“Squared was born out of necessity,” said Tate. In 2011, she designed and launched Squared in the United Kingdom. Following its success in the market, she developed Squared Online, a project in partnership with Home Learning College that opened the programme to a wider community. She then rolled out Squared globally in Asia, Europe and the US in 2014.
“Marketers and advertisers from a non-digital background need to use digital to their true advantage,” said Tate. “At the same time there’s concern about a limited talent pool in the industry.”
Tate is now the head of agency at Google Hong Kong, a role that goes hand-in-hand with Squared. Prior to Google, she specialised in search at Vizeum and ZenithOptimedia.
“New technologies constantly disrupt the communications landscape,” said Tate. “The leaders of today and tomorrow need to know how to drive change in that environment and developing digital and technological leadership skills are keys to achieving that.”
Squared ran in Hong Kong for the first time in October last year. Twenty-two participants from 19 brands, advertising and media agencies were involved through invitation. Brands from a number of sectors including beauty and FMCG took part: Nestlé, L’Oréal, Johnson and Johnson, and Sony.
Agencies that joined were Carat, Mindshare, JWT, Starcom MediaVest Group, iProspect and Publicis. The programme was delivered with Google’s education partner Impact International, blending together industry experts, guest speakers, and hands-on project experience.
“The best way is to learn by doing,” said Tate, stressing that the mindset is just as important as the skillset. “Our goal was not to have participants go away repeating the ideas or opinions covered in the 12 days but to leave with their own.”
Concentrating on platforms beyond Google, Squared covered analytics, adwords, data visualisation, consumer behaviour on the web, business thinking, profit model design, research, trends, content creation, mobile applications, campaign strategy and management across multiple platforms, devices and contexts.
Guest speakers from various areas of expertise attended the programme: Vincent Tsui, CMO of Next Media, author and university lecturer; Rudi Leung, partner & co-founder of TURN+; Jason Chiu, founder of Cherrypicks; Kenneth Kwok, managing director of Beehive Strategy; Jasper Donat, CEO & co-founder, Branded and President, Music Matters; Jason Oke, regional managing director, Asia-Pacific at Red Fuse Communications and Y&R Hong Kong.
Tate also invited LinkedIn and Facebook to contribute along with other overseas speakers from Google including John Merrifield, chief creative officer of Google APAC.
The program was full-time, and participants had to apply the knowledge and skills they learnt to real world contexts. This involved “solving challenging problems” for real businesses. They received live briefs from a small charity and the West Kowloon Cultural Authority, which gave teams projects to work on, including the authority’s Neon Signs platform.
Participants were placed in teams of four, mixing together brand and agency personnel, and were put to the test in “pitching online business ideas” to an entrepreneur. Participants needed to plan how to be creative with technology trends as well as build an audience for their product and commercialise their ideas. The final module featured “change management and storytelling” and explored the power of story as tailored to a business.
“Squared is a beta programme so we are still testing and collecting feedback for our first batch of Squared graduates in Hong Kong,” said Tate. “We hope to roll out the initiative to more people in the Hong Kong industry if it’s successful.”
Participants of the first batch were selected to join based on the “attitude and leadership qualities” exhibited within their respective organisations. Being from a “non-digital background” and having “four to eight years” experience in marketing or advertising were also considered in the criteria.
“Ultimately, we were looking for people with high potential that could be on the board within 10 years given their attitude and progress,” said Tate. “We hope these people become digital ambassadors and imbed skills back into their organisations as well.”
Squared awarded three participants based on outstanding qualities they’d shown during the 12 days. The awards were the Spirit of Squared, Squared Next Generation Leader and Distinction Award.
David Cheang, strategic planner at Publicis, received the leadership award while Veronica Suen, digital and CRM manager at L’Oréal was awarded a distinction.
“People talk about the ‘digital mindset’ but it’s really the consumer mindset,” said Cheang. “At the end of the day it’s about the consumer and talking to them.” Since completing the program, Cheang has been active in applying what he’s learnt to his strategic planning role.
“I feel more creative in brainstorming sessions because I have a new framework, resources and technologies to draw on to find creative solutions,” said Cheang. “Sharing this with the strategy team at Publicis will be important.”
Similarly, Suen plans to reflect her new skills “directly through the work” she’s doing with her colleagues at L’Oréal. “Squared gave me a fresh perspective on digital and I appreciated the atmosphere of embracing change and finding solutions using the tools available,” said Suen. “I’ve already started using some frameworks in my job and I gained a lot of exposure to working with agencies and built a great network of friends here too.”
“The program was not only fun but allowed us to learn and connect with like-minded people,” Cheang added. “Since graduating we all get together on a regular basis to talk and share ideas. And well, because we’re friends.”