The changes did not affect other McCann units like Momentum (brand activation, experiential and shopper marketing arm), MRM (direct and digital arm), or McCann Health (specialist healthcare communications arm) in Beijing.
Jesse Lin, CEO of McCann Worldgroup Greater China, would not directly confirm the terminations, but emphasised the network's integration process since 2012.
"If we compare the McCann of today with the agency that existed only a few years back, [we are] now a much more integrated operation...," he said. "This new generation of McCann equips more digitally savvy, holistically capable talents in order to provide integrated solutions for our clients. Perhaps your sources belong to the traditional, silo-thinking few?"
Lin did admit "some areas" of the Beijing operations have "decreased", but did not give more details. As a whole, Lin said McCann's Beijing office has scaled up in the "digital and activation operations" in Q1 this year, which other industry sources contacted by Campaign Asia-Pacific confirm.
According to sources, the changes have something to do with the advertising environment in the capital city. One source, who had her account-servicing contract terminated with an offer of compensation, told Campaign Asia-Pacific that IT and car clients, as well as state-owned enterprises, typically dominate the Beijing agency circuit.
However, it was difficult for the agency to pitch for such new clients due to strict internal procurement policies, which forbade the Beijing office from taking on a client if the Shanghai office was already serving one in the same product category.
Another senior creative who was let go revealed that ME's Beijing office operates separately from other China offices. The person reported being the last one standing in the creative department and was not exactly surprised given the diminishing role of the traditional creative-agency model.
Lin said the group currently has a head count of "approximately 134 people" in Beijing, who sit across the different arms servicing MasterCard, Dragon Airlines, NesCafe, Intel and Wanda Shopping Mall. The anonymous ex-staff members said that a skeletal team of two still coordinates MasterCard and Dragon Airlines at ME since these two are globally aligned accounts.
"Traditional, silo-thinking talents are no longer competitive enough to prevail in today's digital environment," Lin stated, reflecting the larger industry struggle to reduce the silo effect and deliver more integrated attention to client needs.
Other 4A agencies have taken various approaches to solving the riddle. For example, Saatchi & Saatchi merged its shopper-marketing and digital arms with the main business under the same P&L in 2013. This takes away the financial focus on traditional creative operations, should they not be doing well. DDB Group China has focused on elevating its positioning to that of a strategic business partner for its clients, evident in Sinomax allowing DDB to work in tandem with its R&D department to co-create products.