L to R): AnneMarie Leong (Creative Director, TracyLocke), Chris Chiu (Chief Creative Officer), Neil Johnson (Creative Chairman), David Tang (CEO, DDB Group Singapore & Asia), Jeff Cheong (Head of Tribal Worldwide Singapore & Asia), Melvin Kuek (Managing Director), Guillaume Pagnoux (Chief Planner)

In a press release Tang said: “Having helped set up Blk J, we’re bringing on the Champions Team at DDB for the next lap. Chris, Melvin and Guillaume are the best there are in our business and totally nice guys. They fit the ‘talented and nice’ DDB style and add to the pretty long list of top-class performers already under the DDB Group roof. It feels like we have a dream team of creative superheroes!”

JWT and Y&R are now looking for replacements for Kuek and Chiu.


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