AKQA is small in Asia, but its two offices, in Shanghai and Tokyo, are making progress in establishing the agency as a premium digital consultancy. The network also has a presence in India but that is dedicated to providing engineering services globally and does not produce creative work.
AKQA was not able to provide revenue growth figures, but both offices took on new business from some solid clients: Japan took on assignments from two major brands in the luxury and real estate space direct from those companies’ headquarters, as well as from a premium domestic transportation brand and from L’Oréal’s Shu Uemura. The highlight in terms of new clients in China was the NBA, and the office also took on work from Varta and Lycra. Shanghai retained all existing clients.
Both offices aim to create locally relevant work of a globally high standard and while top-level award recongnition is limited, much of the work has been exemplary of how to use technology to benefit both brands and consumers.
Still a relative newcomer to the region, Digitas’ early building efforts were rewarded in 2016 with a major win, checking-into the global business of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, previously under Ogilvy. Digitas’ data-driven creative from its work with the Golden Circle loyalty programme helped secure the move to global AOR. A hiring boom has more than doubled the Hong Kong office to 90 employees, and will now test the agency’s ability to deliver at scale.
Another big change this year saw the down-to-earth Annette Male appointed CEO for APAC after only one year in the region as Singapore MD. As a customer engagement specialist, Male should hold appeal for clients such as Shangri-La, Qantas, Cathay and Delta Airlines. Any growing pains have been managed well, with no major losses on the cards.
By expanding its media and data services, Digitas is enjoying sharper revenue growth than most other agencies — hardly surprising given its smaller stature. The Publicis restructuring seems to be benefitting Digitas as it has teamed up with partner agencies, including BBH, Zenith and Leo Burnett, on new wins.
Winning the Digital Agency Network of the Year crown for the third straight year (and the fifth out of the last six), Isobar has clearly handled the transition of power from Jean Lin to Jane Lin-Baden without a hiccup. Though Lin ascended to global CEO in 2014, Lin-Baden was promoted from China CEO to APAC CEO in June 2016.
The network recorded strong revenue and new-business growth. Moreover, it continued making the kinds of moves that should put it in position for ongoing success. At the top of that list are the complementary acquisitions of WeChat- and Alipay-certified m-commerce company Verystar in May and ecommerce solutions provider Bluecomm in November.
In addition, a data partnership with China’s UnionPay, forged in January, further beefs up Isobar’s Code1 data-mining platform. An effort launched with the Singapore Economic Development Board will focus on applying machine learning and AI to issues such as attribution. Australian acquisition SMG Studio proved its game-development mettle with Thumb Drift, which racked up more than 10 million downloads. In India, a neuroscience lab is working on quantifying engagement. In Japan, a proprietary social-media management tool optimises brands’ use of Line.
The network’s commitment to diversity is notable. Aside from having two regional CEOs in a row who happen to be women, Isobar often hires from outside traditional agency roles. Case in point, this year’s appointment of Grace Liu, from TNS, as China CEO.
It’s hard to think of Razorfish in isolation now given the announcement of the agency’s merger with sister Publicis Groupe outfit SapientNitro in November. The agency would rather look forward than backward and for that reason declined to submit information for this year’s Agency Report Card.
The merger raised eyebrows across the industry, being such a significant reorganisation of Publicis’ digital offering, but it was intended to signal the network is taking digital transformation very seriously.
Perhaps the internal work needed to coordinate such a merger is the reason why Razorfish seemed a lot quieter in Asia-Pacific in 2016 than other years. The agency won at the 2016 APAC Smarties for its work with Nike and SPCA Hong Kong. The latter pro-bono project was a riveting campaign that allowed mobile audiences to literally claw their way behind the Yulin Dog Meat Festival to expose animal cruelty issues. The Hong Kong office was also responsible for developing an APAC-wide social strategy for Jägermeister after winning the business in late 2015.
New business innovations this year were conceived overseas. COSMOS, its new machine-learning data analytics platform, debuted at Cannes, while a new customer engagement loyalty offering was announced in September.
Razorfish's leadership underwent changes in 2016 as the merger plans with SapientNitro progressed. APAC executive chairman Vincent Digonnet was not given a role with the newly merged agency, which has named a new CEO. Earlier in 2016, Razorfish appointed Symon Hammacott COO of Hong Kong in addition to his Southeast Asia ECD role. Sean Burke-Gaffney’s role as director of technology also expanded APAC-wide, and the company named Charulata Ravi Kumar as India CEO.
(Note: An earlier version of this review was led with the newly-merged agency name, SapientRazorfish. To clarify, the focus of this review is on Razorfish and does not include SapientNitro).
Wunderman saw a big change at the Asia-Pacific helm in 2016 with Martin Conneen departing in July after two years as APAC CEO and a decade with the agency. Caspar Schlickum, CEO of Xaxis EMEA, stepped into the breach and time will tell if he can build on Conneen’s work evolving Wunderman from its data roots.
Certainly Schlickum inherits a healthy agency, opting to pitch less in 2016, but improve its win rate by 10 percent year-on-year. There were significant wins, particularly in Greater China with HSBC, Kipling and Victoria’s Secret coming on board, as well as some big names across various markets, including Huawei, Kimberly-Clark and Mazda. Several existing clients also added more to the agency’s workload.
However, Wunderman also saw some weighty client losses in Pantene and TomTom, which meant that unlike most agencies, it failed to grow revenue in 2016.
Hopefully, new data partnerships across Asia-Pacific, both within the WPP network and externally will help improve the picture. It has added Acquia and still partners with Adobe. The agency has already started seeing returns on the launch of Wunderman DMP Services in July — it contributed to a 20 percent boost in revenue from data solutions projects compared to 2015.