After 21 years in the region, TBWA's Asia president, Philip Brett, will take on a London-based role as global COO. The network has chosen Ian Pearman, currently CEO of Omnicom sister agency AMVBBDO in London, to take over as Asia president, effective 1 August.
Brett will remain in Singapore "until Autumn" to ensure a smooth transition, according to the agency. Pearman will lead all countries in Asia excluding Oceana, which continues to be led by Paul Bradbury.
As COO, Brett’s responsibility will be to "operationalise the company’s numerous product and platform initiatives across the globe" by implementing best practices and innovation, the agency said in a release.
“Many companies have great ideas of how to innovate, but lack the focus and energy to make them business realities," said Troy Ruhanen, president and CEO of TBWA Worldwide. "The future of our business is around product and platforms, and so we need a clear focus on operationalising transformative ideas. Phil has the business acumen to both identify the best ideas across the collective and bring them to life.”
Pearman joined AMVBBDO in 1996 as a graduate trainee, rising to CEO of the highly acclaimed agency in 2010.
Brett came to Singapore in 1996 and set about establishing Tequila in 10 markets across the region. In 2003, he was made regional MD of the below-the-line agency. In 2009, after Tequila was acquired by Omnicom and integrated with TBWA, Brett was put in charge of South and Southeast Asia. He was named TBWA Asia president in 2015, when longtime Asia head Keith Smith reduced his Asia role (Smith announced his retirement last week). In 2016, Brett was named Asia-Pacific Creative Agency Head of the Year at Campaign Asia-Pacific's Agency of the Year Awards.
Campaign Asia-Pacific asked Brett about his experiences in Asia and his new role, and exchanged emails with Pearman about his plans coming in. Their responses appear below.
Ian Pearman on...
...How well he knows Asia
Inevitably, my business experience is predominantly garnered from Europe and the US, reflecting the footprint of the brands we ran from London. But my relative ignorance of Asian markets can be a real strength, not a weakness. Peter Mead, one of the founders of AMV, speaks powerfully about the "objectivity of ignorance" and the valuable period when your judgement is is unimpaired by over-familiarity, and I'm a great believer in that. In the early months my mind and my ears will be open, not my mouth. I'm not here to teach, I'm here to learn and then help based on what I hear.
...His near-term priorities
The priority will be working out how I can make the greatest impact as quickly as possible. Phil and Troy have created an incredible sense of momentum within the Asia collective, and to ensure that continues I will be spending a lot of time listening to the brilliant people in our markets about what they need, and how we can help them serve their clients even better.
We won't confuse activity with progress, so whatever initiatives we create must be designed to make a real difference on the ground. The issue of gender diversity is a case in point. The world doesn't need any more platitudes around the issue so we must be the collective who pioneers policies that really focus on the empirically proven barriers to advancement.
One of the achievements I am proudest of from my time in London is the creation of half-time creative contracts for returning parents that create a better "on ramp" back into the industry after maternity/paternity leave, because this is the stage when many women leave the business altogether because of the incompatibility of full-time contracts with childcare responsibilities. We need to stop fighting between ourselves for the female creative talent already within the business and find better ways to re-engage with the amazing female talents who feel locked outside the industry. When I look across the region, the network has made significant progress already with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Korea and Greater China and Hong Kong all having significant senior female leadership in place across different disciplines, and we need to turbo-charge that progress.
...His long-term ambitions for Asia
I want Asia to be a key driver of innovation for the wider network. I don't believe that any market has to follow a linear path of development with milestones passed in a certain order; markets can leapfrog whole generations of consumer culture and technology, and it's my job to help our agencies to "hack" our own growth, disrupting what might be regarded as the traditional, incremental path, and getting onto a different curve altogether. That's a mindset that requires experimentation, but increasingly, strategy is a portfolio of experiments. The openness, the ambition and the variety across our agencies in Asia makes them a brilliant laboratory for all kinds of innovation.
Philip Brett on..
...the biggest wins
Being awarded Singapore Airlines [in 2007] was a defining moment personally and a defining moment for TBWA. I wouldn't have said we were a favourite in that race. I saw an agency grow in confidence and gravitas instantly. I've never seen such a spontaneous reaction from 250 people, and I think that moment when we were told would be a personal high. The other one was launching 'Here for good' for Standard-Chartered [in 2009]. It's very, very rare for agencies in our part of the world to be given the ability to position a company on a global stage. That's usually the privilege of a western geography. We were massively honoured. And then to top that off, picking up Singapore Tourism Board in 2015, was an affirmation of everything we'd done.
...when Tequila joined TBWA
The integration was never forced. It was a very natural thing that came from great chemistry between people, and it came from a sense of placing strategy before creative. I think when you place the strategy first, it finds room for all disciplines. I think if you lead with the idea that a TV commercial will be produced, or a great piece of print, as it was in the old times, I think you'll always have a problem. But what Tequila and TBWA always had was that ability to place the strategy first. And that became the foundation stone for what we did around the network. That integration became something of a secret sauce.
It would be wrong for me not to name-check Keith, because he had an incredibly open mind as a person who, you know, let's call him a veteran. He didn't hesitate about working with BTL, data-driven people—and it wasn't sexy in those days. And I know how different Keith was, because when we [Tequila] had to work with other agency networks, you know, they just didn't get it.
...How the region has changed
The thing that I think is absolutely fantastic that really has changed in the region, is that when I came here there were sort of rockstar creatives that ruled the roost. And they all tended to be white, male, Western people. I think what you're seeing right now is incredibly diverse creative leadership across the region, and it is world-class. ... Another thing that has changed is the client landscape. Clients are 1000 percet better at what they do than when I first came here. And when you have good clients, agencies do a better job.
People ask me, why have you been here for 21 years? And the honest answer is, why would I want to go anywhere else? Things here move fast. Things get done fast. You genuinely have influence. You get rapid feedback on things. And anything is possible. And you have a panoply of markets in different stages of development, and different cultural dimensions. It's a chocolate box of advertising and every single one of them is fantastic. ... I will be spending a fair amount of time in Asia. I'm not really leaving, Im just moving, which makes it an awful lot easier for an emotional person like me.
...His new job
We have some very interesting businesses around the network that are doing things in their markets that we want to pick up and move around. If we start something amazing in Japan, we want that to work in Brazil. If we have something that's fantastic In France, we want it in China. So that's really what I'm going to be focusing on. And having worked across so many markets for so long, that makes it perhaps a bit easier for me to do.
...Advice for Pearman
Enjoy every minute. It's absolutely the best job in the world....The advice to anybody coming into this part of the world is probably to listen. That's the key to success. And maintain an open mind, because what I have learnt is the ways that the cultures in this region digest and create advertising is very, very different market by market. ... The hardest thing for me would be to leave with a question mark over a successor. And the thing that makes it easy for me now, is that I'm absolutely sure that he's the right guy for the job.
Brett accepting his award for creative-agency head of the year in December.