As a student, David Mayo dreamed of becoming a journalist, but a quirk of fate involving some schoolboy bad behaviour led the aspiring hack into the world of advertising. Mayo couldn’t be further from the newspaper offices of Fleet Street – he’s been living and working in Singapore for fifteen years as an expert in all things Asia Pac. LBB's editor, Gabrielle Lott caught up with David to pick his brains about this exciting, thriving market.
LBB> As President of O&M Asia Pacific you're responsible for 45 companies and 3,000 employees across nine markets within SE Asia. Can you tell us more about your role?
DM> Firstly I need to make sure there’s enough freedom for all the great people that run the different companies. It’s really important that they have enough headroom and they’re not over-managed. We’re not a top-down company. We’re very much bottom-up. Most of the people who run the companies over here are Asian people. You can’t just come over here from the West and start operating, you need to know the region. And that reflects our client split. We’re moving from a 50-50 split between local and international clients to having more local brands. As indigenous brands become more important and start to grow we have to make sure we have the local pulse. So number one is making sure that that happens.
Number two is making sure that we have the best of Ogilvy everywhere. In order to do that every company has the five disciplines in the organization. There’s Ogily & Mather Advertising, Ogilvy One, Ogilvy Action, Ogilvy PR and RedCard. Local is all well and good, but when you walk into an Ogilvy agency it has to feel like Ogilvy. Not just in terms of signage, you’ve got to be able to smell the Ogilvy. You can’t just come in and impose it, it’s got to be done in a style that best suits the market.
That leads me onto part number three. I see myself as the convener. If a client comes to us and says ‘we need a very specific thing done and we need it done across several markets’, my job would be to gather together the best of Ogilvy but then to make it all liquid and make sure everything works seamlessly. The agencies shouldn’t be silo’d. Everything should be liquid and linked.
The fourth and final part of the role is to make sure that ASEAN is represented at the top table. If you look at what ASEAN represents, there are six markets plus Myanmar – I always say plus Myanmar because that’s only just coming out of the shadows now. That block of revenue is second only to China within our region. It’s very large and important, and I need to make sure that it’s represented at the regional level.
The bones of the job are about being there. You can’t do this job from on high; you have to get inside the markets. I always make it my job to work on bits of business with people, work on pitches with people, bring in new business. If people need training I’ll help them find the training that they need, if they need new people we’ll try and find the best.
We try now to never take no for an answer. We brought Graham Fink to China, and that was a very long courtship. But if you can get someone like Graham to China there’s no reason you couldn’t have Gustavo Asman in Indonesia, or Steven Back in Singapore or Gavin Simpson in Malaysia, and they’re all there now. I think we have the best of everything to help these markets to be as good as they possibly can in their local environment. It’s not about cookie cutters, at all.
It’s good fun, it’s about making sure there’s a family. Making sure there’s a culture rather than a cult. It’s about making sure people have the opportunity to do different things. If a 24 year old who has done two or three years with us wants to see what’s out there in the world I can give them one or two years overseas. That’s how you grow and nurture the best.
In the first year I’ve made sure that everyone has a plan, a three-to-five year plan, depending on the market. In the Philippines it’s a 3 year plan, we want to double the agency in three years. In Indonesia it’s a bigger agency, we’re going to double it in five years. We’ve got a very aggressive acquisition plan in place. There’s no system for the role, it’s just about being there. Sometimes there’s a little bit of stick – I’d say about 20 per cent stick 80 per cent carrot is how we’re going to grow.
LBB> David Ogilvy famously said that to survive, an agency must become its own brand - how do you maintain this within the agency, specifically, your region?
DM> Basically it’s marketing. We’ve got a five strong team run by Samantha Burgess-Allen, and we’ve got Natalie Lyall as well. The marketing plan includes corporate communication, Ogilvydo.com and the latest thing this year is our ‘Fuel’ initiative which is about fuelling up for big growth.
We’re very thorough, we’re very well branded internally and externally, we have a very clear marketing plan. We actually do for ourselves what we do for our clients, so we walk the walk. It’s just about having a consistent base to work off. That can be physical things like badging and presence, but also using what’s already in the system. Part of my job is to make sure everything is joined up. Instead of someone in Manilla starting afresh on a new social platform we can take something in from Jakarta and say ‘this is what we did in Jakarta, this is how we started’. It’s a method of thinking and it shows that you’re a family of people rather than a band of dissidents.
We celebrate a lot internally and we’re together regardless of where we sit. We’re lucky in that we have a lot of business that crosses borders and that binds us together. A lot of the language is the same, the process and approach is the same. There is a DNA. You bring a lot of new people into the organization and that can be a bit of a learning curve, there can be growing pains, but the organization needs to get used to new people. There is no right and wrong in Ogilvy and that’s what makes it such a strong brand.
LBB> What is it about O&M Asia that makes it so special?
DM> There’s the physical part of it and there’s the spiritual part of it. There’s a lot of pride within the organization but it’s not arrogance. It’s actually a very humble organization. If you speak to any of our leaders there’s no arrogance about them, they’re hard working and very humble. I wouldn’t say they’re here to please, they’ve all got a point of view and there’s a sharp edge, but they are all professionals.
We’re not number one everywhere but we’re the best in terms of consistency. We take a lot pride in that, we train it a lot. We’ve got a matrix system which helps build competency in the five disciplines that I mentioned and we’ve got office heads who make sure you’ve got that vibrancy and pride at a local level. Above all it’s the individual people who have given years of their life and career to help build Ogilvy. It’s those leaders that I went through a second ago. They are what make the big difference.
LBB> You have a degree from the University of Arts, London in Business, Journalism and Art & Design. Was advertising always your goal? How did you get to be in the position you find yourself in now?
DM> Spades and spades of luck basically. I wanted to be a journalist originally. I did four years at university and I went to work on a Fleet Street Paper. The story goes that I went for a sandwich at lunch time and someone clapped me on the back and said, “I know you, you set my boy’s hair on fire at school”. I looked around, and it could only have been Mr Bannister because I only set one boy’s hair on fire at school, and that was Richard Bannister. I was frogmarched round the corner into Lintas London where I was put in front of the managing director. So I was given a job there. I had to buy myself out of the journalists union that I had worked for four years to get a bloody press card for.
I went into that agency at a time when it was in transition. I can’t remember the year, but I was sitting next to the guy who invented Funny Faces ice cream, the guy who wrote the line ‘fresh as the day the pod went [pop]’ and the guy who wrote the jokes on the ice lolly sticks. People took great pride in making really small things really impressive and that was the whole essence of Lindhurst, it did everything absolutely properly.
How did I get into the position I find myself in today? I never had a plan and I never asked for permission. That is advice I would give to anybody. My personal mantra in life was always join an agency, see the world. If people interest you, if creativity interests you and if travel interests you then Asia’s the place to be and advertising is the place to do it. Ogilvy’s great because it’s the best agency in the fastest growing part of the world. It’s a good time to be where we all are.
LBB> You came to Singapore in 1994, with Bates.... What differences have you see in the last 18 years; strengths, weaknesses?
DM> In the last 18 years the agencies have stopped bullshitting. They’ve got serious about the fact that we’re in business. Advertising agencies are wild and wacky, full of lots of creative stuff going on but really it’s a business. The commercial realities are that we have to make money from what we sell, and what we sell is the ability to build peoples businesses through creativity.
Suddenly we’re being taken a bit more seriously not only by our own networks but by our clients and their networks and there’s a real sense of competition. Look at the people who are leading the agencies in Asia now. Look at how WPP now treats Asia, look at how important Asia is to WPP and also look at how WPP has a share in Asia. I think over the last 18 years it’s the growth in the region and the importance of it to the people who came in and invested first which is probably WPP.
I think the other thing is that the people working in the industry are changing. Now you’ve got a queue of top quality people in London and New York saying ‘right, I’m ready, I want to come’. That’s good because the quality goes up and the cost comes down – and the minute that happens you just become better because you’re more valuable to the clients, you can be more commercial, and creative. We’re exporters now too. I’ve worked on projects for Motorola, Coca-Cola, Johnny Walker and other Diageo brands which we have exported.
When digital introduced itself in 2008 everything changed; digital became a catalyst for the West because you can measure everything. Clients have got a keen sense of what the idea is all about, they understand what creativity is all about. The agency and the client talks the same language. Digital set the whole thing on fire. Whereas here people go straight to execution – there isn’t this big analysis of what the creative idea is all about. It’s a case of ‘here’s the brief, here’s what it looks like’ rather than asking how the idea relates back to the brand. You see some wild, quite random stuff here.
LBB> So does that mean there’s more freedom to express and play?
DM> Yes there is, but the big clients who are paying the big tickets and holding the agencies together are sending their best people out now, they need world-class solutions. These solutions take slightly longer to put together, even though they need to be in the moment, it’s really important to measure data and analytics. I think you can still be experimental on the small brands but you need to be experimental on the bigger brands. That’s really the opportunity. How can the big brands harness the Asia opportunity by getting their agencies to do stuff that gets worldwide recognition?
LBB> What do you perceive as the challenges facing the region in the next five years?
DM> Well, we will kind of go from teenager to responsible young adult. As Asia becomes more important to the companies that we work for, or the brands that we’re trying to build, we have to approach that responsibility with a grown up outlook. We don’t want to become great big institutions, but we do want to be people that others trust to invest their marketing dollars in the most effective way.
So there’s that, but we don’t want to be losing the Asian edge. We mustn’t become a vanilla copy of everywhere else. The world is becoming more homogenous, but we have got to make sure that there is still that Asian texture. We need to manage that very carefully.
I also think as agencies grow, we need to be sure that they don’t just become big blobs and stay focused on the clients. We need to continue to bring in the best people and continue to educate them to the best level. We need to nurture the Asian talent and make sure there is a legacy there. I think that bringing in that Asian talent will allow the Asian personality to come through.
LBB>You've written a book with colleague, Kunai Sinha; ‘Raw: A Book on Persuasive Creativity in Asia’ is a must read. Can you tell us, in your words, what the main themes are that run within it and how you came about writing it?
DM> Well, there is a David Ogilvy expression that reads: “the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife”. I used to sit next to Kai Meng, and we decided that a lot of the work we were trying to sell to clients that was quite creative was being knocked back by junior marketing and brand managers. Kai then decided to put together a magazine, titled ‘Kai’s Choice Cuts’, which showed the choicest bits of creativity that other brands were producing. The idea was that you would give this to an account manager for them to take to their meetings to explain what other people were approving and why.
I then broadened it for myself. I had realised that real consumers on the street were using creativity to sell things and actually survive. We started to take pictures – 30,000 in the end. Kunai and I have been snapping away and we also got Thomas and Steffan Bilhardt. Thomas is a Vietnam War photographer who has shot for Life and Time. He is now revisiting all the people who he previously shot and telling their stories. I got together with his son Steffan, who is based in Indonesia, and we asked if he could take creative pictures of people on his travels around Asia.
Creativity is not just a ‘nice to have’; it is actually a business and a necessity. So, Raw is effectively the boardroom guide to creativity. My by-line for the book is: “It’s the book that the CEO should read before his next meeting with the CMO.”
If you imagine that creativity is what a juice-seller in Bali needs to put food on the table for his family – that is the genesis of Raw.
LBB> What makes Spikes such a special award show and why would you persuade others, from outside Asia to attend?
DM> In terms of Spikes, I think that it is super important. I just think that the industry needs to rally around what it does. I think it’s really good to celebrate success, and what Spikes does is set the benchmark for our product. It sets a common language and objectivity in a very subjective industry. Commercialising creativity, something that is so conceptual and personal is a very difficult thing to do. Spikes puts a kind of objective wrap over it.
The greatest thing that is happening right now is that clients are getting in on it – there are more coming to Spikes this year than ever before. This is good because there is a kind of common language there. It’s bad because there aren’t anymore ‘pointy edges’. I wonder whether in the future the real hardcore creativity goes off to a niche festival in the desert somewhere.
LBB> How important are awards to O&M Asia?
DM> We have got to make sure that we don’t just do creativity for creativity’s sake. The skill of getting creative work out there is taking it to a client and having them contribute to the actual process, making sure that the final work is cleanly fit to the brief.
The awards of today and the awards of the next five years are the ones that celebrate this sort of creativity.
A while ago, if I looked in the Gunn Report and the Effectiveness Awards, we were number one in both. We have been number one in both for many years, but up until about five years ago when Tim Broadbent joined us as Global Effectiveness Director, we weren’t number one for the same clients. We have done a brilliant job at making sure that it is the same clients that appear everywhere. It is bloody difficult to do but we’re getting there. For example, we won 18 pieces of metal this year and 12 came from the work we did for Coke.
LBB> In the last 12 months, has there been a piece of work that has come out of O&M Asia that has really resonated with you and if so, what and why?
DM> I think definitely The Ribbon by Graham Fink. The brutal simplicity is not to be underestimated. If I showed to my mum, she would think, ‘wow that’s clever’. If it captures the imagination of the man on the street and jurors think it’s amazing, that is a beautiful double whammy. That’s how the best pieces of work come together.
It’s actually the same for the Hug Me Machine for Coke. All of this stuff came from the same brief. It’s all brutally simple.
I had never won a Grand Prix at Cannes before this year. We had won a lot of other awards for great brands, but to actually get there with something this simple, and a print campaign in a digital world. Asia’s first Grand Prix comes out of a good old-fashioned piece of print work.
LBB> Do you love what you do and if so, what is it about it that keeps you energised?
DM> Yeah I do. The thing that keeps me going though, is always being the round peg in the square hole. Never becoming an institution, never quite become a school teacher. Be a knowledgeable person, be someone that people come to for help, be somebody that initiates things and doesn’t stop until they’re finished. That’s the stuff you can do in an agency because there are no rules. We know that we have to use creativity to build brands and those brands have a commercial impact.
The other thing I love is that is Ogilvy is such an enormous organisation – there are 8000 people in this region and hundreds of companies. I want us to be the agency that everyone thinks, “I want to be doing what they’re doing”. You’ve just got to be competitive and quite energetic. You need to be there for people, have time for people.
I just love the idea of sitting down and thinking, right what the fuck are we going to do about that? Clients are asking us more and more for things that we don’t do. We are winning projects from deep tech companies that do things such as booking systems for airlines and pitching against companies that are really involved in areas that we shouldn’t be. We are in there because we recognise the value and impact that creativity can have on business. Only agencies can do that. If we give that away, we will have nothing – you can buy ads anywhere.