Staff Reporters
May 6, 2020

Agencies worked harder and hungrier in challenging 2019 to drive business growth

AGENCY REPORT CARDS: More local contracts, focus on project work, aggressive pitching and custom content initiatives helped agencies stand out.

Agencies worked harder and hungrier in challenging 2019 to drive business growth

The strongest performers in terms of business growth in this year's Agency Report Cards tended to share some common themes that boosted their performance in a pre-pandemic 2019. Poring through the report cards and submissions complied earlier this year, we discerned some trends that helped drive growth for some of the industry leaders—and scrappy insurgents—that helped keep their heads above water in a challenging year.

In agency submissions and interviews, we noticed agencies across the board focusing on bagging more local contracts, relying on skills inherited from agencies they acquired or merged with, building out shiny new custom content initiatives, pitching intensively to make sure they were heard and seen while maximising their win rate by focusing energies on markets with higher odds of success.

Consider the case of industry-leader Ogilvy, which stands head and shoulders above the competition in terms of sheer size and in 2019, with its pace and scale of business growth. In Asia, the global powerhouse generated nearly-two thirds of its business from business in the region, with worldwide revenues from global accounts forming 35% from its top 50 clients in the region.


In Ogilvy's submission, six of the top 10 new business wins were local contracts. "This reflects an ever-increasing trend in our business that our most important client engagements are developed on the ground in markets," the agency's submission noted.

As these business growth leaders looked to sustain their momentum, several agencies inevitably found more success in specific markets. For example, New Zealand was a bright spot for DDB, led by CEO Justin Mowday and regional chief creative officer Damon Stapleton. As well as winning a slew of new clients and growing its existing business, helping it post record growth, New Zealand scooped an impressive number of industry gongs and was responsible for the most innovations.

Elsewhere, Mcgarrybowen's Hong Kong office played the hero, bringing in local favourites Vitasoy and Cafe de Coral (an AOR appointment across Greater China), and helped its largest client, Manulife, stand out from its rivals in a new product space that opened up because of regulatory changes.


With new business harder to come by in 2019, some agency executives who managed to gain traction in a tough year spoke of intensely pitching and chasing down new deals. In the media space, for example, Mindshare's APAC CEO Amrita Randhawa spoke of being being extremely proactive with clients where Mindshare has some relationship locally or globally, as opposed to waiting for pitches to be called.

After being “punched in the face” the year prior, Mindshare got its new business mojo back in 2019. It returned to the very top of R3’s New Business League with huge gains in both the number of wins (260) and estimated win revenue (US$84.6 million), we noted. The global Ferrero win from PHD—which applied to India, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines (but not China where Mindshare was conflicted)—helped remove the sting of losing HSBC to PHD the year prior, reaffirming the network’s ability to cooperate globally.


Elsewhere, David Tang, the Asia CEO of DDB described himself as a “pitch junkie” who oversaw his agency's ferocious pitching intent, taking part in as many as 110 in 2019, even as the competition scaled down its plans to preserve resources. This all-in approach seemed to work well for DDB, with the agency notable wins including BMW Asia, Vivo and Dairy Farm in Singapore, plus a variety of other blue-chip clients in other regions it could not publicly share.

To be sure, agencies that showed intent to grow their businesses had to word both harder and hungrier to bag new contracts and retain existing ones. For example, senior leaders attribute AKQA's new business success to less reliance on the traditional pitch process and stronger project work, forcing the team to works extra hard to prove their value.

To try to drive growth in a tough year, agencies that we felt showed strong business growth, looked for skills old and new in 2019. For example, growth in Reprise’s social-marketing business has been driven by the skills inherited from Society, the agency it subsumed in 2018. It now touts the largest Facebook creative study ever undertaken in the region—using data points in new ways to advise brands on how to build creative for performance success.

However, agencies such as Iris, with its 'Insurgent Brands' initiative and UM, with 'UM Studio', found that content initiatives also helped drive business growth. In the case of Iris, Insurgent Brands, an internal strategy and ideology, along with the appointment of Rica Facundo as head of culture and Strayo de-Agarwal as lead healthcare planner also contributed to richer, more meaningful content—and catalysed business wins too. After a muted Q2, the agency recorded a strong Q3 in 2019, bagging new clients such as Netflix, Facebook, and Salesforce.

UM & Ensemble work for KFC hot n' cheezy burger

In UM's case, a key driver for growth was UM Studios, the custom content specialist division that it launched in eight more APAC markets in 2019. Led by newly hired head of content APAC Rajiv Jayaraj, who joined from Prodigious Worldwide, the division created work for several clients including Maybelline, KFC, McDonald’s and Nestle. UM Studios is one of the ways in which the agency is diversifying the scope of work with its existing clients, we observed.

Many agencies that relied on their creative work to drive future business had a strong dose of purpose in their campaigns. AKQA's purpose-driven work utilising tech, for example, like its collaboration with the New Zealand Coastguard that integrated AI and data visualisation to assist the marine rescue operation centre.

Grey Group, which looked to carve out a more prominent role in the WPP network, relied on several purpose-driven campaigns like Volvo’s Living Seawall. First revealed in 2018, it used 3D printing technology to create wall tiles that mimic mangrove trees to hopefully, over a period of time, attract marine life back to Sydney harbour. Another was 'The Barbershop Girls of India' campaign for Gillette in India which garnered more than 16.5 million views on YouTube alone, and scored three Spikes and one Lion.

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