AOY Insights is a new content series celebrating some of the top wins from Campaign Asia-Pacific's Agency of the Year awards. Join us as we take a closer look at the entries that struck gold this year.
Categories: (Winner) Agency Head of the Year – Greater China, (Gold) Content Marketing Agency of the Year – Greater China
Key clients: Volvo, GSK/Haleon, HSBC
New clients this year: Uniqlo, GMPI, Coca-Cola/Schweppes, Meta, ByteDance, Costco, Pearson Education, Sensodyne
Highlights: Grey Group China
turned its fortunes around in the last year or so with the agency treating itself as a client to do so — taking a step back to create a winning strategy in the form of its New Business Development Funnel.
This saw a shift from chasing long-term retainer-based pitches with top-tier international brands. Instead, Grey’s focus areas were retaining existing business, and targeting clients from the mid-tier segment interested in working on a project basis.
Grey’s reasoning was that competition for mid-tier brands would be local agencies, digital studios, and media houses — which are mostly tactical or execution-led — allowing the agency’s top-quality strategic social and digital work to stand out.
Winning work from out-of-scope projects, which also extended to clients from WPP and Grey Global, was a key factor in the agency’s turnaround. Grey saw unmet needs for content-led campaigns that were being handed to other agencies. Instead of the more tactical and transactional approach adopted by smaller shops, Grey made its content marketing stand out. The agency leveraged its strengths in content creation, with a hard-working strategic perspective and a creative design approach that brought its content-driven campaigns alive at every consumer touchpoint.
The NBD Funnel approach, which ranged from finding the right opportunities to ensuring the highest win possibility, saw great success — 14 new business wins over 12 months and an unprecedented 78% strike rate at pitches.
Grey’s shifts in attitude extended to staffing, where competing for established talent at fellow top-tier agencies was replaced with hiring and training emerging talents from local agencies. Staffing grew more than 13% during the year. The year also saw Grey move towards a culture of care, which resulted in the team outscoring almost 300 organisations on the WPP All-in Employee Survey.
The turnaround was made possible by the leadership of new CEO, Sharlene Wu. She oversaw a u-turn across the board on profits, client acquisition, talent acquisition and work culture after coming into the role, facing the challenges such as failing business and stagnant staff.
Wu focused on achievable results, kickstarting the successful implementation of Grey’s winning strategy. Her understanding of the agency’s position against larger agencies allowed Grey to thrive in its own category, resulting in improved profits and efficiency. Wu also made the most of Grey’s underused borderless network, personally taking the lead on several teams, while the new CEO also reached out directly to existing clients such as Volvo, GSK/Haleon and HSBC, earning invites to projects they were pitching out.
After three consecutive years of declining revenues, margins, talent and clients, Wu oversaw Grey get back in the black — and win gold.
Case studies: Sensodyne and Grey worked together on National Teeth Care Day to create an inspirational ‘100,000 Reasons to Love Your Teeth’ campaign. The three-point plan saw Sensodyne become a key part of TMall Oral Care Brand Day and visibility with more than 100 million total views on related hashtags. Grey also helped Sensodyne capitalise on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics buzz with athlete partnerships.
For GMPI, Grey created The Durant Guild brand digital ecosystem leading the social, content, and partnership strategy for its successful launch across Chinese social media. The community-driven luxury auto brand platform saw over 31 million views at launch.
Judges say: Grey was commended both for business development, and the strategies that powered the growth of the agency. CEO Sharlene Wu was singled out for her “in-depth analysis of the battlegrounds” to pivot the turnaround. “Most importantly, she delivered profits and efficiency,” the panel said.