Robert Sawatzky
Mar 5, 2019

Digitas global chief lays out huge 2019 APAC expansion goal

Agency to double its presence in Asia-Pacific to 13 markets by the end of this year, says global president Michael Kahn.

Digitas global brand president Michael Kahn
Digitas global brand president Michael Kahn

Digitas is looking to aggressively raise its flag across the Asia-Pacific region with plans to grow from six markets currently (Greater China, India, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia) to 13 markets by the end of this year, says global brand president Michael Kahn.

The accelerated growth plan for the 39-year old agency of 3,000 global employees will involve growing its regional headcount from about 600 APAC staff to over 1,000. 

"Right now we’re seeing a lot of growth for Digitas in APAC, certainly double-digit growth and we have projections that that is going to continue," Kahn told Campaign in an interview at the agency's Singapore headquarters. "We feel like expanding the network in the market and raising the flag will help us grow even faster. It’s really about meeting and exceeding client demand.”

While Kahn wouldn't specify exact markets and timelines since some of them are tied to acquisition and strategies in play, offices in 13 markets will essentially give Digitas a presence in every major APAC market. He says about half the new markets will be opening directly in response to clients, like new additions Cathay Pacific and GSK, and the other half will be markets where leadership simply eyes market opportunity.

"As the steward of the brand, the whole obligation I have is to drive this brand and make it as relevant and compelling as it can be for the clients we serve and for the talent that joins us," Kahn said. "To be in an environment like APAC where there is inherent ground-up demand for data and digital skills that we have is great. Having leadership in place to support and go after that is fantastic."

That leadership will come from Publicis Group managing partner Jane Lin Baden, whom Kahn calls the 'architect' of the planned expansion, after popular Digitas APAC CEO Annette Male jumped ship to begin heading up the new WPP Wunderman Thompson super-agency this month.  What was expected to be a dour March for Digitas has changed quite suddenly now that the highly regarded Lin Baden and unofficial "senior steward" of Digitas APAC has turned the agency on the offensive.  

"[Jane Lin Baden] is a dynamic force of nature for us and will take what we’re doing to a different level, building on everything Annette did," Kahn said. "She’ll transform us as only new leadership can do."

Kahn says he easily sees a scenario where Asia-Pacific with its leadership in data-driven commerce and connectivity will take the lead in some areas globally. 

"We have not only a chance to grow here but learn from the team, the capabilities and the marketplace and have it wash over everything we’re doing. It's absolutely part of the MO, based on teams and capbilites we have in China and in India.  We see great work here and it will inform what we’re trying to do everywhere. For sure."

Kahn notes that North America and Asia-Pacific will continue to form an east-west tandem of network strength.  

"If you think of where innovation is happening and where it's really going to grow in all places right now, it is either in the West or the East and coming from both directions equally," he said. "On an individual basis, I’m a stockholder in both Alibaba and Facebook and for a reason."

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