“We’re Not in the Business of Creating More Advertising… We’re The Experience Makers!” SPOTLIGHT Clarence Koh, CEO, Naga DDB Tribal

By The Malketeer

As you step into Naga DDB Tribal ‘s vibrant workspace, the first thing that strikes you is the palpable energy—a creative force field crackling with ideas and infinite possibilities.

This is no ordinary office; it’s a modern-day forge where the boundaries of conventional thinking are melted away, and imagination takes flight.

At the vanguard stands Clarence Koh, a leader whose journey is a compelling saga of passion, resilience, and visionary thinking that has propelled the agency to uncharted territories.

The Heartbeat of Naga DDB Tribal

When Clarence joined Naga DDB Tribal, he was immediately struck by the agency’s warmth and close-knit environment, affectionately known as the ‘Love Culture.’

This culture is not just a superficial label but a deeply ingrained philosophy that influences every aspect of the agency’s operations.

“To do our best work, we must create an environment where creative talents can thrive,” Clarence articulates.

Central to this environment are the Four Freedoms introduced by DDB in 1987: freedom from fear, freedom from chaos, freedom to be, and freedom to fail.

Complementing these values are the 3Cs—Care, Curiosity, and Collaboration—key behaviours that guide the agency’s interactions internally and externally.

“The 3Cs create a vibrant environment where creativity thrives, and everyone feels empowered,” Clarence explains.

“Our culture is built on empathy, collaboration, and fearless innovation. Our mission is to be The Experience Makers, by making  people feel something through the work we develop, in whatever form. It all starts with having a point of difference, by seeing what others can’t and by doing what others won’t.”

Defining Moments and Leadership Style

Clarence’s ascent to leadership has been marked by several pivotal moments, but none more defining than when Naga DDB Tribal was named Agency of the Year at the 2019 Kancil Awards.

“Standing on stage with our team, celebrating our collective achievements, was a powerful reminder of why we do what we do,” he recalls.

This moment crystallised his belief in servant leadership, a style that balances empathy with accountability.

“My journey at Naga DDB Tribal has taught me the importance of resilience, empathy, and strategic foresight,” Clarence says.

“These experiences have shaped my leadership style, focusing on innovation while always putting people first.”

The Unique Edge: Creative Alchemy

What sets Naga DDB Tribal apart from other agencies is its approach to creativity, which Clarence refers to as “Creative Alchemy.”

This process involves bringing together diverse perspectives to generate fresh, innovative ideas and experiences for the audience.

“From composing a Raya song using fried chicken and tech, to producing a full-length documentary about war veterans, we are always finding new ways to tell meaningful brand stories,” Clarence elaborates.

Looking ahead, Clarence aims to continue this trend by embedding brands into arts, music, pop culture, and technology.

“We regularly invite experts from various fields to speak to our team, broadening our horizons beyond the advertising bubble,” he shares.

A Culture of Continuous Learning

Clarence is a firm believer in the adage, “the only way to stay relevant is through continuous learning.”

To this end, Naga DDB Tribal has launched several initiatives to foster a learning culture.

One such initiative is the industry-first generative AI certification programme, aiming to improve efficiency and spark innovation.

“We also have the Naga Adcademy, a comprehensive training programme that includes both internal and external training,” he stresses.

“Our strategic planning team leads ‘The Dragon’s Eye,’ a monthly newsletter dissecting world-class campaigns for insights. These resources are invaluable for our staff, clients, and any marketer hungry for bite-sized content.”

Additionally, the agency’s Book Club and Ad Club provide opportunities for employees to enrich their perspectives beyond the daily grind, fostering social moments and cross-departmental collaboration.

Embracing Collaboration and Cross-Functional Teamwork

At Naga DDB Tribal, collaboration is not just encouraged but embedded into the agency’s DNA.

“The biggest enemy to a collaborative culture is the lack of communication,” Clarence asserts.

To combat this, the agency holds monthly department head meetings to raise issues, spot opportunities, and share experiences.

“These meetings might seem trivial, but they forge meaningful bonds and result in a more connected, productive team,” Clarence explains.

Growing the Agency’s Brand and Expanding Offerings

Clarence’s top priority as CEO is to commit to change and redefine the agency’s approach to storytelling.

“We are not in the business of creating more advertising; we are in the business of solving business problems through creative solutions and memorable brand experiences,” he states.

This philosophy has driven the agency to land new clients such as The Exchange TRX, Tealive, Gentari, Munchy’s, and SP Setia in the last six months alone.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

In an industry characterised by rapid change, staying ahead requires proactive investment in research, continuous monitoring of trends, and strong relationships with tech partners.

“Campaigns like ‘Digi Footbraille‘ showcase our ability to bring innovative ideas to life swiftly,” Clarence says.

By investing in tools, training programmes, and strategic partnerships, Naga DDB Tribal ensures its teams are equipped with the latest knowledge and skills.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Cornerstones of Culture

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are integral to Naga DDB Tribal’s culture and the work it produces.

Initiatives like “She Speaks Power” empower women through workshops, mentorship programmes, and speaker series, fostering an inclusive environment.

“Embracing DEI ensures our campaigns resonate authentically with diverse audiences and drive meaningful impact,” Clarence emphasises.

Advice for Aspiring Leaders

As our conversation draws to a close, Clarence’s parting wisdom to young Malaysians is to stay curious, embrace challenges, and never stop learning.

“Be open to new ideas, foster collaboration, and lead with empathy and integrity,” he reiterates.

“Don’t let fear get in the way—fear is just in your head. Embrace creativity with courage and fight for innovative solutions.”

In a world where conformity and risk-aversion often reign supreme, Clarence Koh and Naga DDB Tribal stand as beacons of bold, unconventional thinking.

A reminder that true creativity knows no bounds and that the greatest rewards lie in daring to forge one’s own path.

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