Rahat Kapur
Dec 7, 2023

Senior leadership reshuffles at Dentsu APAC, as agency re-aligns to new Global Practices structure

EXCLUSIVE: As APAC leaders Cheuk Chiang (Dentsu Creative) and John Riccio (Merkle) exit the company, Campaign speaks with Dentsu APAC CEO Rob Gilby on their departures, their new Global Practices structure, and why agency convergence doesn't have to be a sign of doom and gloom.

Senior leadership reshuffles at Dentsu APAC, as agency re-aligns to new Global Practices structure

Dentsu has undergone a number of key leadership changes across both the global and Asia-Pacific region, Campaign can reveal.

The agency, which announced its new Global Practices structure in October 2023, has been focusing on re-aligning its business model to the new strategy both globally and across APAC over the past 12 months. CEO Rob Gilby tells Campaign that the key focus is now on driving aspects such as agility, delivery excellence, capability expertise and most importantly, client-centricity, across the business. The new structure replaces the traditional 'service lines' previously utilised at Dentsu. 

As part of this realignment, there have also been changes in APAC. John Riccio, Merkle's CEO for APAC—who was promoted in July 2022 after a one year plus stint as Merkle's Australia New Zealand CEO—has exited. Prior to his time at Dentsu, Riccio worked for consultancies in the tech space including EY and PwC across the digital services sector. 

Also departing: Cheuk Chiang, Dentsu's Creative CEO for APAC. Having joined the agency in the end of 2019 as the CEO for Greater North, Chang has been with Dentsu for over four years, being elevated to his current role in July 2022. A veteran of the creative industry, Chiang was previously the chairman of Mutiny from January 2019 until September 2020, and prior to that, the CEO for Asia-Pacific for Omnicom Group for over five-and-a-half years. He has also been the CEO of PHD for APAC, and has had a respected career working for agencies including Leo Burnett and M&C Saatchi Australia in the past.

Exiting Dentsu APAC: John Riccio and Cheuk Chiang.

Campaign understands that neither Riccio nor Chiang's roles will be replaced under the new structure, (as of now). Dentsu has also not yet named any APAC-level Practice leads in line with their global counterparts, though they are anticipated to do so in 2024. China and India however, will retain their Merkle CEO positions as per usual—a decision based on elements including market size, audience and complexity.

As shared in Campaign Asia-Pacific in October, Jean Lin has taken on the role president of Global Practices, which consists of three key pillars: Creative, Media and CXM. She's done so alongside Will Swayne (formerly Dentsu's global client chief) as Global Practice president for media, Pete Stein (previously Merkle's president of Americas) as Dentsu's Global Practice president for CXM, as well as the global president for Merkle worldwide, and Yasuharu Sasaki (Yasu San—Dentsu's former chief creative officer) as global chief creative officer, heading up the Global Creative Practice.

Additionally, Dentsu also introduced two new offerings that run across each Global Pratice: Integrated Solutions—which the agency describes as helping brands "navigate, progress and thrive in a world of change, fast-tracking their transformation in the areas where they can create true differentiation." This is led by Global Practice president, Jeff Greenspoon. The second offering is Business Transformation or BX, led by Global Practice president, Yuichi Toyoda. BX focuses on helping clients strategically analyse and transform their business practices across multi-discplines. 

Over the past 12 months Dentsu has announced a number of changes to key roles in the region in addition to the above, including Harsha Razdan as CEO for Dentsu South Asia in March, Jose Leon as CEO for Dentsu X India in JulyChun Yin Mak as CEO for Dentsu China in August, and Derek Huang to the role of CEO of Merkle China in November.

Globally, the network announced iProspect's Shenda Loughnane as its new global brand president for Dentsu X on Wednesday this week, handing her responsibility for leading the global media agency's clients and growth strategy. Loughnane will report to Will Swayne. Also reporting to Swayne: Hamish Kinniburgh, former global chief consultancy officer of IPG Mediabrands, who was appointed to global chief strategy and consultancy officer, for Media at Dentsu in November this year. 

Speaking of the changes, Gilby shared with Campaign they're neither sudden nor unexpected, and all realignments are in line with an ongoing long-term strategy enacted last year. This strategy arises from an increased focus on driving positive change for clients as the agency adapts to economic, social and political challenges plaguing the marketing and communications industry worldwide. 

When asked if Dentsu's role realignments have also been in part due to its financial performance to-date this year (Dentsu reported a 6% organic revenue decline for Q3 in November, with a 4.7% decline reported  previously for Q2 2023), Gilby tells Campaign this is not the case, and that the strategy being currently deployed was created in 2022, when results were considerably better. 

He does however, acknowledge that like many other agencies and clients in a highly-competitive lanscape, they are working to build back up some of the momentum they've lost in a particularly challenging year.

"We started our journey towards One Dentsu at the beginning of this year and obviously, we started the discussions last year. This year's results are particularly challenged, but last year's results weren't as challenged. So, we started the journey before the results hit. This is not a response to the results."

"But I do think the pressure we've been under—the market headwinds, the challenges we face are a little bit symbolic of the market forces that are in place. Global economic pressures, geopolitical volatility, uncertainty of the market, transformation of the market etc. New technologies are fantastic for the mid-term and future, [but] in the near-term, they provide some disruption. So, navigating all of those market forces is a key thing."

Gilby also says that much like brand organisations, agencies too, have to be willing to evolve their models to keep up with changing client demands—however, creating a unified global entity that moves and behaves the exact same way worldwide all the time, is naturally a challenge.

"I do think the reality is coming out of the pandemic, a lot of CMOs were under a lot of pressure to increase ROI [and] consolidate agencies and that's challenging. Because you have a single global agency; that requires a single perfect consistent global footprint. And let's be honest, that's a harder thing to deliver on than it is to put into a pitch."

He also reiterates that the evolution is not a process of perfection, but progress, and admits that Dentsu is very much in the midst of applying learnings it's garnered over the last year.

"The reality is we've had some real pressures and challenges in some of our markets that led to some of our results. A couple of things we couldn't have anticipated [and] some things we need to get better at. But I think this structure is not so much in response to numbers, it's in response to: How do we get really good at what we do?"

With the convergence of any agency comes the panic of what it signals for the wider industry. However Gilby remains unconvinced by this notion, sharing that for him, an agency at its core is a human business, and therefore, any kind of major change can inevitably instill a sense vulnerability, fear and caution—both inside and outside the organisation.

He also doesn't agree that the speculation and skepticism that currently surrounds the convergence and consolidation of agencies is a signal of doom and gloom for the industry. Instead, he shares that dynamism is a necessary approach for survival, and the more that things converge, the greater room there is for new value adds to emerge. 

"One of the things I love about the Japanese culture is this relentless pursuit of excellence. It's built into the kaizen philosophy (continuous improvement). The pursuit of excellence [and] the iteration of that process, it's what it's all about. So, we're not happy unless our clients are happy and creating value. And some of them weren't because of the market forces or some of it is on us—it doesn't really matter the cause. We need to get better at these things."

He adds a closing phrase that he shares matters to him greatly off-late.

"We've got great clients and great feedback, but I'm not happy until all of our clients are happy and growing. Our success is measured by our clients' success, it's not just [about] deliver the brief."

Shawn Lim has contributed reporting to this story.

Campaign Asia

Related Articles

Just Published

2 days ago

Asia-Pacific Power List 2024: Edward Bell, Cathay ...

Soaring to new heights, Bell has navigated the turbulence of the past year with finesse. With a return to profits and brand awareness scores climbing by 16%, the airline's ascent is undeniable.

2 days ago

Fresh colours, new fonts: Inside Crunchyroll's rebrand

Merging classic with contemporary, the anime streaming service brings the focus on the fun and joy of anime with new visual assets.

2 days ago

Tech On Me: What Disney's leak tells us about ...

This week, we cover the hack on Disney's internal communications, how a loophole in TikTok is putting minors at risk, and how workers suffer during Amazon's Prime Day among other tech headlines in the region.

2 days ago

Arthur Sadoun on defying doubters, Q2 revenue ...

Publicis CEO talks to Campaign at Q2 results.