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‘Few will be able to match’ VMLY&R, says Asia co-CEO Tripti Lochan

Bringing together one iconic creative agency with a new wave digital agency is not easy, but new VMLY&R Asia co-chief executive officer Tripti Lochan explains how the merger will work and why it was time for names such as Chris Foster and Andrea Conyard to move on

You are trying to stitch together the cultures and skill sets of two well-established agencies. How tough a challenge is that?

“With a merger of this size, culture is a prime driver of success. The challenge is one of taking the best that exists in two agencies and creating something that is a whole.  

“And then the manifestation of how that culture translates into how we approach our clients’ brands, how we create the most powerful work, how we keep re-inventing ourselves to be relevant, and how we treat each other is of prime importance. This is no easy task.  

“But there is deep intent to succeed. And when you have the backing of intent, nothing can stop you. Skill sets are easier to work through than culture – this requires training and a deep desire to create the best work for our client’s brands.  

“The excitement within VMLY&R employees is that of bubbling with desire to be the most relevant and contemporary agency in the market – creating connected brands.  Employees want to learn – to create their best work yet. And this makes our task so much more easier and enjoyable.”

What is your vision for VMLY&R in Asia, and what opportunities do you envisage in the region?

“By joining forces, we are creating a fully integrated brand experience agency. Today, VMLY&R has everything a client would want from their agency to succeed. From communication to commerce, from experience to technology, from content & media innovation to innovation, we have the capability to lead.  

“Our ability to create connected brands will drive growth for client partners across the globe, with creativity, technology and data at the core. Few will be able to match our expertise in delivering the entire connected consumer experience for brands.”

Whenever there is a merger such as this, companies talk about distinct and complementary strengths coming together under one umbrella. Can you spell out exactly what strengths each agency will bring to VMLY&R?

“VML was a contemporary agency with deep skills in digital, while Y&R has global footprint and brand building capability – with the unification, we are combining the best of both worlds to create this new agency.

“We are bringing together strong data and insights from tools like BAV, commerce offerings from VML’s expertise in China, and the strategic, creative and business chops of both agencies. This creates an offering that is unmatched in the marketplace.”  

Many industry commentators have suggested Y&R has been the fall guy in the merger. That has been borne out by the fact that VML management have taken many of the top jobs. How are you addressing that with Y&R staff who may feel like the ‘losers’ in this merger?

Lochan says’ few will match’ the new agency offering

“There is a combination of leadership from both agencies across the globe – including Asia. Over the next few weeks and months as roles become more defined and we move forward, it will be our actions that define us as one agency.

Inevitably there are question marks about the Y&R leadership in Asia Pacific, with Chris Foster tipped to leave, while Andrea Conyard joined as South East Asia CEO and chief growth officer days before the merger was announced. What can you tell us about their roles in the organisation, and the leadership structure of VMLY&R more widely in Asia?

“We’re still working out the final leadership structure, but with such a large agency (now over 1,300 strong in the region) there has to be some give and take. Both Chris Foster and Andrea Conyard have moved on to other opportunities.  Marc Sigle (formerly the CFO Y&R) is the COO of VMLY&R Asia and Hari Ramanathan (from Y&R) will lead as chief strategy officer of VMLY&R Asia.

 

VMLY&R will have around 1,300 employees over 12 offices in Asia when it becomes fully operational in early 2019. How do those numbers compare pre-merger?

“Pre joining forces, VML was just short of 800, while Y&R was a little over 500.”

It’s an upheaval for staff. But also I imagine for clients. It would be easy for staff to take their eye off the ball, so how do you ensure that doesn’t happen and how do you ensure clients are not unsettled by the merger of two major agencies?

“We’ve worked hard to ensure that clients’ day-to-day interactions and outputs aren’t affected. Before the public announcement, both myself and Yi-Chung Tay, my co-CEO for VMLY&R Asia, called our key clients and partners to reassure them, and so far we have seen a lot of excitement.

“The first thing most clients said was: ‘Great, so when can we start rolling out xyz capability?’ Our account teams were also briefed before the announcement so they could handle any queries coming in.  “Just as we have been working to ensure a smooth transition for our team, we have also done the same to ensure that our clients don’t see a disruption in their daily account management.”

Is has been suggested that VMLY&R is a bit of clumsy name that hardly roles off the tongue. It’s hard to disagree with that. What’s your view?

“Each brand brought a wealth of recognition and legacy, so we wanted to include both in the name, rather than creating an entirely new agency name that may have been seen as gimmicky.

“VML is an industry leader in brand experience and digital marketing. Y&R is an iconic agency with a reputation for building strong brands. Joining the two together, both as agencies – and in a name – is something that will push us forward, while honoring our past.”

Do you foresee more consolidation in the industry?  

“WPP CEO Mark Read has made clear that the new leadership will bring WPP closer together, simplify the offer, refocus the portfolio and invest more in data and technology alongside creativity.

“VMLY&R was the first simplification that was announced. It makes so much sense that one wonders why we didn’t do this before. As for others, we are concentrating on the unification of VML and Y&R.”

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