Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jul 3, 2017

Ex-DDB CEO to lead 'hyperbundled' MullenLowe in China

A restructure of operations integrates creative with MullenLowe Profero’s digital function.

(Clockwise from top left): Brian Leong. MD MLP Shanghai; Fanny Yum, CEO ML Shanghai; Alessandro Grena, MD MLP Beijing and Chengdu; Cheelip Ong, ECD ML Shanghai; Richard Tan, MLG China CEO; Vincent Digonnet, CEO MullenLowe Group North Asia
(Clockwise from top left): Brian Leong. MD MLP Shanghai; Fanny Yum, CEO ML Shanghai; Alessandro Grena, MD MLP Beijing and Chengdu; Cheelip Ong, ECD ML Shanghai; Richard Tan, MLG China CEO; Vincent Digonnet, CEO MullenLowe Group North Asia

It's China's turn to adopt MullenLowe's 'hyperbundling' proposition, with Richard Tan appointed CEO of the restructured group.

A restructure of operations in China will integrate the MullenLowe creative communications business with MullenLowe Profero’s digital function under one group. This is part of building what the agency calls a 'hyperbundled model' in its key markets, and follows on from the same done in New York and London over the last 12 months.

China's operations will be led by Richard Tan as the new CEO of MullenLowe Group China, now a 230-person organisation across three offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu. Tan brings 19 years of leadership experience in the Chinese market to the agency, having previously been CEO and president of DDB China Group. He will report to Vincent Digonnet, CEO of MullenLowe Group North Asia, and also CEO of MullenLowe Profero APAC.

China is the most digitally developed market in the world, according to Digonnet, so it is crucial to consolidate and strengthen MullenLowe's offering. There is "enormous value" in bringing together consumer insights, media, technology, design, social, CRM and analytics in "a seamless model that builds brands while offering efficiency and clarity of purpose", he said. 

Alibaba and Tencent, in particular, are spearheading rapid transformation of the whole business ecosystem in China, pointed out Digonnet, and MullenLowe needs to "keep up". Indeed, every agency that wants to get ahead in China seems to be making strategic partnerships, with the most recent being Alibaba and Publicis partnering on programmatic brand-building and brand-oriented ecommerce, and Tencent and Dentsu Aegis Network partnering on audience-first media planning and creative mobile experiences.

However, to Digonnet, those agreements are no magic wands. "When you look into the details of these partnerships, they are a bit of smoke and mirrors," he told Campaign China. "You do not need those partnerships to do business." 

He added, "When I say we need to be keeping up with the way they [Alibaba and Tencent] transformed the ecosystem, it means that we need to understand how the ecosystem works, how we can plug into it. And it means that we need to have solid technological capabilities, so this is where it’s not about partnerships, it’s about the ability to develop our own technology as opposed to only develop communications."

Only then can agencies have conversations with Alibaba and Tencent at their level, be it ecommerce, mobile, or social. "That’s the whole idea," he said.

MullenLowe's Chengdu tech hub is meant to help the agency hold its own for technological capabilities. Specifically, Chengdu is slated to develop technology for global projects led out of the US, London, or Singapore, while MullenLowe's Beijing office is focused on providing on-shore tech resources for the Chinese domestic market.

At this stage, MullenLowe China and its digital arm MullenLowe Profero are still very much creative and digital communication agencies, respectively, instead of the "experience-led business transformation company" that Digonnet envisions them to become once combined.

When Digonnet started to look for a leader for MullenLowe Group China, he did not look for somebody who was a technologist, but somebody who had management capabilities. "In the end, it’s about people and about understanding client’s needs. Tan was Digonnet's ex-subordinate when both of them were in Euro RSCG many years ago.

Here's how the hyperbundled model will pan out in China, according to Digonnet. "The digital communication capabilities that MullenLowe Profero has will become the core of MullenLowe," he said. "So MullenLowe will become one of the most digitally advanced communications agency, and then it leaves room for MullenLowe Profero to move away from digital communication and into experience-led transformation using UX, analytics, tech architecture, and creative technology."

Fanny Yum will continue as CEO of MullenLowe China, and MullenLowe Profero will remain under the joint leadership of Brian Leong in Shanghai and Alessandro Grena in Beijing. Chief planning officer Baiping Shen, however, will be leaving the agency after nine years.

Campaign China

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