When M&C Saatchi closed its Hong Kong office in 2013, it was thought that the market was drying up. With client business shifting to Shanghai and Singapore, Hong Kong was being superseded and feeling the squeeze.
However, five years later the independent agency is back teaming with high profile local creative Spencer Wong to relaunch the brand.
M&C Saatchi’s Asia chief executive officer Richard Morewood tells The Drum the move was part of a growing reinvigoration of the Hong Kong market.
“I wasn’t around when the decision to leave was made but I believe there was a feeling at the time that we didn’t have a huge amount of business in Hong Kong. At the time, Hong Kong was getting squeezed out by Shanghai and Singapore and there wasn’t much regional business or local business around.”
However, when Morewood met with Wong, who at the time was chief executive and creative chairman for McCann & Spencer, the opportunity to re-enter the market started to form.
Wong is a highly regarded creative who has been awarded globally for his work. He joined McCann as executive creative director in 2006 from previous roles such as regional ECD for Young & Rubicam Asia Pacific and group executive creative director of Ogilvy & Mather South China.
“Spencer and I spoke for some time and he wanted to something more entrepreneurial and exciting after being in the networks for some time. Spencer is obviously the pre-eminent creative in Hong Kong so he carries a lot of kudos and credibility. As Spencer is well known in Hong Kong – he’s born and bred - there’s more opportunity to pick up local business because he is a name there,” says Morewood.
The launch comes at a pivotal time for Hong Kong with moves to reinvigorate the area and encourage the technology and innovation start-ups, Alibaba has been investing in local operators and recently partnered with Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) to launch a not-for-profit lab in a bid to foster tech talent in Hong Kong.
This growing momentum, along with Wong’s strong local profile, proved tantalizing enough for M&C to open shop under the name: M&C Saatchi Spencer Hong Kong, with an aim to target Chinese brands.
“While Hong Kong used to be the gateway into China for international brands, we could see there’s an opportunity to be the gateway coming out of China for local brands wanting to go international. So that’s is an exciting potential opportunity for us.”
“The focus and growth of the Shenzhen - Guangzhou Greater Bay area in general, plus things like high-speed train launch will throw up more opportunity for Hong Kong. So, it was all those things together that made us think let’s have another go in the market in Hong Kong. We’ve got a big name, there’s potential growth that way and there’s growth coming out of China through Hong Kong,” says Morewood.
When a globally recognized agency brand like M&C Saatchi re-enters a market it also serves to provide a further endorsement for the market potential, which is something the agency is also keen to capitalize on.
“The Hong Kong market has been a bit flat, so Spencer is showing he’s committed to the market by starting a new agency. It’s exciting for us obviously but also for the market, whenever a new agency comes in it lifts the game across all agencies as it presents some more competition.”
To begin with, M&C Saatchi Spencer Hong Kong is operating in start-up mode and working out of offices in the shared workspace Naked Hub.
“I think there was an attraction for Spencer to go back to running his own business and go pitching for clients rather than having some of the other management bureaucracy that comes from working with big networks that can tie you up rather than getting on with creating great work for great clients.”
Morewood believes Hong Kong is perfectly placed to service the booming Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and the scores of Chinese technology brands that are flooding out of these markets with global ambitions
“Hong Kong a much more international city than other places in China. Shenzhen and Guangzhou have developed so quickly that to get the talent and the critical mass of agencies in that space delivers an opportunity for Hong Kong to fill that gap, certainly for the next couple of years anyway.
“There’s a real opportunity to educate Chinese marketers about the need to develop a brand rather than just product and technology and that’s where our challenge, or our opportunity, is. To educate and take these clients on a journey to show it is not all about the product but also the emotion you need to create around it.
“When you compare the perception of made in China, in terms of the quality and technology of the products coming out of China, with the reality, the brand messaging still has some way to go. But things move quickly in China, it will get there,” says Morewood.
The Hong Kong launch caps off a big year for M&C Saatchi in the region, where it also opened shop in Jakarta, as well as acquiring an agency, Scarecrow, in Mumbai. The launch brings M&C’s APAC presence to nine offices with Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumper, Singapore and Delhi.
While the Hong Kong office will focus on advertising, digital and social media marketing services, Morewood says the company is always looking at the market potential to launch M&C specialist businesses such as design agency Re or its Sports & Entertainment business.
Morewood hinted there was potential to launch its sports and entertainment business in the China market, however, stressed there were no firm plans in place.
“I think potentially there is an opportunity for that in China but it’s about understanding the landscape because the landscape is completely different to the UK or Australia where it has been successful. You would have to tailor the offer to the particular market demands. The challenge with China though, is you have to get in at the inflection point because things move so quickly and things can come and go so fast,” says Morewood.