R/GA’s new Singapore MD on learning to love challenges and change

R/Ga promotes Dorothy Peng to MD role in Singapore

R/GA today announced the promotion of Dorothy Peng as managing director of its Singapore office, highlighting her success in bringing in global briefs and focusing on the agency’s core belief that design solves business problems.

Peng has spent the past three years at R/GA, mostly as group account director, first on Unilever but then very quickly across other clients, including Nike, McCormick and Nikon, which is now a major global account for R/GA out of the Singapore office.

As all marketing and media businesses face rapid change, Peng is now at the coal face for R/GA, but she believes that its focus on experience design as a tool to solve business problems will prevail.

Speaking to The Drum before her appointment, Peng says: “I think there has been a slow, but clear evolution over the years, and you can see now that the money is going towards an experience economy. Consumers are getting more automation, and expecting automation, as well as expecting more personalization and customization. We knew we couldn’t solve for this just in a comms way, it was quite clear that we needed to balance it with a more systematic approach as well."

"We have evolved so that our framework was a little bit more holistic. We had to make sure that we were talking more about products and services, and about systems. That's where we have landed right now, that it's more about experience, and more about designing brand experiences. So, when we say designing brand experiences, it's not just systems but that ecosystem of communication and services."

The practicalities of this meant making sure the agency and staff were on top of innovation and technology trends, had design-thinking running through the business and also about opening up specific practices where needed, such as its consulting practise last year.

According to Peng, this has come about partly as a result of R/GA trying to be ahead of industry change, other agencies are now looking to launch similar offerings, and also because clients want a new answer to their problems, beyond communications.

“It’s this whole idea of changing before change happens, so we were making sure that we were there [consulting]. But, at the same time, when we took it out to the clients, that felt like that was needed in Singapore because I think a lot of the communications offerings are commoditised. It's saturated and there are a lot of people out there who are really good at their game. We went out and started talking to clients about the experience economy. It was kind of like they a demand, we had a supply; a happy marriage,” she says.

One thing that’s clear about Peng’s outlook is that it’s a lot more positive than you can expect to find in the industry at the moment. With such change looming, it’s not often that it’s framed in a positive way. But Peng says, “I really love challenges and I don't see it as a bad thing. If you approach something without a defeatist attitude, but instead think ‘I can do this’. That's the whole idea of changing before change happens.”

“We're always at the cutting edge and evolving ourselves, then it's really easy to bring a solution to the clients. Not to say that there's clients raining from the sky and falling into our laps but there is something about how we are talking to people. It isn’t always about selling exactly what transformation and innovation means but it's part of how as an agency we like to be uncomfortable and we like challenges. We like new territory and what is unfounded,” she adds.

You can get ahead of yourself, however, as Peng says that the next step for her and the agency is to look at where it can consolidate. With so many new capabilities launches, she says the agency needs to make sure it does not get 'too ahead of itself'.

However, an end-to-end offering is what she thinks sets R/GA apart, as most of the competition can do only parts of its whole. The challenge, it seems, is going to be simplifying something quite complicated - and that’s where design thinking comes back in.

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