Opinion

The story behind FCB Singapore – global accounts wins, awards aplenty and rumours of closure

This week, rumours were rife that FCB Singapore would be closing its doors – the agency has since denied this and hinted at big plans for the office in 2019, but the episode prompted former regional director Chris Kyme to look back at what the shop achieved

Just recently I heard rumours that FCB Singapore, an agency I had helped get off the ground, was closing shop. FCB has subsequently denied this. Whatever, but it did get me going all misty-eyed and start thinking back to that humble beginning.

In mid 1997, I was transferred from Hong Kong to Singapore by FCB, the agency I had joined in Hong Kong just the year before, to help establish its new office in Singapore.

FCB had recently bought a local start-up, Lloyd Martin, and wanted to inject some international creative experience to help get things off the ground.

As I’d always kept a fond eye on Singapore, which seemed to have a very healthy creative community. Neil French was still up to mischief. David Droga was at Saatchi & Saatchi. People like Steve Elrick, Graham Kelly, Eugene Cheong, Francis Wee, Juggi Ramakrishnan were all active. Mike Fromowitz was there by then too. Stanley Wong at BBH.

Fear of failure is a great motivator and I knew that I had to make some sort of impact, regardless of what I’d achieved or won in Hong Kong. I jumped at the chance – having persuaded my wife, who was very open to the idea.

Kyme loved his times in Singapore with FCB

It was one of the best decisions of my career. I loved it from day one. I loved the open arms with which I was welcomed by the staff at the, then small, agency. I loved going to work in a shophouse (early days). The smell of durian in the air as I strolled through Newton Circus on my way in.

To me it was all new and exotic, and different from Hong Kong where I had been for the past 10 years. Not that I didn’t love working in Hong Kong, but change is sometimes as good as a rest and it was good experience for me in terms of expanding my thinking and learning about new cultures. Why I went abroad in the first place.

We had a blast. I enjoyed a great working relationship with the managing director, Stuart Lloyd. Stu, who needed to sign off on me coming, and I got on great. He was fun to work with and really great with people.

We hosted a proper launch event, with FCB international and regional heads flying in. Harry Reid, Brendan Ryan, Ben Barnes. We did the whole razzmatazz to kick off the new agency.

I had two relationship fronts – with the local team and with FCB international, which I also reported into with a view to helping take care of the global clients such as Northwest Airlines. I relished the idea of starting more or less from scratch to build up some sort of creative identity with the existing team. To me that’s the point of a creative challenge.

Taking what’s there. Settling people down. Finding out who is who. And starting to build. There is good and bad in everyone and the challenge is to work with people’s strengths and get the best of them. Some can rise, some can’t. You find out over time. The first thing to do, is settle everyone and get them thinking with ambition with a positive vibe.

I already knew which people I would want to bring in when the time came. When budget allowed. The first task was to make a difference.

The next couple of years was a fun ride. We started producing some notable work locally on brands like Adidas. We went after and won business. I loved the happy positive family spirit in Singapore. Very can-do. Very open to improvement.

I remember going to an FCB global conference and having to do a presentation about our agency’s progress and doing so with pride. Showing a year-by-year scale of creative improvement. We weren’t up there with the best, but we were moving forward. We got a nod at CCA in our first year. Not great, but a start.

Times change. Stuart left. I found myself heading up the agency (scary thought when it comes to my financial capabilities). But I was sensible enough to surround myself with good people and let them do the job for me. Guided by some very capable senior people. Simon Bolton, Andrew Crombie, Rob Burr.

I was also moonlighting regionally. Flying around the region on Nabisco. Flying up to Kuala Lumpur to get involved in projects for FCB Malaysia; another great experience working with an equally can-do and fun bunch of people. I was doing day trips on the shuttle run to KL all the time.

Then came the global announcement that we were merging with Bozell. Gulp. More changes. As it happened, I met with their managing director Bhaskar Rao and we also hit it off. Bhaskar was as simple as it gets in his approach: “You take care of the creative work, I’ll take care of the money”.

No problems there. We became great colleagues and friends. I had complete say over all creative. Just as it should be. Knowing we were in the hands of one of the best business managers I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

Together we executed the fastest actual office merger in the FCB global network. Helped in no small dose by the fact that Bozell had much a much nicer office in Suntec City than the old building we were in at FCB. We couldn’t wait to move in.

I was also promoted to regional creative director as well. It meant I was going to get busier, but, with the recently won new business of Compaq (remember Compaq?), I finally had a bit more budget to hire in people I had my eye on.

I pulled in the copywriter Robert Gaxiola, who I thought had great potential, and was already getting work into One Show. At the time, he was so ripe for grooming and had leadership potential. I then told him that when the time was right, he could hire the art director he wanted. I kept my promise.

His choice was a really talented guy called Eric Yeo. Then at Leo Burnett, we persuaded Eric to come on board. When Eric started on his first day, he already had campaigns on his wall that he’d been working on for our existing clients before joining! Including a Porsche campaign which we not only sold in to the client (no scam for us), but which went on to do very well in the award shows.

Bhaskar was totally supportive. And so we began taking the agency to a different level creatively. Awards followed, locally and internationally. And we continued to build and grow and nurture a great spirit.

They were really great times and we were becoming something. Making a mark. Global new business wins came including Samsung and New Zealand Milk. By then, I was also elected on to the global creative board (not bad since I had started my career as a mailroom messenger at FCB London many years before).

After almost five years, it was time for me to move back to Hong Kong for both personal reasons and to pursue new ambitions. I’ve always believed in moving on when the going is good. Never rest on your laurels. I did so with a tear in my eye. Finally saying goodbye to the whole team in the lobby as the lift arrived.

It was no great loss to FCB Singapore, as they brought in Rob Sherlock to take over my role. He came with his own great track record and himself went on to greater things. It was just the end of a great time for me, and rewarding for all involved.

I just feel very fortunate and grateful that I was able to be a part of the journey, launching and building it during a great time. I’m left with some great friends and brilliant memories. Thanks FCB, whatever happens next.

Chris Kyme is co-founder and creative director Kymechow, an independent agency in Hong Kong

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