COVID-19 may not have been the catalyst for rolling Dentsu Aegis Network’s non-Japanese creative shops into Dentsumcgarrybowen, but it nonetheless helped push the new entity's formation forward.
“We became closer, faster,” the new agency’s global co-president, Merlee Jayme, tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. She remembers a time late last year as Dentsumcgarrybowen was still being conceived, when everyone was “running after one another” across time zones and waiting for planes to land. But once work from home began, communication became a lot easier, allowing her to develop a close rapport with her co-president counterpart, Jon Dupuis, based in New York.
“It’s all about collaboration,” she says. “If it’s [combining] West and East, it’s not going to be easy, but suddenly [we were] talking like old friends.”
DAN has framed the new agency as bringing together the best of Mcgarrybowen’s creative power in the West and Dentsu’s innovation in the East. It was a carefully crafted strategic decision months in the making, long before COVID-19’s impact, and it was carried out in the name of client-centricity, DAN creative CEO Jean Lin tells Campaign.
“We have gone forward with the new agency as we believe the strengths of Dentsu and Mcgarrybowen will position us to support our clients better,” she says. “What we have seen as a result of COVID-19 is that trust has never been more important.”
As Jayme puts it, “There’s no better time really to prove to your clients that you’re the best partner than during times like these. It’s like friendship. You find your true friends during crises like these, so we show capabilities or expertise or simply hold hands so we can get through this.”
Changes across Asia
Opting for change in the middle of a global crisis is yet another test for DAN, whice named a new global CEO last month after a difficult year, particularly here in Asia-Pacific. With this change, DAN will now be introducing the Mcgarrybowen brand to many new APAC markets by the end of this month, including Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Taiwan, along with Hong Kong and China, where Mcgarrybowen already had a presence. For other APAC markets, the timing to introduce the new agency branding will vary.
While most Dentsu creative agencies across Asia, outside of Japan, are being rolled into the new Dentsumcgarrybowen, some like Dentsu One, Dentsu Impact and Dentsu Top will retain their brands and continue to deliver local and regional creative services. Isobar too, remains a separate entity, but intends to work closely with other DAN creative agencies.
Changes in China
With a multitude of Dentsu agency brands across Asia, it’s easy to see the logic in bringing more assets together under one name, where possible. The changes in China provide a good example of this. There, the new entity will combine Mcgarrybowen China’s Shanghai office with Beijing Dentsu Group’s three main offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, bringing together more than 700 creative staff across those hubs.
Keita Ishikawa, who was CEO of Beijing Dentsu Group, has been chosen to lead Dentsumcgarrybowen China, reporting to both DAN China CEO Michelle Lau and Dentsumcgarrybowen global co-presidents Jayme and Dupuis. Simone Tam, who was McGarrybowen’s Greater China CEO will continue as CEO of Dentsumcgarrybowen’s Shanghai and Hong Kong offices and also takes on the creative co-chair role for Hong Kong.
As co-Chair of DAN’s creative line of business in China, Ishikawa also takes responsibility for full service agency Dentsu Top (Shanghai, Guangzhou), along with Dentsu One (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan) and Dentsu PR. Isobar China CEO Tammy Sheu becomes the other co-chair of DAN creative, responsible for Isobar Group, including VeryStar.
While these changes bring the Chinese operations in line with DAN’s global structure, Lin says the more important starting point is that it creates one team.
“We want to be non-hierarchical in our working style," she says. "This has been a chance to look at how we work and operate and the key areas we’ve considered is how we put that working style into practice. Dentsumcgarrybowen is our global driver for brand transformation, and Isobar is our global driver to experience transformation. Our focus is that by working together, [they] drive a world-class global creative and experience offering, with technology and innovation at the core.”
Ishikawa tells Campaign that with such rapid change in China, Isobar and Dentsumcgarrybowen should be more than a partnership and that he considers this to be a good opportunity to reinvent the creative supply chain.
“We’re at an inflection point for digital transformation in China,” Sheu says, noting the rise in direct-to-consumer brands. “The traditional business planning cycle has become shorter and marketers are required to adapt to consumers' behaviour quickly. A consumer-centric model will make us more resilient and agile for future.”
Diversity and cohesion
But bringing different entities closer together for clients in one market will likely be easier than bringing together agencies with vastly different cultures and expertise globally, as is the case with Dentsu and McGarrybowen.
In the past, former DAN Creative CEO Dick van Motman spoke of the network’s differentiation between shops as a key strength. Is forming Dentsumcgarrybowen indicative of a new direction?
Yes and no, according to Lin and Jayme.
“This is an agency that is formed in the belief of bringing the best from the East and the West together, with curiosity, respect, and trust,” Lin says. “To me, diversity breeds innovation, and is about respect for culture and inclusiveness of talents, and that will work even better with a cohesive belief system as one team.”
“We will continue to have diversity as a strength—it’s a natural,” Jayme adds, pointing to the various strengths of shops across Asia, from Thailand’s creative surprises to Taiwan’s branded storytelling to India and China’s application of innovations to market. “This is an important step for Dentsu Aegis Network actually," she adds. "Our ambition is to create a world-class creative and experience offering and our number one priority is to grow clients’ businesses. So if it’s through diversity or partnership or bringing together of data and tech capabilities, if we put them all together we’ll be able to maximise our strengths on a global scale.”
Scaling up to new challenges
For Jayme, it’s the increase in scale that will be the biggest change for the new agency and her role in it as global co-president. A creative by nature, she has spent the better part of her career building an award-winning agency with her name on it, at Dentsu Jayme Syfu in Manila. This new role involves some letting go of the past, fast growth and combining of cultures, much like when Dentsu acquired her agency in 2016 and it tripled in size, she says.
Jayme will now move to Singapore later this year, likely by September but depending on the easing of travel rules. In preparation, Dentsu Jayme Syfu has already promoted Louie Sotto, whom Jayme describes as her creative “right hand” and whose creative vision she trusts fully. However, she will still retain a handle on the Philippines business, and she has kept her beloved title of ‘Chairmom’—although it now applies to Dentsu’s creative line of business for APAC.
“I really love it because ['Chairmom' goes] beyond the title," Jayme says. "It reminds me of two things." On the one hand it reflects how Jayme tries to bring to her leadership many good qualities of strong mothers, like trust, honesty, discipline and multitasking. Plus, “it represents how a mom like me can push to achieve dreams,” Jayme says, noting many women have confided to her over the years how they gave up their creative careers to focus on motherhood. “It reminds me you can do both. I want to pave the way for women for that.”