“You have to get it to make it” was the Cover Story for MARKETING WEEKENDER Issue 328
By THE HAMMER
Sometimes you have to run like the wind to make it. It was the last stretch of the 400 metres relay and there was no turning back. When I got the baton we were in third position and I overtook the second runner almost immediately. But there was still the school runner up ahead.
I paced myself for the final 100 metres burst. In seconds, I beat him to the tape in the fastest race of my life.
I can tell you that Mediabrands’ Bala Pomaleh won South-East Asia Agency Head of the Year at the Campaign Agency of the Year Awards last year. I can also tell you he made the shortlist for the Global Agency Leader for Digital and Media…and it is all true.
I can tell you Mediabrands Malaysia is the leading network with a qualitative score of 50 points in RECMA’s latest qualitative evaluation for Malaysia – the highest score for the network historically in Malaysia. Or that Universal McCann (UM) and Initiative including BPN are in the top two positions, being the only media agencies with a dominant profile in the country.
But you already know that. So instead I will tell you stories you don’t know about him….
Like the fact that Bala won both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays for five consecutive years throughout his secondary school years at Victoria Institution (VI).
And the year when he sang his school song at will to protest the changing of his school name by the authorities.
And if you are wondering what sort of analytical mind makes him an empowering leader, take note that he could recite the entire Dewey decimal system to make any librarian dizzy!
Today, Bala oversees eight agencies in the Mediabrands family and a combined staff of almost 450 which includes Universal McCann (UM), Initiative, BPN, MBCS, Reprise, Ensemble Worldwide, Magna and Orion.
His boyish grins belies the serious challenges of his role in driving a massive communications network made of many talented and colourful people. At a recent gathering with his band of “leaders”, I cheekily commented it can be tricky to tell who is the top boss at first glance. I suspect that is the power of Bala’s unassuming leadership.
A trait now recognised in his award for best agency head in Southeast Asia. While he admits his school days were the golden years of his life, he confesses, “I find my job liberating because going to work is like going to school. There are so many things to learn and amazing people to meet.”
His task is to elevate any of the more than 100 local and global brands in his portfolio. Ensuring they earn their place in the sun and occupy a special place in the hearts of consumers.
Bala has been leading companies for over 15 years, and has 30 years of specialised experience across multiple media, research and out-of-home.
A man of all seasons, his focus has always been on driving business performance and results, while improving internal capabilities.
Touching on Digital Out-Of-Home (DOOH) Media, “If I were a DOOH owner – I will create a network and offer live campaign measurement.”
Talk about real-time accountability!
A huge Star Trek fan, Bala rates his late father who passed on a year ago as his biggest hero. “He was not just a father but also a friend, a mentor and life coach. He had an amazing ability to engage people, something I always admire.”
This passion for people and purpose has helped Bala establish a culture of well-being within Mediabrands family in Malaysia.
Here’s a peek into Bala’s playbook…
Transformation of Capabilities
Broadening services into growth areas such as e-commerce, data consulting, analytics, CRM (Customer relationship management) and CDP (Customer Data Platforms) to help brands resonate better with audiences in the new normal. Mobilising the team to defend every existing business and capitalise on every new opportunity to ensure a healthy business pipeline.
Continuous Improvement and Data for Efficiencies
Continuous progress by dissecting the pitch process and optimising it by standardising the guidelines, analysing training needs and instilling post-mortems to ensure the brand message and client goals are delivered at the highest standard, resulting in an improvement of pitch conversion.
Transformation of Partnerships
Improvements in client servicing was prioritised, to meet the demands of the day, with focused efforts on maintaining the stability of relationships. The new normal in business spawned new products available for COVID-recovery and working closely with the investment and trading teams to craft the best value for clients.
Transformation of Leadership and Talent
Close collaboration with the Executive leadership team, Business Leaders and Talent team bolstered efforts for a reinvention of talent and leadership, with diversity as a key priority.
This includes a strong female leadership team across most agencies, as well as an increased focus on Diversity, Equality & Inclusion efforts, and becoming an employer of choice for PWD (Persons with Disabilities).
Bala strongly believes that keeping employees and clients happy and engaged increases collaboration, creativity and provides meaningful growth both individually and groupwise.
A little trivia that will tickle many readers…. “I love Nasi Lemak Bungkus (I can eat this everyday), my CFO and I personally vet thru all the nasi lemak options to select the best ones when we offer free breakfast in the office!”
His time at VI has taught him many lessons for life: To be a Scholar, Sportsman and Gentleman.
Qualities that have inspired his journey in the pursuit of knowledge, competitiveness and fairplay.
Final word: never call Bala a rockstar, he finds it laughably fake!
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