Brittney Rigby
Feb 23, 2024

Looking back, looking forward: Tze Kiat Tan, BBDO Asia

In a fresh series, APAC adland CEOs share their hopes and fears for the year ahead and reflect on 2023. In this edition, we chat with Tze Kiat Tan, CEO of BBDO Asia.

Looking back, looking forward: Tze Kiat Tan, BBDO Asia

Campaign Asia-Pacific’s 'Looking back, looking forward' series featuring chief executives across APAC’s adland. Read the other interviews here.

For Tze Kiat Tan, 2023 unfolded as a year marked by a dual narrative: On one hand, vigorously promoting Chinese creativity within BBDO Asia, and on the other, navigating the challenges of gaining global acclaim. Now as 2024 unfolds, it's becoming a highlight year for launching new ventures, including the rollout of brand consultancy Batten & Company, alongside a hub for cultural and creative development.

‌Here, as part of Campaign Asia’s 'Looking back, looking forward' series featuring chief executives across APAC’s adland, Tan reveals her hopes and fears for the year ahead, and the shiniest and prickliest parts of 2023, both personally and professionally.

2023: Best and worst

Tan has held various leadership positions at BBDO across two decades, so she’s well-versed in the peaks and troughs an agency experiences over a protracted period of time. 2023 was her first full year as BBDO Asia CEO, after being promoted from Greater China CEO in 2022, and she acknowledges the biggest trough was the “struggle to gain recognition for our work on the world stage."

‌“Despite this, the unwavering commitment to lifting our work to new heights and seeking acknowledgment is what fuels our passion,” she says. “It's not just a professional goal; it's a personal journey that motivates us to overcome hurdles and aim for excellence in the year ahead.”

‌It isn’t surprising that Tan would obsess over this. After all, BBDO’s mantra is “The Work, The Work, The Work.”

‌Last year, BBDO Asia’s accolades included a Gold at Spikes, a Bronze at Cannes, a few trophies at Caples, another three for the Bangkok office at the One Asia awards, and a Gold at the AME Awards.

‌In the Campaign Asia Agency of the Year Awards, BBDO China won Bronze within the Creative Agency of the Year category, Silver for Social Media Agency of the Year, and Bronze for Specialist Agency of the Year. BBDO China also snagged six Effies at the Greater China show, and nine across the region at the APAC awards.

‌While it was a tougher year for the work than Tan would have liked, she notes it was a good one for the people. In 2023, her priority was continuing the agency’s “People First” strategy, which she explains is focused on “cultivating talent and fostering a unified creative powerhouse to enhance our work and drive profitability."

‌Personally, she enjoyed finding normalcy again, with the worst of the pandemic in the rearview mirror. Her highlights included: “Getting back into the swing of normal routines, reconnecting with my team, witnessing everyone back in action at work, catching up with clients and partners, as well as spending time outside with my family.”

‌It was a packed year for Tan when it came to industry commitments, too, which offered some “incredible moments this past year." She was on the APAC Effies and Cannes Lions Creative Business Transformation juries, co-chair of the Iridium jury for the Global Best of the Best Effie Awards, president of the Cannes China Creative Alliance, and chair of the China Chamber of Commerce in Australia (CCCA). Tan also continues to serve on the BBDO global board of directors as its first Asian member.

‌“These roles have given me the chance to make a further impact on industry growth, bringing agencies together, championing Chinese creativity, and guiding professionals through inspiring Creative Masterclasses in Greater China, which has been amazing,” Tan continues.

‌She ended the year being named the new chair for the APAC Effie Awards in 2024.

2024: Hopes and fears

‌If Tan’s hints are anything to go by, 2024 will be a big deal—featuring the launch of both a brand consultancy, and a cultural and creative incubator. Batten & Company, first launched out of New York in 2010, will be coming to China and tasked with “guiding clients in making strategic decisions for sustained brand growth” across areas such as brand positioning, brand architecture, and communications planning.

“It leverages BBDO’s leading brand strategy capabilities, which have strengthened over the years,” Tan explains. “Now, with a string of successful marketing and brand strategy consulting engagements under its belt, BBDO has decided to roll out this specific expertise as another growth engine for the network by launching Batten & Company."

‌“While we envision that most of Batten’s work will continue to focus on China market projects, the intent is to eventually roll this out to clients in other parts of the region.”

‌According to Tan, Batten & Company will offer a unique proposition because of its connection to BBDO; its consultants are “deeply immersed in the world of execution."

“They intuitively grasp how strategies may appear robust on PowerPoint but can fall flat when executed by marketing teams and thus, add real value by helping clients avoid such scenarios.”

‌Tan also slips in a mention of Dobbino, which will be introduced as a “Culture+ Creator Incubator." The name is an anagram of BBDO, and a reference to innovation. She won’t elaborate further on the incubator, for now. The global team is leading the launch, so “we’re holding tight for the bigger reveal.”

‌Tan also teases the prospect of other projects, such as “the opportunity to work with a best-in-class platform at the center of digital commerce and the possibility to collaborate on cutting-edge AI technology.”

‌Thought leadership will continue to be a priority for the agency in 2024, including through BBDO Voices, an annual report series entering its 14th year. The upcoming 14th edition, launching soon, has the theme ‘Country of Origin’. Last year’s publication, ‘Brand Purpose in Asia’, delved into expert and consumer sentiment across six Asian markets.

‌However, Tan’s fear that BBDO Asia’s work won’t gain recognition on the world stage persists into 2024. She also mentions fear around “ensuring our contributions align with evolving industry standards and expectations."

‌As for the areas she wants to improve on herself, she’ll be focused on achieving personal and professional equilibrium, especially during the ongoing Lunar New Year festive period.

‌“I'm excited about entering the Year of the Chinese Wood Dragon, a time traditionally associated with fortune and abundance, bringing an extra dose of positivity to life," shares Tan.

Campaign Asia

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