BY THE HAMMER
The owners of The Shout Group and newly rebranded FCB SHOUT speak about why they had bought out FCB in Malaysia, the road from challengers to champions of Malaysian advertising and what lies ahead. Face to Face with Shaun Tay and Ong Shi-Ping, I have paraphrased the conversation into a first person verbatim narrative…..
As usual, we are writing this on the sprint! It’s May madness at the moment – with work buzzing around, meeting reminders popping up, new biz calls ringing and non-stop ‘Can I have a minute?’ requests!
It’s also awards season as well (always seems to be with us!) …which means sometime tonight, we gotta make time to dutifully dole out the details to a dozen devilishly clever campaign submissions.
The call comes from Ham wanting to do a story and everything is wanted….now.
But it’s all good coz that’s what The Shout Group and FCB SHOUT is set up to do…create amazing stories that get people talking. Hopefully about us.
FAILURE IS AN INCREDIBLY INSPIRING TOOL.
It was in the closing months of 2016 that I think the offer to buy out the agency was first made to us. Understandably so give that the agency wasn’t doing well financially. ALL of the agency’s big legacy clients had exited and were in the process of downsizing the agency. It wasn’t a great time.
This wasn’t where envisioned our careers…especially since we had both left top agencies (Shaun – TBWA KL & SP – Cheil HK) the year before (Shaun joined FCB in mid 2015 and SP joined in Jan 2016).
Up until then, we’ve always thought that we were bloody good at what we did. Turns out, reality bites…hard!
At that point, Shaun had never considered owning an agency, but Shi-Ping did and in fact dabbled with the thought of starting his own sometime back. Thankfully he got distracted otherwise this would be a very different story!
We both knew was that it would require massive amounts of focus and commitment to drag the agency out from the doldrums. And sweat, bucket loads of sweat as we weren’t VC funded nor had a family trust fund we could tap into. We were more workhorse than unicorn. All we had was what we had.
On the plus side was WHO WE HAD. Whilst we had no financial investors, we were fortunate to have a core group of leaders that invested themselves in helping us turn the agency around.
LONGSHOTS, HARD YARDS & HEAVY METALS
While that may seem like a daunting and unfavourable situation to many, we actually saw it as huge opportunity to own an amazing story, that might someday become part of Malaysian advertising lore.
The early years were just mad. We had put ourselves in a very unfamiliar place when we took ownership of the agency.
Even though we decided to keep the FCB name, it felt like we had become a start-up company overnight, where everything had to be rebuilt from the ground up. BUT buying out an agency is so different from starting one from scratch. You don’t have the time to carefully plan your business and your culture, no way.
You are a going concern that’s quickly going sideways unless those financials are fixed! And then there was all that legacy stuff to deal with…both good and bad!
Once we finally got things squared away, it was an amazing opportunity to make over the agency in our own image. From the get-go we saw ourselves as the longshots, the underdogs, the challengers.
This notion of being a Challenger Agency really took root during a leadership workshop we organised. It was during this session (organised by the awesome 95%) that we defined our culture as fittingly… ‘No Plan B’. It was actually Syah (Syahriza Badron who was then Head of Business Development and now General Manager) that proposed it and it just felt like the perfect expression of what we wanted the agency and our people to believe in: To go full-on, not hold back and play without fear. Like we said, our leaders created the foundations for success…
It was also our (SP and mine) statement of intent to the industry. It was show hand time: we were all-in, and we weren’t going anywhere.
NO FLUKE SHOTS HERE!
The success we now enjoy did not happen by chance, but rather by design. While most other agencies are run only by the business head, in true collaboration The Shout Group is spearheaded by both of us – business and creativity converging as an equal partnership of bold and on the odd occasion, boozy brilliance.
We had always seen ourselves as a creative agency first, and our belief in staying true to the fundamentals of strategy and creativity hasn’t changed since day one. We like to think that it’s this single-minded honing of both crafts that attracts like-minded challenger clients looking for a long-term partner to reshape their brands. The opportunity to create work that’s loved is something that we and our team live for.
And we’ve been supremely blessed in that regard. RHB Bank took a punt on us early on and we’ve been so fortunate to go from strength to strength with them with work that’s both TIMELESS…
And also incredibly TIMELY.
One of our tenets is to go beyond just launching ‘another one-off ad campaign’. Instead, our work is always designed to build brands for the long term. Our commodity as a creative agency is and will always be the stories we tell and the ideas we have rather than the next gimmick we can pull out from our sleeves. The above exemplifies that: Our long-standing RHB challenger series campaign. By consistently highlighting the progress stories that exist within the fabric of the Malaysian society, the work has helped turn RHB from being seen as a dated bank to a new-generation challenger bank that stands with the people.
Darlie has been another client that saw our potential. The work that we are doing now is another example of our belief in strong fundamentals and how we’re able to develop big idea platforms that enable consistent brand building. Its brand work has won us much admiration from around the region, to a point where we appointed by Darlie Asia-Pacific to help them craft a regional brand strategy.
More recently, we’ve had the great fortunate to win over major brands like Marigold, Resorts World Genting, Pepsi Co, Mamee, Sun Life, Berjaya Sompo, Twinning’s, PERKESO, Spritzer and more recently McCain’s Asia Pacific, TnG and Domino’s
Great brands to work on because the work is different and stretches us creatively. That’s the fun bit about working in advertising…the diversity of the work. The work were doing for Domino’s and Spritzer reflect this.
Speaking of fun, one of our fondest and earlier wins was Desaru Coast . We had pitched and won the brand just after buyout was completed. It was big boost to our morale – we setup a ‘pop-up’ agency at Desaru Coast which was a massively sought after posting! It was also a good addition to our early credentials.
On the subject of talent, we have been building and securing the future of our agency ever since we bought it by handpicking generational talents who share the same vision as us to take on leadership roles. Talents like Syah (General Manager), Jamie Tan (Head of Operations) and James Voon (Associate Creative Director) who have been with us since the start of this crazy ride and grafting on the likes of Tjer (Head of Creative), Jonathan Chan (Associate Creative Director) and most recently, Suah Boon Chuan (Associate Creative Director) to form our current leadership team.
Jamie is the backbone of our agency. She runs the company like a well-oiled machine. The fact that he’s risen from HR Manager to running operations AND finance is a testament to her amazing character eg. on her off days…she likes to attend production shoots!
Our Associate Creative Directors: James, Jonathan and Boon form the nucleus of our creative strength. They represent our ‘can-do’ attitude and are always the front & centre on the work that we do. We’re currently working on a top-secret piece of Ad-tech that will enable us to clone them or failing that introduce them to brighter colour palettes.
Sound succession planning unlocks to sustainable, long-term growth some say. That’s why we’ve given Tjer, Head of Creative and Syah, General Manager the keys to FCB SHOUT’s future. We had always envisioned that our next gen leadership to not be carbon copies of us but rather offer their own unique interpretation of what the future of Malaysian creativity would be like.
Tjer joined us as a Creative Group Head in late 2018 and that as the poet said ‘has made all the difference.’ Beyond just being the brains behind the ideas, Tjer is a talented wordsmith and a natural leader, in short…he makes our work and our people better.
With grit and steely determination, Syah rose through the ranks of FCB SHOUT to become our primary business lead and the head of brand management teams. And at every climb of the ladder, she had impressed us. Syah embodies our ambition.
We get a lot of credit for founding the agency but each of them are essential elements in its DNA. And when we finally decide its time to shift over to the backseat, it will be them who will lead and continue to inspire the people of The Shout Group to always, always go full-on and to play without fear.
This is why we’ve chosen now to rebrand. We could have done it earlier, right at the start as some may have but to SP and myself, having our names on the door was less important than finding the right people that would do that name justice.
The Shout Group is bigger than just the two of us. Everyone in the agency represents the collective representation of a singular ambition: to have a proud Malaysian owned agency with a voice that’s so loud, its heard beyond our borders! There’s a much larger stage to shout on and we’re going to be on the centre of it!
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