United Entertainment Group (UEG), the entertainment, sports and lifestyle agency owned by global communications network Edelman, is expanding into Asia Pacific. Based in Sydney, the new hub will be led by newly-named executive vice-president Si Philby and aims to serve markets throughout the region.
Philby has co-founded and launched two independent agencies during his 20+ year creative career, most recently leading a cultural and creative talent consultancy known as Background, for the past five years. The UEG core will begin as a small team of five in Edelman’s Australia headquarters, where the company has created a new UEG studio space, along with a China lead based in Shanghai. But Philby will also be integrating his Background network of creators, designers, musicians, athletes and philanthropists into the new agency’s work.
Philby will report to UEG founder and CEO Jarrod Moses in New York, while partnering with Edelman APAC vice chair Michelle Hutton to roll out its services to clients throughout the region. Philby says the aim is to work for existing global clients, such as Electronic Arts, for whom they’re already working on APAC project, but also for newly developed local business, with a couple of such clients already in the pipeline. Work might be done out of any one of 15 APAC markets, Philby says, with UEG injecting specialist teams to work alongside local Edelman teams.
New York-based UEG, which has about 150 staff globally, mostly at its five US offices but also in the UK and Germany, is well known for its brand activations. It works with influencers, celebrities and athletes for brands like Samsung, Asics, The North Face, Starbucks and BMW. It was founded in 2007 and bought by Edelman in 2015.
The new expansion in APAC reflects a growth in global demand for its services, the company says, as well as international appreciation of APAC’s rising cultural influence. Citing the latter, the company tells Campaign that APAC can represent 25% of UEG overall business within two years and 50% within four years.
“The distinction, craft, and unique properties, platforms, and performers that are created in APAC, is what makes APAC’s offering incredibly attractive and intriguing to the world,” Moses tells Campaign. “We view this global interest as an opportunity to build partnerships that function in dual roles. While brands can benefit from creating marketing programs with the unique creativity of the entertainment offerings, simultaneously, brands can serve as an essential partner to the interest that these partners may have in reaching larger audiences around the world.”
While UEG specialises in six main types of services (creative content, communications, experiential, talent and influencers, licensing, entertainment and sports partnerships), Philby insists on being ‘agnostic’ to categories or verticals when approaching new work in the region and won’t say which type of services might best thrive here, an openness derived from his consultancy background in brand experience.
“It's not one thing because the dots need joining often between great experiences, relevant content and the right talent,” Philby says. “It's so diverse and nuanced across the APAC region that our role in this is to shine a light on the interesting cultural movements and trends that are happening in markets across the region and help brands navigate that.”
A big part of how UEG plan to do this will be made clearer next month when Philby unveils a new cultural board with top regional talent from the world of fashion, youth culture, music art and more who will be able to inform and assist UEG and Edelman teams on relevant brand projects and partnerships.
The goal is for special project teams who understand in-market cultural nuances and are better able to connect culture with community to be custom-built specific to scope and task. While some might not see it as the most efficient approach, Philby’s vast experience in creating such networks is what he excels at. Plus, he now has the benefit of tapping the existing Edelman global network to help execute the work.
“We want to make sure that this is the right fit for the client and it's the right fit for the market and we'll assemble the best talent based on that,” Philby says.
While the timing of the UEG launch was not planned to coincide with the emergence from Covid-restrictions in many APAC markets outside of China, Philby says 2022 is a poignant time as the pandemic has given birth to many more hybrid ways of exploring brand-culture-consumer interactions that still need to be authentic.
“As the world restores hopefully to a combination of in real life and and virtual and digital, we're going to be able to do some very progressive work,” Philby says.
“We're starting from the ground up in APAC in a lot of respects, but with a knowledge base and a network and a phenomenal machine in the UEG and Edelman businesses to shape a whole new style of cultural creative agency.”