“A decade of not being boring: 100% locally-owned independent ad agency celebrates major milestone” was first published in MARKETING WEEKENDER Issue 338
A disruptive and challenger agency. This was the shared vision of Fishermen Integrated’s founders when they launched their sampan back in the year 2012.
The team has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Fishermen is currently one of the top independent agencies in Malaysia and Singapore, with two Golden Kancils, a YouTube Malaysia Ad of the Year award, and several gold APPIES among its collection of growing accolades.
How it began
Two of the co-founders, Mark Darren Lee and Adam Miranda, happen to be childhood friends who grew up in the same neighbourhood and went to the same school, same church, and played in the same football field. They worked on many projects and coincidently ended up in the marketing and advertising industry.
“Mark and I would regularly brainstorm business ideas whenever we hung out. One particular idea seemed to stick — a new kind of agency. Our ideal version that produced work differently,” said Miranda, Fishermen’s executive creative director.
Lee, who is known as the Fishermen’s managing director, explained further: “Looking at the landscape back then, there were many ATL, BTL and digital agencies but not many that merged everything together. So Adam and I thought of combining our expertise to form an advertising agency that offers integrated solutions to our clients.”
This duo pitched the idea to their friends, Koh Boon Ki, Joyce Gan, Andrew Tan and Richie Khaw. They were keen on the venture and agreed to come on board as business partners, starting with Koh opening the doors for Fishermen to Nestlé, Gan as the Group Brand Director and Tan as Fishermen’s second executive creative director.
Deciding on the name
Picking a name for their new enterprise proved to be quite a challenge for Lee and Miranda.
“We kept rejecting each other’s ideas. Mark wanted digital agency sounding names, while I wanted creative agency sounding names that also sounded like a band. It was endless rounds of brainstorming until we finally hit the jackpot when Mark suggested ‘Fishermen’. It’s catchy, meaningful, and it works because we use the Internet. And it sounds like a band!” said Miranda.
The fun factor also played a part. “Fishing is a fun activity and we’re all about bringing enjoyable experiences to our clients and colleagues,” said Lee. Miranda chimed in: “But beyond the name, we needed to live by a philosophy. And that philosophy is – Don’t Be Boring!”
The journey so far
With the core team in place, they set sail on their journey, focusing on branded entertainment, social media content and digital solutions. They operated out of shared spaces in the early days before moving to their own premises in 2016.
Along the way, they began building a team in Singapore, led by Miranda. Shortly after, they roped in David Alan Bates as another business partner to lead Fishermen Analytics that focuses on websites, data and SEO optimisation.
Some of their early clients and collaborators include Nestlé, DiGi, and BSN Bank. “These clients and partners gave us our start and we’re very thankful for their belief and trust in us,” said Lee.
Fishermen’s big break arrived when they won their first Golden Kancil in 2015 for BSN Bank’s Kucing Happy. The team went on to win Golden Kancil again in 2019 for their work on BFM 89.9’s #BersatuForMakan. The same campaign resulted in the Grand Prix at the 2020 MDA Awards, alongside winning Digital Impact of the Year.
Other notable achievements include Best Ad for Pizza Hut Malaysia’s “So Light So Tasty” campaign at the 2021 #YouTubeWorksMY Awards. The agency also walked away with the most gold awards at the 2021 APPIES for their Pizza Hut and Nando’s Singapore and Malaysia campaigns.
Tan is proud of the people they have in the team. “I love the level of talent we’ve successfully harnessed over the years. Big fish, small fish, we appreciate all our anak-anak ikan. No matter who they are, we value their opinions, even the most brutal and honest ones,” he said.
Gan added that they apply the same principle towards their clients. “We’re not afraid to say no or to push creative boundaries. This is why we’ve had so many long-term partnerships over the years that allowed us to drive memorable campaigns and more importantly, deliver successful business results,” she said.
Elaine Chiew, senior marketing manager for Nando’s Malaysia said her team has enjoyed a wonderful journey with Fishermen since they started collaborating.
“We have created memorable and award-winning campaigns together such as Nando’s Re-Celebrate 2020 and Nando’s Juicy Secret. However, my best memories with Mark and his team are whenever we have discussions on the future of our client-agency partnership. They have always been open and supportive of our direction as a brand and shown commitment to the partnership. We are excited to create more great work together. And through our work, we hope to bring out the best of Nando’s and Fishermen’s teams.”
Andrew Yeoh, TIME dotCom’s chief marketing officer, had this to say about Fishermen: “As the cliché goes, every client gets the agency they deserve. Thankfully, we’ve gotten more than we bargained for — a creative partner that goes above and beyond with crazy yet culturally grounded ideas that terrify and excite us in equal measure.”
The next 10 years
Fishermen’s achievements in its first decade is one that’s pretty impressive for a locally-owned, independent agency. And it has certainly motivated the team to keep going.
“We’ve been very fortunate in our journey so far. Today we have over 70 Fishermen in Malaysia and Singapore. Our list of clients has also grown bigger — apart from the ones mentioned earlier, we’ve since worked with the likes of Grab, PETRONAS, Maxis, OCBC, AIA, Bayer Group, Eastspring Investments, INTI International University & Colleges, Suntory Group, Sime Darby Plantation, Shake Shack, Asian Food Network, BETADINE, MR.DIY and more,” said Gan.
“Our hope is to continue growing and challenging ourselves, pushing more creative boundaries, and building more lasting partnerships and friendships with new clients and colleagues. And doing it in our humble, unboring way,” said Tan.
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