Update (December 8, 2014): Malaysian member of parliament Ong Kian Meng has questioned Tourism Malaysia's decision to award ad dollars to Sumur Mutiara, reports the Malaysian Insider. According to Ong, Sumur Mutiara is the same firm that was awarded contracts to incinerate garbage in Pulau Tioman and Cameron Highlands.
Malaysia-based Marketing Magazine (owned by Sledgehammer Communications) broke the news of the pitch wins on Friday and has followed up with an article today questioning the provenance of two agencies named in the roster: Sumur Mutiara and HBR Media.
The client awarded the account, which is worth RM454 million (US$132 million) for 2015, to nine different agencies—nearly double the five that were appointed in 2011. Of the nine agencies (full list in the table below), Smascom, Sen Media and M&C Saatchi were kept on the account while NagaDDB and Impact Communications lost the ASEAN market and domestic events business, respectively.
|1.||ASEAN Market||DNA COMM Sdn Bhd|
|2.||East Asia market (China, Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan)||Smascom & Design Sdn Bhd|
|3.||North Asia market (Japan, South Korea & East Russia)||HBR Media Asia Sdn Bhd|
|4.||South Asia market (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal &Sri Lanka)||Sen Media Sdn Bhd|
|5.||West Asia market (Gulf countries, Yemen, Iran Levant countries, Egypt, Northern Africa & South Africa)||Penumbra Communications (M) Sdn Bhd|
|6.||Europe and Americas market (USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela & other potentials)||M & C Saatchi (M) Sdn Bhd|
|7.||Oceania market (Australia & New Zealand)||Publicis Communictions (M) Sdn Bhd|
|8.||Domestic (Malaysia)||Sumur Mutiara Sdn Bhd|
|9.||Creative Agency for Global Niche products & events||Filmpoint Sdn Bhd|
Source: Tourism Malaysia
According to Marketing Magazine's research, however, Sumur Media and HBR Media Asia are both odd additions to such a prestigious and large account.
An online search for "Sumur Mutiara" turns up a three options: a construction company in Kuantan, an unidentified outfit in Dataran Prima Selangor and a website that's 'under construction' for a firm that claims to be in film production and advertising.
As for HBR Media, which is meant to handle work in Japan, South Korea and East Russia, Marketing's research has found that it's part of the HBR Group, founded by the late Dato' Haji Hanafi Ramli in 1977, and is a major investor in Tune Hotel Kedah. HBR Media, formerly Khaterie Trading, claims to have officially been in operation since September 2010, its expertise has been mainly in transit advertising and integrated digital solutions around bus media. What connections HBR Media has with North Asia remains unclear.
This is not the first time Tourism Malaysia's agency pitch process has been called into question. In 2011, ISC (Integrated Strategic Communications), known as the agency behind the award-winning 'Malaysia Truly Asia' campaign, withdrew from the pitch claiming 'ambiguity' in the decision-making process. The veteran agency's withdrawal reportedly triggered an investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Committee.
Austen Zecha, founder of ISC, then threatened to sue any party claiming ownership of the 'Malaysia, Truly Asia' tagline. This prompted then Tourism Minster Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen to sue Zecha for defamation. It is unclear how either lawsuit was settled but in September 2011, Zecha stepped down from his role as president and CEO of TBWA-ISC. He then reclaimed ISC and relaunched it as an independent agency.
Ng was also called into question later in 2011 over Tourism Malaysia's expenditure of US$600,000 on Facebook Campaigns. Although Ng stepped down as Tourism Minister in May 2013, she still helms Tourism Malaysia as its chairman. Malaysia's current minister of tourism is Dato' Sri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz.
According the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, 2013-2014, business executives rated Malaysia with a '4' (on a seven-point scale where 1 is "very common" and 7 is "never occurs") for the tendency of Malaysia's government officials to favour well-connected companies and individuals when deciding on policies and contracts. The same report rated the allocation of public funds to companies, individuals and groups due to corruption in Malaysia a score of 4.2.