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Ad agency Saatchi storms back into Malaysian ad scene.

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During the last economic slowdown advertising  agency Saatchi & Saatchi shrunk their KL office

down to the bare minimum and amicably let go their staff, providing them ample compensation.

The remaining few who stayed to hold the fort were there purely for Saatchi’s main clients, namely P&G .

Some clients on their roster were given away to outgoing staffers like Creative Director Lillian Tan who continued to handle these clients in her new ad agency Cricket Communicatio ns. Saatchi’s prudent move paid off as they weathered the hard times with a spartan team and when the good times returned they were more than ready to grow again. Moving to their new office in Phileo Damansara with an expanded team and a renewed commitment to the local market, I met up with CEO Matthew Seddon on their plans to score big this year…


New office, new people, new accounts. must be fun! How does it feel?

It feels really very good.  I’ve inherited some talented individuals who are frighteningly hungry for success.  We have moved into smart new offices in Phileo Damansara with plenty of room for our anticipated expansion, and we have probably the cleanest client list in town.

I like the new Toyota tvc done by your agency How did it come about?

I’m glad you like it. Our local team spent a number of months reworking an original script from our office in Puerto Rico.  It’s a wonderfully simple and strong idea which reinforces the core values of the Corolla, whilst appealing to a younger and more aspirational target.  The finished film was directed by Jamie Quah through Planet Films and the local agency team was headed up by creative director Edmund Choe with producer Florence Yeoh and senior creative team Kit Ong and Kelvin Leong.  I believe it is testament to the quality that can be achieved here.

For the sake of our readers, can you outline the story in the commercial?

The ad features a stunning young lady whose car has apparently broken down in the wilderness. She is spotted by two men who are all ready to stop and assist, when the driver suddenly veers away and passes the lady by. When quizzed by his companion he proclaims, “It’s a trap…..have you ever seen a Corolla break down before?” The camera then cuts back to the lady left standing at the side of the road and we notice through clever cinematography that she is in fact an alien. The advertising message is incredibly simple – a Corolla will never break down.

You spent some time in the Indo-China market. How does it feel to work in Malaysia. Especially in the ‘newly-born’ Saatchi office?

I ran our office in Ho Chi Minh City for almost 5 years.  A fascinating country with incredible potential, albeit a fairly difficult business environment at present. I was delighted when the chance to transfer to KL came up.  I spent some time here as a kid growing up in the 1970s and had visited on a number of occasions throughout the 90’s whilst based in Hong Kong and Vietnam, so it wasn’t entirely new. The key draw however was the obvious potential for a rejuvenated Saatchi team.  We’d seen out the recession, maintained a presence courtesy of our bedrock P&G and Toyota clients, and were now in a position to reinvest and build.  I was also excited about the prospect of working with Edmund again; he’s proved his world-class credentials time and again, and had helped us out in Vietnam in the early days whilst he was at Saatchi’s Singapore.

Edmund Choe was also striking in his role at Saatchi Singapore where he had a sterling run winning the annual Singapore Creative Circle Awards’ Golden Gong two years in a row. Now coming back to his home Malaysia and working for the KL office he must be keen to dish some more great stuff. How has it ben so far?

The nice thing about Edmund is aside from his obvious talent he’s one of the most unaffected, down-to-earth creative guys I’ve ever worked with.  He was a key factor behind our Singapore office’s success over the last few years, and amassed more major awards than just about any other creative in Asia in the process.  Now returning to his home country like the prodigal son he’s got people queuing up to come and work with him; such is his reputation.

You guys have just won the Guinness business worldwide and this is hot news. Tell us more….

You don’t miss a trick, do you Ham!?  Yeah, it’s a great win for the network, and particularly for us here in Malaysia. I’ve got a fair bit of beer experience, and have been known to enjoy the odd pint or two, so I am hopeful that we can play our part in more ways than one.


You also had a regional conference recently in KL. And some Saatchi heavyweights were in town….

Twice a year the CEOs and Creative Directors from each of our offices across the region get together to review the previous 6 months and discuss latest worldwide initiatives and goals.  Last October it was the turn of Saatchi KL to host the event – dare I say it a huge success, which is lucky for me since our Worldwide COO – Peter Cullinane – was in town!


How do see the outlook for the Malaysian ad industry this coming year?

I am confident that the Malaysian ad industry will continue to flourish into 2001, and would be surprised if there were a major drop in advertising expenditure.  Having said that, I think there is a huge opportunity in the overall standard of creativity and quality of ideas and that’s where we hope to come in…..


Is Saatchi hungry for new biz or are you guys doing it ‘one big fish at a time’?

We are hungry for growth, and our new business success will be a critical factor.  Our focus however will be making our current client base permanently infatuated through the quality of our ideas.  Ideas which will transform their brands, businesses and reputation.  I anticipate Saatchi will be involved in only two or three large-scale pitches this year.  We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest agency in town, but we are determined to be the best.  I’ll put my money where my mouth is and offer a bottle of champagne to any local agency head whose agency picks up more Gold at the 2001 Kancils – now there’s an offer which should get our industry motivated!


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