Sing Praise: The top 10 creative agencies in Singapore (part 1)

An image from JWT's 'Speaking Like a Local' campaign for Inlingua

Who are the most successful agencies in Singapore? In The Drum magazine's latest Creative Cities supplement, we profiled the city state's 10 most awarded shops as ranked by the most recent Big Won report. Part Two has also been published.

Ogilvy & Mather

While Ogilvy & Mather boasts a history and scale that few in Singapore are able to match, looking at its achievement from a different perspective helps to add weight to the success of the office.

As Chris Riley, group chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Singapore, explains: “Ogilvy in Singapore has done a great job of maximizing the potential created by its environment. Just like the country, it punches far above its weight as a leading creative beacon and consistently ranks in the top 10 offices within the global Ogilvy network.”

Most recently, the Singapore office claimed three Gold Lions and two Silver at Cannes for its work for Alliance Française, which took an amusing look at French cinema in an attempt to prove the French take more risk in their film-making than Hollywood does with its more commercial stance.

The Ogilvy name is a powerful one in Singapore, and recognized even by those not in the industry. However, with power comes responsibility, and this is a weight the agency is willing to bear, as shown by its recent training collaboration with the Singapore government.

“Ogilvy has been widely dubbed a ‘teaching hospital’, and rightfully so,” adds Riley. “We make every effort to nurture the creative talent that comes through our doors, and one of the

key ways in which we do this is by granting them exposure – to different styles of thinking, a wide range of industries and client needs, various operating environments and so on.”

Training will be a key focus for the agency this year, he says, but alongside that will be an ongoing effort to create a more integrated, unified agency – a challenge shared by many others currently riding a journey of transformation.

A still from 'Pitching French films to Hollywood'

Saatchi & Saatchi

Located in the Downtown Core, Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore is one of 130 global branches that have grown from the group’s original shop, which started out in London nearly 50 years ago. Part of the Publicis Groupe and led by Lou Dela Pena, the agency aims to avoid the ‘sameness’ of communication – using the same data, leading to work that’s too bland, beige and familiar.

“We’re looking for clients who are turned on by a fresh point of view, a new angle into a problem, a little deviance when it comes to how we approach things – clients who want to shake their heads in amazement rather than nod in recognition,” says general manager Rosalind Lee.

To do this, the agency exposes its employees to as much new stimulus as possible, which could be anything from BDSM workshops to training on design thinking. Saatchi & Saatchi’s other modus operandi is ‘starting at the fourth’ and never accepting the first, second or third idea that anyone comes up with.

This approach appears to be paying off, winning the agency two D&AD Pencils so far this year, snapping up a Graphite Pencil for Bird Life International’s ‘Burnt Campaign’ and a Wood Pencil for Lexus IS’s ‘Eyes Will Follow’.

Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore recently worked on a socially inspired campaign for Agoda to put the spotlight on Indonesian millennial travelers. The agency encouraged young people to share videos and images of their travel experiences, many of which were edited directly into the final ads. The campaign generated more than 2,500 entries from the target audience, generating 1.4m views.

Not one to rest on its laurels, the agency is still mixing it up to find new ways of working. “We’re redesigning the space so that everyone sits in the creative department. One table, one conversation, one team – one hell of a lot of noise,” Lee says.

'Burnt' as part of Bird Life International's 'Forests of Hope' programme

MullenLowe

“We’re Asia’s global agency,” says MullenLowe Singapore chief executive officer Shannon Cullum.

MullenLowe isn’t shy about the emphasis it has put on its Asia business, or the importance the region has for its global clients such as Unilever. At the core of this is diversity.

“With an incredibly diverse team representing 28 nationalities and speaking 23 languages, we’re one of Unilever’s leading global agencies of record and produce award-winning work from Singapore for more than 100 countries,” explains Cullum.

With high-growth markets such as India, Indonesia and the Philippines nearby, Singapore has become a hub for networks such as MullenLowe and acts as a springboard for creative ideas around the region.

One example of this is the agency’s award-winning work for Lifebuoy in India, where it created an emotional call to expectant mothers to remember the importance of washing hands in order to prevent death from disease. Cullum believes the success of this campaign lay in its purpose-driven approach, which allowed the sentiment to travel across cultures and geographies. As for the future, the agency recently acquired a new agency and has adapted its model to a ‘hyperbundled’ approach.

“Clients face increasing complexity in managing their brands and are looking to us to offer more both strategically and creatively. In July we completed an important acquisition of leading PR agency Salt to enhance our capabilities in this area, and in the coming months we’ll be announcing more changes focused on building a stronger hyperbundle in Singapore and across the region,” says Cullum.

Mullenlowe worked with PETA on its 'Animals for the Ethical Treatment of People' campaign

Grey

With its 100-year anniversary coming up, WPP-owned Grey Group operates under the banner ‘Famously Effective since 1917’. Its Singapore office works with the likes of Qatar Airways, Duracell and The British Council and is led by Subbaraju Alluri, the area director and chief executive officer for Grey Group in Singapore and Thailand. With a multitude of specialists under one roof, Grey Singapore delivers integrated campaigns across marketing disciplines, including advertising, digital, shopper and experiential.

To lead its creative department, the agency recently hired chief creative officer Tim Cheng from DDB China, where he held the same role for four years. Cheng believes that fostering creativity is about focusing on the agency’s people. “Every creative person is an individual who finds inspiration in different ways and needs to be enabled in different ways,” he says. “There isn’t a one-size-fits- all method to drive creativity, but sometimes, when very different creative minds come together, magic happens.”

Grey Singapore claims to be “dedicated to delivering big ideas that accelerate brand potential and recently unveiled a new brand campaign for Hotels.com, comprised of a series of humorous short films around the theme of saving money and illustrating relatable travel episodes. “We have a flat creative structure here,” says Cheng. “Everyone from the interns to the chief executive all have an equal chance to contribute to an idea, and every day I am delightfully challenged and inspired by the team’s fresh points of view and unexpected creative solutions.”

A still from the Hotels.com series

J Walter Thompson

With more than 100 people offering a range of creative, digital and integrated campaign experience under its roof, JWT Singapore aims to create ‘idea-led value’ as the region’s ad industry grows.

“Singapore is now the major regional hub for multinational companies in Asia, and many global companies have placed their regional, or even global, brand leaders here to oversee and drive in the region. J Walter Thompson Singapore reflects the country’s role as a marketing hub. In addition to our domestic accounts, we hold many regional accounts and key global accounts, including Lux and Friso,” says general manager Guarav Lalwani.

Constantly looking to explore new creative formats, the Singapore agency last year unleashed its millennial workers to create JWT25 – a rapid ‘snackable’ content unit powered by producers, editors and filmmakers.

“We have made major headway this year in breaking down silos that have always existed in agencies and getting people with diverse backgrounds to work together more closely. So now engagement planners and data scientists work closely with our creative directors,” says Lalwani.

“Today, creativity isn’t just limited to advertising or content, it’s going beyond media and can be expressed through product innovations or new uses for existing technologies.”

In response to the challenge that parents believe learning is best done in a classroom, J Walter Thompson Singapore recently developed a film for Friso formula milk that is used across the region to shows its belief that ‘when you learn through experiences, you really learn’. The campaign has helped increase brand awareness in Indonesia and Hong Kong.

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Staff Writer

The Drum is a global media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe. We produce The Drum magazine, 30 awards and events and manage The Drum Network which aims to make independently minded agencies more successful. We also help brands find the right agencies to work with through the Recommended Agency Register (RAR).

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