McCann’s changing of the guard in 2019 went as smoothly as could be expected after long-serving APAC president Charles Cadell retired from the business in the summer. His replacement, McCann’s London CEO Alex Lubar, admittedly had some catching up to do on regional dynamics, but on settling-in has not opted for a major shakeup. Instead, Lubar, along with chairman (and India power-broker) Prasoon Joshi, is keeping McCann’s focus on its talent and creative products.
Since Cadell also ran the Japan business from Tokyo, the agency promoted Antony Cundy—a fluent Japanese speaker and long-time resident credited for much of McCann’s growth there—to CEO in a widely applauded move. Not wanting to give up McCann’s lead on other multinationals in Japan, the agency continues to keep Ji Watson, its APAC CFO and commercial director, based there.
McCann’s other notable leadership changes saw Australian CEO Nicole Taylor leave to be with her family in Europe. The agency opted not to replace her, paving the way for new leadership and ownership announced last month. In China, McCann brought in former Wunderman chief Bryce Whitwam (made available after the WunderThompson merger) to lead its digital MRM McCann operations.
McCann has been working hard to bring down its churn rate (down to 34.9% from 39% last year) with efforts that continue to earn it high marks in the people and diversity category. ‘Total learning hours’ across APAC more than doubled in 2019 to 42,045 hours, compared to 16,418 in 2018, helped by February rollout of Spark, McCann’s new global learning program, which about a third of employees have actually used. While McCann isn’t known for its cutting-edge technology, the agency opened up new growth opportunities in APAC this year with its first ‘Lab 13’ innovation lab opening in Tokyo to make new products and prototypes, though still nascent in its development.
B: Whilst our results show that we have done well by our clients and by our people, we did not perform as well in this year’s creative award shows as our ambition demands.
The agency continues to be a leader on diversity and inclusion initiatives. Last year it launched a much-needed industry study on gender equality in Japan (or lack thereof) with many honest, if not shocking, findings (see box below). Unfortunately, McCann lost one of its outspoken creative directors and gender equality advocates in Satoko Takada when she left the agency for Apple in May.
Elsewhere, McCann helped organise IPG’s first ever Women’s Leadership Network Breakfast outside of Cannes in Singapore in October. In Australia it issued limited NDA waivers to allow employees to confidentially report human rights violations to the AHRC. In China it subtly nudged the boundaries of ‘alternative relationships’ in its work for Sprite. And throughout APAC, about 2500 McCann-ers took a ‘Day of Meaning’ in October to develop a ‘Conscious Inclusion Action Plan’ for offices across the region.
Market to market, there have been scores of local initiatives promoting wellness and development from encouraging Japanese to take more leave to training partnership in India for those with physical disabilities. But perhaps none of these are as personal and touching as its continued support for End ALS in Japan, inspired by McCann planning director and ALS patient Hiro Fujita.
The thesis, of course, is that investing in its talent will result in better creative product. Certainly McCann’s ‘Breath of Life’ campaign for Glaxosmithkline out of Shanghai was an incredible blend of creativity, technology, art, culture purpose and function. The Cannes Lion Pharma Grand Prix winner pretty much ticked every box you could want in a campaign.
But beyond this work, the creativity gets thinner in a hurry. More will be expected from APAC in future to contribute to McCann’s global success, particularly after winning global network of the year at Cannes in 2019. Effectiveness over artistry has been McCann’s focus in APAC with no fewer than 106 awards between the Effies, Tangrams, Jay Chiat and Tambuli awards, earning accolades as the most effective APAC network (Effies) and most effective individual agency (New Delhi in the Warc 100).
Effectiveness, of course, makes for happy clients. McCann’s average client tenure in APAC remains 15+ years and this year it retained all its top 20 clients, not losing a single client worth more than US$350,000 in 2019. One thing McCann offers existing clients is an ‘Innovation Council’ forum to explore new practices and ideas with the tech community, as it did with Cigna and Merck in APAC last year.
McCann’s new business pipeline remained steady, and it finished once again in eighth spot R3’s New Business League at a very similar level of deal value. Billings rose a modest 3%, with over 200 wins. It’s not surprising that all the agency’s top wins are from India (Hero, Maggi) or China (Sprite, Guangming Dairy), but it highlights the need for McCann’s Southeast Asian operations to step up contributions in most areas, from creative ideas to business growth.
The truth about gender in Japan: A McCann report