Standing tall amongst giants: how being nimble helped AnalogFolk stay ahead of the competition in Asia

Harry Llufrio and Chris Ryan

Navigating a region packed with bigger digital and creative shops that have the financial and manpower muscle can be tricky, but AnalogFolk’s approach of staying nimble in everything they do has helped them to survive Asia thus far.

Being nimble has helped the agency, which only opened its Asia office in Hong Kong just two years ago; grow from just two staff to 20, attracting talents from bigger shops like Jocelyn Liipfert Lam, Summer Yang and Harry Llufrio (co-founder) along the way.

The recent addition of Dennys Hess, the former founder and creative director of Neonite Interactive as associate creative director, solidifies AnalogFolk’s reputation as a place where creative minds gather.

For Chris Ryan, managing director and partner of AnalogFolk in Asia, behaving like a startup and encouraging staff to embrace failure are the main reasons why the agency has witness its headcount grow tenfold.

“We like our folk to feel they can try new things without the fear of failure. I think dynamic talent like Dennys find that attractive,” said the Briton in an exclusive interview with The Drum.

“We also have a flat structure. Everyone is on the same team, and we are all trying to achieve the same thing: to 'use digital to make the analog world better'.

“We learn together, we create things together, and we have fun doing it. There is also undoubtedly an attraction to the brands we work with too.”

With talent choosing AnalogFolk as their next port of call in a region, where there is a short supply and the agency on the ascendency, the next challenge for Ryan is to be conservative when choosing a client to take on board

“One challenge early on was resisting the temptation to take every client opportunity that came our way,” said Ryan.

“We are 100% focused on our mission and our beliefs, and to stay true to that, we have partnered only with clients who have similar beliefs.

“Clients want to partner with great talent too, so for global clients, our model also ensures AnalogFolk is consistently strong across all regions in which we operate.”

One of those clients is distilled beverage giant Pernod Ricard, who created ripples in the region when it awarded AnalogFolk its Asia account last year.

Ryan believes that winning the account is proof that AnalogFolk’s agency model has created a level playing field for the battle for clients between independent and bigger shops.

“Don't underestimate how big being small is. Play to your strengths: be smart, be quick on your feet, be collaborative, and don't afraid to think of solutions that might seem impossible,” explained Ryan.

“In the last five years, clients’ needs have evolved somewhat. They are looking for creative agencies that can be credible partners in strategy rather than 'vendors'.

“As a hotbed for innovation and creativity, Asia still has a long way to go, but there is a growing appetite among clients for the kind of partners that can inject energy and fresh thinking into their marketing programs.”

Reflecting on the future of the industry, Ryan observes that the rise of artificial intelligence has seen companies and agencies scramble to be at the forefront of new technology and says AnalogFolk is no different.

However, he also cautioned that brands and shops have to think hard and carefully before using AI.

“AI, AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), we've created solutions in each of these so-called buzz areas,” said Ryan.

"Some of our work is live, and some is under development. But we don't choose to work with these technologies simply for the sake of innovation. Take AI. It is the unavoidable opportunity, but the decision to use it is not a light one.

“AI will ultimately be representing the expertise, intelligence, personality, and tone of the brand, and brands these days are defined by the experiences people have with them.

“There has to be a genuine purpose for using AI, and a clearly defined strategy for the conversations ahead.”

Shawn Lim

Shawn Lim is a reporter at The Drum, covering industry news around the Asia Pacific region with a focus on Singapore and Southeast Asia. Based in Singapore, he has worked across photography, video and online, covering a range of subjects including current affairs and sports.

Before Game of Thrones, he was a huge Breaking Bad fan. He does CrossFit and yoga to stay healthy.

All by Shawn