Nikita Mishra
Nov 29, 2023

M&C Saatchi retreats from Singapore, Asia CEO steps down

In a series of changes in line with the UK overhaul, M&C Saatchi has downsized its advertising capabilities in Singapore, while Asia chief Richard Morewood will exit by the end of the year.

L-R: Richard Morewood, Justin Graham, M&C Saatchi
L-R: Richard Morewood, Justin Graham, M&C Saatchi

A series of changes are taking place at M&C Saatchi’s Asia-Pacific operations on the back of dismal H1 results, which saw net advertising revenue decline 16% on a like-for-like basis from 2022, and new global leadership emerge.

Richard Morewood, M&C Saatchi’s Asia CEO of the last seven years, has stepped down from his position and will leave the agency by the end of the year. Morewood is currently in the midst of passing the torch to Justin Graham, the Australian group CEO, who takes on the new role.

In order to boost resources and capability for the rest of the region, the agency is merging its Asia head office with Australia “to increase efficiency.” Graham will helm a combined office from his current location in Sydney.

The agency’s Singapore office is retreating as part of the restructuring plan. Graham tells Campaign, "a small number of senior departures in the Singapore business," without giving away names. Campaign has learned that chief creative officer Ali Shabaz, who joined in March 2022 with a reporting line to Morewood, has been made redundant. It is unclear if Madina Kalyayeva, managing director of the  Singapore division has been let go.

The Singapore operations will be merged with the profitable Malaysian arm, to be led by Lara Hussein, the CEO of M&C Saatchi Malaysia. As a result of the merger, Campaign has learned, most of the staff in Singapore has been made redundant, barring a few still on payroll to ride out existing contracts.

Prominent clients that Shabaz and Kalyayeva helped land are the DFI Retail Group; the brand entered a three-year contract in October 2022, with a one-year optional extension covering both Singapore and Malaysia. The agency has also worked with WWF Singapore on project basis.

In Asia, the agency’s profit-making entities include the Malaysian wing, run by Hussein, and Indonesia, run by president-director Anish Daryani. In May 2023, Daryani had additional Southeast Asia growth and development duties added to his title.

Globally, the agency is not in the best shape, it reported a 7% decline in global revenue and a $10.23 million drop in operating profit in the first half of 2023. 

M&C Saatchi finished 10th on the May-June 2023 creative table, down from the third spot at the start of the year, in Campaign’s Advertising Intelligence tool’s ranking that tracks new business on a global level. Regionally, estimated year-to-date net billings remained at $127.3 million with 36 new client wins, top among those for the agency: Resort World Sentosa, a finance and insurance client, and Australian Retirement Trust.

Economic challenges that plague the wider market are posing troubling conditions for the shop that has previously been hit by accounting scandals in 2019, followed by the pandemic in 2020 and hostile take over bids all of last year.  

For now, Justin Graham, the new regional chief executive, assures Asia is still very much a priority for the agency.

 “Asia is an important region for growth and innovation. The goal is to work towards centralised collaboration, stabalise and grow the company to make it future-fit,” he tells Campaign.

It must be noted that the current changes do not impact M&C Saatchi Performance and its growth consultancy, Clear Strategy. They continue to operate as independent entities. In fact, M&C Saatchi Performance is the strongest growth sector for the shop, boasting a remarkable 24% increase in revenue, Campaign noted in its Agency Report Card of 2022. The growth came on the back of key business wins such as Asana, Asics, Julo, Noice, and Jobstreet in the region.

Top performers like Roshat Adnani earned a promotion to APAC managing partner position along with Melissa Yip, who is the country director of Singapore. More recently, Kabeer Chaudhary was elevated as the Performance global chief executive and continues to be based out of Singapore.

UK operations merged into a 'supergroup'

The restructure comes at the same time as two high-profile departures, with sport and entertainment global CEO Steve Martin and sport and entertainment UK CEO Jamie Wynne-Morgan both leaving the business. It is understood that both Martin and Wynne-Morgan resigned but there is no word on what they are planning to do next.

In the long-term, executive chair Zillah Byng-Throne who took over from Moray MacLennan on September 1st to temporarily head operations for up to 12 months, is looking at “unlocking the value for both staff and clients.”

Byng-Throne has also led the transformation of Future PLC, a media company that owns online and magazine titles such as PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3, through a series of acquisitions, including TI Media, Dennis Publishing, and Go Compare. In the first 90 days in office, “targeting annualised savings of $12.7 million by the end of FY24 from creation of shared service centres and centralised procurement,” is the vision.

Byng-Throne’s “enhanced, simplified leadership structure” approach will bring about more regional changes in the year ahead.

Morewood on road ahead

On the APAC leadership shakeup, Campaign chatted with Morewood to learn about his future plans and to reflect on his achievements. Morewood says he is “immensely proud of the work, the results and the business growth that he and his team delivered.” He also thanked his clients, partners and colleagues for their support and collaboration.

“After working for M&C Saatchi across three continents over the last 25 years, I will be stepping down at the end of the year. In the short term, I will be taking some time out with the family but have some exciting opportunities in 2024.”

He continued: “Zillah [Byng-Thorne], Justin [Graham] and team have some great plans for M&C Saatchi moving forward. I wish them and the company, all the success in the future.”

Morewood joined M&C Saatchi in London in the 90s and moved to Australia in 2008. He worked as managing partner at DDB Group to handle McDonald’s business across Australia and New Zealand. In October 2016, he made a comeback to the agency as the Asia CEO.

For the last seven years, he has been responsible for overseeing the agency’s offices in Singapore, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Tokyo and Shanghai. He did not reveal his next move.

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new details about the restructure that emerged after publication)

Campaign Asia

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