Hsu started bootstrapping AH&A (short for 'Angela Hsu & Associates') in July 2013 after the merger of M&C Saatchi with AEIOU earlier in March that saw her depart her position as CEO.
Instead of a creative agency, AH&A is positioned as a brand consultancy, as Hsu wants to deal directly with CEOs of brands and not CMOs as she used to. "I want to make sure by being connected at the C-suite level, we get the creative work right at the first go, so as to respect and protect the creative people," she told Campaign Asia-Pacific.
AH&A's value proposition is to provide "systemic methods" to develop brand value and help CEOs "find a clear path through the thickets of brand messaging". Compared with traditional agencies whose advertising expertise is based on "intuition", AH&A intends to use methods grounded in scientific research—such as the SWOT and triangle analyses (below).
Co-founder Phelps brings an analytical and financial viewpoint to the business, ensuring the elements of campaign spend and strategy are optimised. He has previously worked at HSBC and McKinsey setting standards for retail risk models as well as heading customer segmentation and retention for banking and telecommunications firms.
AH&A services focus on business analysis, communication strategy, and creative ideation/execution cum management. Annual package fees range from 300,000 to 1 million RMB.
Hsu, of course, maintains resolute beliefs about creativity. "Everyone in the ad world is being controlled by spreadsheets, but we cannot manage artists like robots," she said. "Their oxygen is creativity. Don't treat creatives as just tools in a design factory. Creative ideation can change the world, not money".
In Hong Kong and Taiwan, which are saturated wealth markets, consumers go for what is stylish, while the Chinese still look for luxury as a form of "psychological placebo", Hsu added.
The agency has had initial talks with brands such as UBS, Max Mara, Emilio Pucci, Macallan and Marks & Spencer, but its client roster is awaiting confirmation. AH&A's six staff, including ex-employees from the British Chamber of Commerce and Ogilvy in China, work from a new Xintiandi office.