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Hard Yards and Hard Truths: An Agency Owner’s Guide to Sustaining a Business during the Pandemic

The Influencers 174 Add to collection

FCB Malaysia's Shaun Tay on what he learned from 2021 and what to look forward to in 2022

Hard Yards and Hard Truths: An Agency Owner’s Guide to Sustaining a Business during the Pandemic

As an agency owner, I am and will always have to be an optimist. Why else would one choose to go into this crazy business of advertising?

That said, last year was a real test of fortitude. Going through the repeated lockdowns, the economic hardships, as well as the political instability in Malaysia, I’m incredibly grateful that we not only managed to weather the turmoil, but also sustain a growth momentum that’s been consistent since we bought the agency in 2018. 

I’ve been asked by many what’s the secret to our continued success and every time, I would explain that there are no secrets but rather, decisions made that have been guided by both personal success and failure in equal measure. The short answer is what I’ve realised to be the FUNDAMENTALS of any sustainable business:

1) Putting people before profit. We ensured that even during the worst of times, our people were taken care of, and that job security was not something they had to worry about. One of our proudest achievements was being able to get through the last two years without retrenchments or salary cuts on staff. Upping the frequency of our townhalls and being transparent about our financial status helped galvanise the team towards a singular, common goal.  The results speak for itself – a 40% reduction in staff turnover against the previous year.

2) Speaking of profit, I believe that one can make a decent profit without needing to feast upon the altar of greed. Fostering a culture of collaboration with the right partners can deliver growth opportunities for all involved. We won over twenty pitches this year, with over a quarter of them coming as a result of joint pitches. And that’s not counting the wins coming from referrals provided by our partners, which I look forward to reciprocating in 2022.

3) Let’s talk about product. In this case, which I wasn’t being clear earlier, we have doubled down on what we are good at: Solid strategic solutions and consistently effective creative work. Real meat-and-potatoes stuff. Lacking in innovation may have been the cry from the so-called gurus, but it’s all good I reckon. And so did the award judges. We won 50 awards this year, both regionally and locally, and that’s not counting the 20 shortlists that we are currently on for the upcoming awards. And did I mention the THREE Agency-of-the-Year titles in three different competitions? Let’s just say that when it feels like the world has gone to hell in a handbag and amidst the insanity of trying to triple guess the ever-changing business environment, sometimes a good serving of meat-and-potatoes creativity is exactly what’s needed. Nourishing and refreshingly snake-oil free!

4) Reputation is everything. In the last 4 years since buying over the business, we’ve worked hard to earn a reputation as a challenger agency that excels in working with like-minded clients. Of course, becoming the #1 agency in 2018 and again in 2021 doesn’t hurt either! Clients know who we are and know what we stand for. We will go all out for those who value our contributions, and we will say ‘no’ to those who do not respect what we do. There will always be opportunities to make money, but maintaining a desirable reputation is hard work. Yes, those fat contracts do look tasty but let me tell you what doesn’t: the indentured servitude that follows where the agency gets bullied from pillar to post, shackled by the many zeroes that form that Faustian-like fee. I’ve been there before and it’s a place I care not to revisit. 

5) And finally, in a full circle sort of way, enabling talent growth. This is what gets me excited: to see our people take their abilities to the next level. One positive of the past year was that it had provided the perfect forge to shape talent. Challenges bring out the best in us and whilst not everyone will succeed, cream will always rise to the top. From the uncovering of nascent leadership abilities to the steeling of inner resolve and the strengthening of bonds, this experience has enabled us to forge a team that is tougher, better, and more united in our common culture. So bring on 2022, we are rocked and ready for it!

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FCB Kuala Lumpur, Mon, 31 Jan 2022 11:58:00 GMT