The year in review: Mumbrella Asia’s top interviews of 2017

Folk in the media and marketing industry naturally like to wax lyrical, but some individuals are especially talkative. With that in mind, here are our top 10 interviews of 2017 – selected for both their insight and candour across a variety of subjects

Cindy Gallop

Cindy Gallop: The industry firebrand and vocal campaigner for gender equality in advertising spoke to Mumbrella Asia on Skype from her home in New York about fighting endemic sexual harassment.

Amid the global storm surrounding Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo phenomenon, Gallop launched her own rallying cry to expose the scale of the issue within agencies.

Speaking in her characteristically frank manner, Gallop lambasted the way in which Asia had been treated as a “dumping ground” for perpetrators of sexual harassment in agencies.

Detailing accounts from hundreds of women, who have emailed her in the wake of #MeToo, Gallop said women from the industry have encountered molestation, violent sexual assault and rape while the predators have never been brought to justice. “This culture of silence enables that to keep happening,” she added.

Nicholas Ye: The founder of one of Singapore’s most successful independent agencies had a busy year. The Secret Little Agency was part of a creative task-force behind rebranding the Singaporean government – specifically the Singapore Economic Development Board – and bringing it to life on the global stage. Around the same time, the agency joined forces with global independent network Mother Holdings, giving TSLA a major foothold in the US and Europe.

Ye met with Mumbrella Asia a few days ahead of the announcement and a month before the agency celebrated its 10-year anniversary. During the interview, Ye related his journey from intern to boutique agency, his favourite TSLA campaigns and his thoughts on why creativity should have a bigger role in the overall Singapore story.

Nicholas Ye

Speaking of his desire for Asian brands to make a mark on the global stage, Ye spoke of his belief that many lose sight of their brand heritage when they leave Asia’s shored. “You have to tell stories in ways your audience understands, but doesn’t pander – which you often see when an Asian brand is taken outside of Asia,” he said.

David Droga: The most decorated creative of recent decades spoke in a lengthy interview about his agency’s imminent launch in China, the dramatic failure of the Australian office and why he will never sell the iconic Droga5. 

The Australian’s New York-based agency has worked for clients including Coca-Cola, Google, Heineken, Motorola, Under Armour, T-Mobile, Toyota, Unilever and the Barack Obama election campaign. However, an office opened in his home market of Sydney was proved a failure. Speaking candidly about the office’s premature closure, Droga said the Sydney creatives “gorged themselves on the incoming opportunities. The halo of the brand name got them a lot of open doors, but they couldn’t keep up with demand and expectations.”

On a more positive note, Droga spoke of his “slight obsession with China” although was vague as to if and when the agency would finally open shop there despite client requests.

And how does he define creativity? “It’s about being lateral and original. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle and that’s why I love it so much. Creative allows you to bend the rules of logic. It’s an icebreaker. An emotional beacon,” he said.

Tammy Tam: Nearly two years on from its acquisition by Alibaba, the editor-in-chief of newspaper the South China Morning Post met with Mumbrella Asia on home turf in Hong Kong to discuss the reaps of the e-commerce giant’s investment.

On the surface, the Alibaba investment would appear like a dream come true to any publisher struggling to bottom lines in today’s fragmented media industry. Tam naturally affirmed this, citing how Alibaba had given the publisher “a guarantee of resources”, enabling it pull down its pay wall, open bureaus in the United States.

However, as she anticipated, questions were asked about the cost of such investment from one of the world’s biggest companies – one founded in Mainland China where freedom of press remains suppressed. “There are people who worry that we have become only for China after Alibaba. But those that have that concerns should just come to our website and read our products: they will see we are very multi-dimensional,” she said simply.

Tam, who was the first Chinese journalist to enter Iraq during the 2003 invasion,  also spoke of her hope to vision to make SCMP the leading voice on Sino-US relations. “[These] are the most important bilateral relations right now. We want to bring in the US perspective on this, not just China,” she added.

Jacob Puthenparambil: Never one to not speak publicly on issues close to his heart, the founder of Singapore-based PR agency Redhill sat down with Mumbrella Asia for a candid chat about social media influencers, Asia’s tech scene and why PRs are lawyer to journalist judges. 

Indian-born Puthenparambil has spearheaded Redhill’s growth to encompass 11 markets in Asia, plus bases in Europe and the US. A firm believer in quality and fierce journalism, Puthenparambil pulled no punches when asked how he felt about some media outlets calling their editorial teams ‘content creators’.

“As a PR firm, we have no interest with content creators,” he said. Journalism is a calling and people are putting trust in you to study something and make a judgement. But if it’s someone who is getting money from a company to write five articles saying how awesome something is. Will anyone read that? No of course not.”

During the interview, Puthenparambil spoke of his hope of Redhill becoming the first South East Asia-founded agency to feature on The Holmes Report’s 2017 Global New PR Agencies of the Year – a feat he discovered he had been successful in just three months later. 

Pelle Sjoenell: Swedish by birth and Los Angeles by residence, the successor to ad land legend John Hegarty knew he had enormous shoes to fill when he became BBH’s worldwide chief creative officer in 2016.

With such a legacy preceding him, it was only natural that the first question Mumbrella Asia asked was how he felt about stepping into Hegarty’s iconic mantle. “Obviously you cannot fill Sir John’s shoes, but you can make him proud,” was Sjoenell’s tactful response.

Before moving to LA, Sjoenell spent three years at BBH New York, but has travelled all over the world since taking on the global role. Speaking about his thoughts on Asia, he said the era of ‘East copying West’ was over. “Now it’s the other way around,” he quipped.

Elaborating on his point, Sjoenell even went as far as to say Asia is now “ahead” creatively despite often being looked at unfavourably from Western markets. [Asia doesn’t] have the history and the years and years of advertising – the rules are not set,” he explained. “The clients are not serving history as much. They are saying: ‘The market is exploding. What do we do?’ And they are rushing to it with innovation. I would say they are leaving the ‘copycat’ worldview behind them. Taste has become important.”

Seth Godin: With 17 books to his name, a number of companies built and sold plus a cerebral blog read by one million people every day, the marketing guru discussed everything from Amazon, Apple fanboys and why social media is ruining lives.

Skyping from New York early in the morning Singapore time,  Godin was frank with his criticism of the modern internet, and its usage in both bullying and wasting time watching cat videos. “We should ignore corporate behemoths telling us that we should be an audience,” he said

“That addiction is a release of negative feeling. You check it and then you’re not worried anymore until you need to check it again. That cycle would completely undermine my work. It doesn’t mean I don’t think they have a function or that they are not companies that are effective. It just means that I made a choice not to give up that much of my life to a system that wasn’t going to help me.”

Lindsay Pattison: Ahead of her promotion to GroupM’s chief transformation officer, Lindsay Pattison sat down with Mumbrella Asia to give one of her most in-depth interviews to date.

Speaking about everything from gender inequality to AI and fake news, Pattinson’s most telling comments related to her formidable Sir Martin Sorrell and the looming question of his successor.

On Sorrell’s very public persona in the advertising industry and on the global business stage, she quipped: “He is making the industry part of the business world rather than something much smaller. I’m not sure anyone would recognise the head of Omnicom, Havas or Dentsu in a line-up.

“Martin’s high-profile does open you up to criticism. I just wonder why others don’t have a voice. It is incumbent on us as industry leaders to speak up when there is a position to take. I find the deafening silence from others astonishing.”

As one of the media industry’s most senior and prominent female figures, Pattinson had many things to say about the gender diversity debate, but drew the line at introducing quotas to address the male-female ratio.“As a senior woman, I don’t really want to feel that I’m in my job because someone is trying to fill a quota,” she said. “You should have ambitious and stated targets for reaching equality though so perhaps aiming for 50 per cent of your senior management being female by 2022 is a good target to aim for.

“And then you put programmes in place like ‘Walk the talk’ to help you achieve that. If you say it’s a quota, you are pissing off the men and doing a disservice to the women. I realise that some people disagree with me on that and say it won’t change unless you are harder on it.”

Stephen Li: Media industry veteran, Li has held the role of chief executive officer of OMD Asia-Pacific since 2015, and before that led rival agency MEC in the region.

Speaking at OMD’s office in Singapore, Li reminisced about his background as a creative agency “suit” and why the industry today was doing a “full circle” in terms of blurring between media and creative disciplines.

Following a year of heated discussion and increased scrutiny on media agencies and client transparency, it was only natural that the question about advertising dollars arose during the hour-long discussion.

“It’s very hard to throw a blanket over [an issue like] that,” he admitted “But it does come back to the quality of your relationship with your clients. With two of OMD’s biggest clients – Apple and McDonald’s – we don’t even mention the word transparency, because the people who lead those accounts are communicating with their clients on a daily basis. The work we do is so hand-in-hand that it’s not even a question.”

Yannick Bolloré: The smooth-talking Frenchman and chief executive officer of Havas Group was already having a rather busy year when he sat down with Mumbrella Asia in March.  

The company found itself splattered across headlines after it was caught up in the brand safety scandal that dogged Google and YouTube this year and was in the process of merging its creative and media agencies to meet the growing demand for ‘integrated services’ .

Speaking about the challenges faced by the industry in this hugely transitional period, he said: “Creative and media needs to work together. There is no other choice. It will take some time, but we do need to create a much more integrated offering in order to meet the client expectations.

““I would love to have an army of robots, but in the creative industries you need to have a human brain. I can’t believe that one day an algorithm will be able to create the same magic as a human brain so I think I will still need to be there in 20 years, along with my senior management team, to still create great campaigns.”


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