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Public relations firm W opens Malaysia office – unveils plans for the SE Asia region

London-based public relations and social media firm W will be starting an office in Malaysia on July 8. This will be the fifth global office of W, and its second in the region, after it started operations in Singapore in August 2015. The founding clients for Malaysia are AppNexus, Marc Jacobs and Women of the Future Awards.

The operations will be headed by Kiranjeet Kaur who was most recently national PR manager at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur.

Speaking about the new assignment, Kaur said: “I’ve watched W in Singapore grow over the past few years, so it’s very exciting to be asked to build a new team in Kuala Lumpur and be part of agency’s Asia growth.

“I think we have a great opportunity in Malaysia, particularly with W’s creative yet commercial approach.”

Speaking to Mumbrella about what was driving the regional expansion, W founder Warren Johnson attributed it to the dynamism of South East Asia. He said: “There is a negative business sentiment in Europe as a result of Brexit.

“But whenever we come here, the optimism and vibrancy of Singapore and South East Asia is really intoxicating.”

He also believed the industry had come of age in the region. He said: “When we started, it was a good market but it felt, maybe in certain techniques, a little bit behind the UK.

W’s Warren Johnson: We go into markets being very humble

“But PR has gone through a supercharged growth phase that took 20 years in the UK which was condensed down to five years, here. It is very sophisticated, but in quite a native way.”

Starting the Malaysia office was also part of a recalibration of the region, which turned out to be a lot more diverse than W had initially accounted for. Johnson said: “I am still understanding the nuances of doing business here. We get more than half of our briefs and client interactions from beyond Singapore.

“I naively thought there would be a generalist Asia-Pacific brief but that has not come to us. There is a more focused requirement on doing what we do here, in other key South East Asian countries.”

At the top of the list for marketers were Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Johnson said: “We made a commitment to start an owned network or footprint in all of those markets. We picked Malaysia because it was a fit from a proximity, business opportunity and legislative point of view.

“Something I am acutely aware of as a Brit, is ensuring that there is no cultural imperialism. We go into markets, being very humble and Malaysia felt like a safe environment.

“It was relatively easy to set up. The level of talent is unbelievable.”

As for the rest of South East Asia, Johnson said: “We will work through partners. We are keen to do that in the short to medium term.”

He also clarified that China and India were likely to remain untouched, for a while. He said: “I am not interested in going to a country, planting a flag and backfilling it.

“I am not certain we would ever open in China. It is important we get the right, culturally nuanced people and really understand the market. For me it feels so alien, I am not sure we would get to a point where we could be best in class there.

“India terrifies me. It’s really sophisticated and complex. I don’t know what we could bring to the party. It would be arrogant to go there. No one wants us there at the moment. I imagine it is serviced very well.”

Johnson’s ultimate ambition however was to become a global network. He said: “We are starting to cover Asia well; we cover Europe quite well. If we can cover North America, we can start to be a wildcard global agency network.” To this end, W had even starting getting into traditional ad agency territory like creating films for brands like PG Tips in the UK.

The difference that W brought to the table in all its markets, according to Johnson, was an understanding of local nuance. He said: “We do a lot of unofficial work for clients where they have done a deal with the holding companies and are forced to use their PR agencies across markets.

“There are strategic and creative principles but a lot of it is rooted in very nuanced local market expertise.”

“Most of our competitors in Singapore are staffed mostly by expats. But only 10% of our workforce is expats. It’s why we connected so quickly.”

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