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5 Minutes With… Michael Maedel

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Chairman, JWT Asia Pacific

5 Minutes With… Michael Maedel

JWT Asia Pacific Chairman, Michael Maedel, is set to retire from the industry he has been a part of ever since he left university. A Vienna boy by nature, his ad life began with a bit of toing-and-froing as he went from Y&R Frankfurt, to Y&R Vienna and then back to the Frankfurt office. He then joined Ted Bates Werbeagentur during its process of Saatchi & Saatchi acquisition – a time he relates to a “trip to hell and back” – before making the move to JWT in 1990. His prolific time at the agency has seen him take the reins of Europe, Middle East and Africa before being tasked with building creativity for the network in Asia Pacific. LBB's Editor, Gabrielle Lott finds out more. 

LBB> What is it about Asia Pacific as a region that makes it so interesting?  

MM> I think Asia at the moment is one of, if not the most, interesting geographical area, globally. Not only do you have all the economic momentum driving it, the people also have an attitude that is, in my opinion, is outstanding. People are really curious and bravely explore new avenues. I think what our business is really looking for is innovations. What we’re trying to figure out is how you translate these mostly technological innovations into marketing and communication. Within the region there is this flexibility and willingness to embrace new avenues. There isn’t that negative approach and you don’t hear ‘we can’t do this’ or ‘it’s difficult’. 

LBB> How does JWT Asia Pacific sit within the region and what does it bring to it?

MM> We’ve brought a lot of growth to the network over the last couple of years. Despite also feeling the effects of the global recession in 2008 and 2009, Asia as a region recovered much more quickly than the rest of the world. The talent mix within the agencies is slightly different from the other global offices because there is not a huge pool of established communication people. You look to other sources and backgrounds and bring different talent into the network. I hope this diversity of talent will be a role model for other regions as well. 

LBB> XM Asia is part of the JWT APAC network. Can you tell us about your relationship with them and how you discovered them?

MM> XM was an existing company and they operated as part of the Cordiant and Bates network – when Cordiant was acquired, XM joined the group. At that time it was an agency that was very strong within Singapore but didn’t operate regionally. Since then XM has become a very important cornerstone of our digital expansion and strategy. 

After the acquisition we expanded XM – first within Malaysia, then Indonesia last year, and most recently in Thailand four months ago. If things go according to plan, we will make another announcement by the end of 2013. 

XM is very much a technology-led company that runs in parallel with what we do internally at JWT. Like any other agency we are building our digital expertise. 

LBB> Where do you, personally, originate from? Also, how long have you been with JWT and how did you get into the industry? 

MM> I originate from Vienna in Austria and got into the industry a long, long time ago – I’ve been in advertising for about forty years! I joined JWT in 1990, though. I was originally responsible for Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Eastern Europe, before taking over Europe, Middle East and Africa in 1996. In 2006 I moved to Singapore. 

LBB> How was it that you came to work in advertising?

MM> I wish I could invent a story in which I always had this vision that communication would be the driving force in marketing, but alas, I studied economics and part of the course was advertising. I had the opportunity straight after graduation to move to Frankfurt and begin work at Y&R. I was curious to leave Austria at the time, so took the job and never regretted my choice. I wouldn’t have been in this business for so long if I had.

After my time in Frankfurt I headed back to Austria to run Y&R, before heading back again to Frankfurt Y&R. I then joined Ted Bates Werbeagentur as CEO, which was like my trip to hell and back because it was around the time that Bates was sold to Saatchi & Saatchi. After that it was to JWT in 1990. 

LBB> I’ve been told that you’re a very keen rally car driver. You’ve won the European Championship in your JaguarE-Type and are planning a weeklong rally in South America later this year.

MM> Driving, racing and destroying cars is, and has been for a long time, one of my hobbies. It started off with rally races and then moved onto circuit racing – always in classic cars. We always feel very pleased with ourselves when we complete these heroic races. Nobody ever watches it and you don’t win anything, but it’s fun. 

LBB> That’s how you unleash yourself outside of JWT?

MM> Yes, you can channel aggression whilst on the racetrack – that’s always helpful! 

LBB> What are your thoughts on attracting and nurturing new talent?

MM> Look, I think the single biggest challenge that we face as an industry is talent. The attraction and retention of talent. Advertising used to be a very desirable career choice but the industry now has to put effort into recruitment. For young, smart, people there are so many different options out there


As an agency it’s time to redefine and reconcile what can be achieved and where we can find a different grain of people, whether it’s supporting school programs or running our own training schemes. We do a lot of training. We’ve stuck to that – even in economically difficult times, the one thing we didn’t touch was talent. WPP was very firm on that and it has paid off. This is an area that I am interested in and I believe that it helps us to avoid fishing in the same pool. If I need someone, I turn to the open market. I don’t turn to my competitors because it’s just the same of the same, especially in Asia. If we can get people from different industries, wherever someone is dealing with creative matters and would be interested to translate that into marketing skills, I see it as worthwhile to pursue and try. 


LBB> What are the plans for JWT Asia Pacific in the next 12 months?

MM> You would have to ask the guys who run the region now. I am really working with them to help with the transition, as I am set to retire soon. We are at a critical pass and I think anything that can help us accelerate is good. You asked about XM, but we also have a brilliant company in China, called Always. It is a modest little field-marketing, activation company with 18,000 promoters. They have a really interesting offering for brands and we are looking at how we can expand and offer Always in all our markets. 

What can we do in the area of shopper marketing? What can we do in the area of event marketing? How can interesting offerings be expanded? How can we find local jewels and scale them out into regional offers? I think that would be my biggest priority. 

LBB> How important are awards to you and your organisation? 

MM> They are important. Whatever people think, they are important. Awards are a currency. Look at the number of clients who attend them – it’s an ever-growing number. What has been a self-serving indulgence in the past has become a real expression of achievement and performance. 

LBB> Has there been any creative work from JWT’s APAC region in the last 12 months that has really resonated with you? 

MM> Every single piece we produce. There is some really really great stuff out of Beijing for Microsoft – I think that’s great. I also really like the Heineken work out of Thailand and the digital work from the Singapore office for the Red Cross application – that had great results in the region. 

LBB> Next year JWT turns 150. Aside from the rebrand, what will Asia Pacific be doing to celebrate?

MM> I don’t think we will have the sort of big, global ‘everyone gets together’ kind of thing because we haven’t fully decided what to do yet. I think the interesting angle is that we are almost as old as the advertising industry.

LBB> And what do you think it is about JWT that has enabled it to sustain itself for so long? 

MM> One of things that I would always say about us is that we are a company with a huge level of integrity. We have integrity in regard to our work, to our clientele and to our people. That has really formed the platform for the growth and longevity of the business. 

I think it’s a curious company. We never have closed down and never would be able to because of all the ‘firsts’ that the agency has developed over the years. It’s quite an impressive list, including the first TV show commercial in 1939. So I think that the ability to innovate is an important ingredient and prerequisite. I think it’s more about how we use the last 150 years as a discussion on how the industry developed as a whole, rather than mistakenly reflect on our past successes nostalgically.  That’s history. Instead let’s think about what it means for our future. 

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Wunderman Thompson APAC, Wed, 28 Aug 2013 16:39:39 GMT