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Singapore marketers on the health of the industry in the island city state

The drum caught up with senior marketers from Singapore to get their take on the countries strengths, weaknesses and the current state of its talent pool

What’s the current mood among Singapore’s marketing scene?

Katie Ewer, strategy director, JKR Singapore

Optimistic, fearless, competitive... Singapore’s entrepreneurial spirit is evident in the brave brand building that happens here and in the creativity that fuels it. The city may not have hundreds of years of design pedigree like, say, London or Berlin has, but it is only 51 years old after all. Its youth is part of its strength and is the thing that gives it ambition and imagination. I believe Singapore’s only just beginning to find its creative voice and that makes it a really exciting time to be working in the creative industries here.

Miranda Dimopoulos, chief executive, IAB Singapore

The marketing landscape in Singapore has dramatically changed over the past few years as digital changes constantly along with it. Marketers who are adapting fast and combining digital and data with their marketing efforts are the ones who are excelling in their field.

There is also a tug of war at the moment between traditional and new media. This isn’t just in terms of ad spend, but also in mindset. There are brands, agencies, publishers and platforms who are adapting rapidly to meet the needs of our beautifully diverse region through education and inspiration. Those who aren’t making the most of the opportunities in Singapore as a global and regional hub will be far behind.

Janice Chan, senior digital marketing director, Starwood APAC

There is an increasing sense of urgency, perhaps on the cusp of panic, to get all marketers up to speed with digital. Media is creating buzz about the lack of engagement from consumers and touting that brand marketers are missing the mark on how to truly be prepared in the digital world. Luckily there is a lot of talent and experts who have been in Asia, and especially Singapore, for a while who can help.

Singapore has established itself as a hub for tech in Asia. With so many tech-based multinational corporation setting up their Asia Pacific headquarters here, Singapore has grown a lot of Asian market experts and imported a lot of top talent from abroad. Also, the Singaporean government provides grants and support to innovation and startups.

Tim Chan, creative director, Govt

Cautiously optimistic. The economy isn’t exactly booming, so clients are looking for value. Agencies are struggling to really grow, so everyone’s just slow dancing till things pick up a little more. It’s really a “get it done better but get it done cheaper” mood at the moment.

Rosalynn Tay, chief executive officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore

Singapore’s marketing scene is very vibrant, especially the burgeoning startup scene. In fact, the startup scene should start looking to get marketing talent to give their businesses a needed boost. Singaporeans are also increasingly moving towards cause-marketing where brands are immersing themselves in conversations around issues that affect the lives of their consumers. The high number of sign-ups for ‘Company of Good’, which the Dentsu Aegis Network is a founding member of, is testimony to this. There’s a lot of room for growth and opportunities and, overall, the mood is very positive.

In what areas is Singapore excelling?

Katie Ewer, strategy director, JKR Singapore

As anyone with a moment’s spare time will tell you, Singapore loves to eat. Food and beverage is extremely innovative, fiercely competitive and attracts creative excellence. If you want a world class design for your restaurant, bar or food brand, you could do much worse than to look to Singapore for creative origination and prototyping. There isn’t a better place in the world to test drive a new concept.

Miranda Dimopoulos, chief executive, IAB Singapore

The ability for multinationals, local businesses and startups to all thrive in the same environment is incredible. Singapore has cemented itself as a great hub for innovation, investment and technology. The country is currently focusing on investing in analytics talent, skills and capabilities, which are all necessary for the smart nation to lead in APAC.

With spend in the region increasing exponentially, there is healthy competition to raise the bar, which is a win for consumers and businesses alike.

Tim Chan, creative director, Govt

We seem to do really well in making the best of what we have, just like the country has historically. In the face of increased client demands, tight budgets and limited media spend, we adapt quite admirably, even if that’s not ideal. The best work in recent years is more commonly the result of trying circumstances rather than sizeable budgets.

Rosalynn Tay, chief executive officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore

Singapore is an excellent springboard for marketeers. The country provides an excellent ecosystem in terms of infrastructure, financing and governmental support. There are many incubator programs and platforms to test-bed, develop and adapt products especially for startups. Singapore is a digital and mobile country which means technology is advanced enough and constantly improving to provide excellent network connectivity to resources.

Singapore and Asia present many opportunity gaps for marketeers to fill in. While a lot of the work is inspired by what’s been done in the US or Europe, there’s room for adaptation in Singapore and eventually Asia.

In which disciplines is the country weakest?

Katie Ewer, strategy director, JKR Singapore

Branding is still very young in Singapore and the region – at least versus more established marketing disciplines such as advertising. Partly as a result of the industry’s youth, design is still undervalued by many clients – perceived as something that the printer does, rather than something that effects genuine brand change. Historically, design was something ad agencies offered – and indeed many of them are offering it again, forced into diversification by a fragmented media context and a fiercely competitive market. Singapore has some genuinely famous home-grown design talent, but it should have a lot more. It’s nascent and it’s fragile. How scary. How exciting.

Miranda Dimopoulos, chief executive, IAB Singapore

One major problem we’re seeing is that many businesses fail to democratize their data or educate their teams outside of research and analytics domains on how to derive insight to drive real results for their businesses. The IAB SG is currently investigating why companies are not harnessing the power of their data and why they remain stuck in traditional organizational structures.

For many companies today, data assets are stuck in silos of traditional research and analytics/IT departments. These silos are reinforced by a range of factors, including but not limited to existing talent, roles and responsibilities, hiring plans, profit and loss, vernacular, jargon and office culture.

We are in the technological age now, but businesses seem to still be designed for the industrial age.

Tim Chan, creative director, Govt

Innovation and entertainment. For the former, most clients are understandably nervous about taking a step into the unknown technologically, when there’s so much riding on the bottom line and regional accountability. For the latter, there's a demand for content-based work, but most of them are still just ads masquerading as content.

Rosalynn Tay, chief executive officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore

Despite Singapore being one of the most connected countries, many companies are still apprehensive about going to digital.

Also, female representation: Singapore, south-east Asia’s’s most advanced economy, is behind only South Korea and Japan when it comes to female representation. The general consensus is that companies with females on board tend to see a higher return. A Korn Ferry study of 2014 annual reports in 10 economies found that companies with at least 10 per cent female board members delivered a 14.9 per cent return on equity in 2014, compared to 12.6 per cent for those without. Women also provide more diversity not just in terms of gender, but in their ideas and contributions to the company. There are efforts to increase female board membership in Singapore and it has been on the rise in Singapore, albeit slow. Women’s representation has increased from 8.8 per cent in 2014 to 9.5 per cent in 2015.

Does it have the talent pool to draw from for future growth, or does more need to be done to nurture and attract more talent?

Katie Ewer, strategy director, JKR Singapore

One thing’s for sure – nobody’s going to find that young creative rock star by sitting behind their desk moaning about a lack of talent. Singapore’s a small city with a stupidly high number of agencies, so yes it’s harder here to find good talent than it is, say, in London, New York or Sydney. But there’s no doubting the city’s commitment to nurturing a world class, vibrant creative scene in Singapore.

Miranda Dimopoulos, chief executive, IAB Singapore

Although we have a great pool of talent in Singapore, the digital industry is constantly changing and so are the skills required to match that. The rules of digital advertising change every year – the metrics, the technology, the buzzwords, the platforms – staying on top is more important than ever.

By educating professionals in the digital advertising field, companies operating in the market can compete with regional and international players. The IAB Singapore is working to unlock and challenge talent in the digital space by providing opportunities, training and mentorship from some of the top companies in Singapore and the world.

John Hadfield, chief executive officer, BBH Asia Pacific

One can never do enough to attract and nurture the very best talent, especially if you want to be a global hub. All interested parties realize that more needs to be done. So it's great to see that government agencies such as EDB (Economic Development Board), category bodies such as the IAS (Institute of Advertising Singapore) and the most enlightened Agencies are all taking action.

Tim Chan, creative director, Govt

We don't think that fresh talent is a problem. Somehow, there are always enough young grads crazy enough to want to be in advertising. But nurturing them seems to be a long-standing problem. Most agencies and leaders simply don't spend enough time training, mentoring or investing in long-term progression of their people. As a result, there's a lack of talent in the capable, senior end of things, especially creatives. Most simply grow disillusioned and eventually leave.

Rosalynn Tay, chief executive officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore

At Dentsu Aegis Network we’ve seen really talented professionals, many of whom also have regional experience, so there’s no lack of talent. The answer is to do both – continuing to nurture young talent while being open minded to incoming talent from other markets.

Cutting edge work and innovative ideas come from a robust and competitive environment, so the mix is necessary and healthy. I also firmly believe that our young talent has to be given the exposure in a vibrant agency environment.

This article was originally published in the Singapore supplement of The Drum and is available for free on The Drum app which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

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