Amp’d, Astonishing & Awesome!

We managed to catch up with Sandeep Joseph, CEO and co-founder of Ampersand Advisory, who has just returned from Singapore with a cold, hard slab of metal: Campaign Asia’s Gold for Malaysia Independent Agency of the Year 2023. It’s the fifth year in a row that Ampersand Advisory has won either a Gold or a Silver for this category and Sandeep is noticeably elated.

“Some people take awards for granted. Those who can’t win them diss them or claim they are irrelevant. We work hard for them and we value them. They are not a symbol of pride, but a sign of market effectiveness and industry relevance. When clients are judges, as they are for all the competitions we do well in, it means that our work is best in class and relevant to the business needs of the times.”

Ampersand Advisory, founded in February 2017 has won 68 awards in calendar year 2023 alone.

This includes being ranked #1 at Dragons of Malaysia, #3 at Dragons of Asia.

It includes winning Overall Creative Markie, Overall Media Markie at the MARKies, several metals at the Appies, and 15 metals at the Marketing Excellence Awards.

The year also saw this young company get listed on the prestigious FT Statista High Growth Companies Asia Pacific 2023, an elite list of 500 of Asia’s fastest growing companies across 14 countries like Japan, China, Australia and India.

In a momentous event, in the spiritual home of advertising, Ampersand Advisory was profiled in Campaign UK as one of the top 10 independent agencies of the world, with the magazine distributed in sunny Cannes on the Croisette and the Palais during the ad festival where the world’s great and good ad folk gather.

At the end of 2022, Ampersand Advisory won the media business for an iconic advertiser, Etika. This win includes 18 brands of Etika: Wonda Coffee, Goodday, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and others.

Beyond this, in 2023 Ampersand Advisory also won the media business of UEM Sunrise, creative work for Allianz insurance and much more. According to market surveys, these wins make Ampersand Advisory the largest local media agency in Malaysia. But that’s not the whole story, because this company is not just about media.

It would be fair to say that Ampersand Advisory is breaking new ground and establishing a new paradigm for agencies in Malaysia: it has created a truly integrated offering across media, creative and data that drives, the simple yet all-encompassing tagline that the agency believes in: business results now!

We decided to shoot a bunch of questions at Sandeep, to get a pulse on what Ampersand Advisory is up to, and where it is headed, as it caps off a truly remarkable year for a company that’s not yet 7 years old.

What’s the year been like?

It’s been amazing, perhaps the kind of year that may never happen again.

We scored 68 awards, heaps of new business, low employee attrition, no significant client loss, a Guinness World Record for the Wonda Kopi Tarik Marketing Magazine, #1 rank at two award shows, the Dragons of Malaysia and the MARKies, beat a bunch of bigger media and creative agencies.

The challenge is for us to now repeat this, in 2024, and build on the foundation laid by so many people working so hard in synergy.

We need to prove now that this annus mirabilis is not a ridiculous flash in the proverbial pan, but is the result of the talented people we hire and empower, and a process where we respect each other and work seamlessly together.

What’s the agenda for 2024?

We’re working on managing growth in a sustainable manner. We’re expanding our team: from 70 we think we’re going to grow to 80 people or so. We’re not in the business of size for the sake of it. It’s all about profitable growth, the nature of growth that provides equitable opportunities to young people, with good remuneration and space to grow.

Our reputation and brand awareness is growing, though there is still acres of headroom.

While we’re now regarded as a big player in media, and a growing player in creative services, some of our new services like Public Relations are gaining traction. We’ve beaten very well-established players in this space to gain new business and win awards.

It’s early days, there’s a lot to be done, and we need to continue to grow fast.

2024 is going to be a difficult year for many industries: we need to continue to be an effective and empathetic business partner to our clients in various diverse industries. Post Covid, with 70% of ad budgets being spent on digital, many clients are confused and worried as they don’t see the returns they had projected. We need to guide them through this inflationary new normal, where consumer habits have irrevocably changed in many ways.

One simple course correction we are advocating: don’t put all your eggs in the digital basket. There is plenty of data to suggest that the pendulum has swung too far, and there must be greater investment in those traditional media channels that drive brand salience and preference.

Then there’s AI: game changer is a tame word for what it promises to do in our lives. It’s a whole new world, and we’re keen to explore its furthest frontiers. I tell everyone that AI today is where the internet was in 1994. We’re at the beginning of the greatest revolution imaginable. Work and life will be redefined and morphed, possibilities will be endless.

We’ve proud that our client Calpis is the first to sponsor Malaysia’s first AI radio DJ, Aina. We’ve developed ads using Aina, and we’ve developed cutting edge material for multiple brands using tools like Midjourney, Dall-E and many more. Again, the journey is just beginning.

So the agenda for 2024 is simple:

Grow profitably without compromising quality

Develop our young people and help them grow

Drive the adoption of AI to be ahead of the competition

Continue to strengthen our core products and services, while new ones become more embedded

What are the biggest challenges you are facing?

The challenges we face are the same as other players in our industry.

Talent, which is scarce, and who, if they are any good,  may not want to work in advertising. We need to make it a crazy, sexy, cool profession again. In the argot of today, we need to bring the Rizz back.

To do so, we as an agency need to keep improving internally. We’re building our own customized softwares to track and improve productivity. And we’re empowering the juniors to make decisions in a guided framework. But 2024 will be about a lot of training and high expectations.

I was running 3 offices and 40 people across India at the age of 28. I truly believe we need to give our young people the tools, platforms and opportunities to shine. Then it is up to them to carpe diem.

Helping clients see the bigger picture, beyond the dollars and sen. Too often, pitches are decided by Procurement, and pricing becomes a race to the bottom. There are enough cases of agencies in Malaysia dropping their dignity to win a business, then finding it impossible to adequately staff and run the business they won.

Which inevitably leads to the next cycle of pitches coming along in double quick time. Clients need to re-look at their RFPs, and think about building relationships as opposed to transactional engagements. Penny wise, pound foolish has never been truer than today.

What’s the secret to your team strength?

Our management team is all women. They are extremely talented, extremely hands on, extremely committed, extremely objective-oriented. They are all strong women who lead their disciplines with grace, credibility and expertise. My job is to get out of the way, to provide support, give them the freedom to hire and counsel, point to an occasional direction and put a shoulder to the wheel with them. They inspire me to work harder and better every day.

What are you most proud of?

We were blessed that we started with the backing of Tan Sri Vincent Lee, our visionary Chairman. He is an industry legend, and full of wisdom. Even spending half an hour with him is highly illuminating and inspiring. He has remarkable clarity of thought, and has given me great advice through the years.

I am truly honoured to be his partner. I would never want to let him down. I am proud that he champions us and believes in us. And I am proud of what we have built so far: the past should be prologue, the future is even more exciting.

I am also extremely proud that we could play a role to help our client Etika win Advertiser of the Year and Marketer of the Year 2023 at the recent Marketing Excellence Awards. And we’re also very proud  that we could play a supporting role for our cherished client Coway to win Advertiser of the Year at the Kancils 2023. If our clients are doing well, we’re over the moon.

What’s the metric you want to be measured on?

Ampersand Advisory should always be seen as innovative, agile, quick to respond, wise, trustworthy. Good people to build a lasting relationship with. Advertising is not rocket science: at heart, it is simple, emotional, detailed, data-inspired, magical. If we can continue to deliver on these metrics, the business and awards will continue to roll in.

“I tell everyone that AI today is where the internet was in 1994. We’re at the beginning of the greatest revolution imaginable. Work and life will be re-defined and morphed, possibilities will be endless.”

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The APPIES is an annual event that presents a rare opportunity for creative, media, digital and marketing agencies or brands to present their best campaigns to the industry.

This is the only event where Live Presentations meets Live Judging.

Similar to TED Talks, The APPIES is the chance for great presenters with outstanding work to show it off to some of the industry’s most important industry leaders.

This year’s winners will receive Gold, Silver or Bronze trophies for 21 categories, and 6 special Best of Best categories (red trophies) that require no submissions!

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Submissions Deadline
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APPIES Festival – Judging & Presentations
11th – 12th July 2024 (Malaysia)


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