As more clients demand that agencies prove that the money they spent on marketing and the activity from their teams is actually paying dividends, Changi Airport Group (CAG) believes this practice should be taught to young talent before they enter the industry.
That is why the operator of Singapore’s Changi Airport partnered with the National University of Singapore to mentor and provide real-life marketing pitch experience for tertiary students in a competition named “Pitch It”, which is into its sixth year. It also roped in its creative and PR agency Ogilvy to help with the briefs.
The competition offers students in Singapore from all universities and polytechnics a real client brief from CAG, where they then research, plan and come up with innovative marketing campaigns.
“One of the big issues I hope that the students learned in the process is that you need to look at marketing as a solution to a business problem. You cannot come up with something that is just purely novel or purely using tech for the sake of tech,” Kelvin Ng, the director of digital and global marketing at Changi Airport Group tells The Drum in CAG’s offices in the airport.
“It does not solve a business solution out there. That is something that we actually looked at quite closely during the competition to make sure whatever they proposed made sense. It could be really fun, but it needs to be translated into something tangible, like tracking and attribution.”
He continues: “We have had a lot of agencies come back with really fun and novel ideas, but we always ask “Hey, at the end of the day, what do we get out of this?” A lot of times they are not very sure and cannot really track the campaign very well. For a lot of the teams in the competition, they faced a similar problem and the messaging gets lost because it is important to connect with the consumer.”
The team that eventually won the competition was a group of students that are pursuing a Diploma in Consumer Behaviour and Research at Republic Polytechnic.
They came up with the idea of bringing the Changi experience outside of Changi Airport, which Ng says is something CAG has never dared to do even though it was something it had explored before.
According to Ng, he was sold by the team’s pitch to allow more locals to experience Changi Airport, which is on the extreme end of Singapore, by creating a campaign to highlight the airport as a lifestyle destination.
To do this, they wanted to bring the airport closer to people by having a roving carnival in the heartlands with iconic Changi Airport buildings in mini replicas as fun rides.
“The brief to the students was to drive acquisition for Changi rewards by using Changi's loyalty program to target Singaporeans or Singapore residents. The key benefit of the program is that you get rewarded for GST tax-exempted shopping, which you can get at the airport, but can't get anywhere else on the island,” Brenda Han, an executive group director at Ogilvy, tells The Drum.
“It is a very straightforward benefit for us, but I think the students found that awareness was of an understanding of the benefits was low and it is also a barrier for people to come to the airport on the weekends as they would rather go to malls.”
She adds: “I felt the winning team had almost like a reverse solution. Most of the other teams focus on what to tell people to get them to come down to the airport and what to do with them when they are there, but this team was quite bold to suggest bringing Changi to different parts of Singapore to let the public experience how great the airport is.”
For Nurin Asyura Binte Rosle, a member of the winning team, she explains the team was inspired to be bold after attending a Masterclass by Ogilvy. She said the tips given by Oglivy and CAG during the Masterclass gave them insights on the various ways to prepare for a compelling pitch.
The team then decided to challenge themselves to come up with something that has never been seen or done before, yet ensuring that the idea is feasible and that it meets the needs of the client.
“Throughout the process, we constantly pushed ourselves to think beyond and ideate a marketing proposal that was compelling, creatively and strategically,” Asyura tells The Drum.
“Big ideas are hard to come by but what helped us tremendously was the extensive research that we did on our part. Coupled with the advice given by Ogilvy, we ultimately constructed a cohesive marketing plan.”
Agencies have previously lamented how much time and money they spent on pitches, and not receiving feedback about their pitches when they do not win.
A key reason was that clients are too junior and quite worried about giving negative feedback, but that hurts agencies because feedback is a building block for agencies that do not win.
According to Han, Changi and Ogilvy made the feedback process a formal step for this competition. She explains there was a briefing session where CAG engaged the students in extensive Q&A.
After that, five shortlisted finalist teams were given feedback by Changi and Ogilvy on what got them shortlisted, what they need to work on and what will help them win.
“On a formal pitch process, after we have the chemistry sessions, you usually get an RFI, submit a reading document and then sometimes you just have to show up on the day and present,” explains Han.
“I think this mentoring step gave them a lot of steer during the pitch development process because they were students. I think we were quite good with the tips though in terms of what we want them to flesh out.
“On the day itself, all the teams after the results were announced, all of them approached the judges, which included Kelvin and myself for feedback and I think we were quite forthcoming with feedback.”
From a client’s perspective, Ng says CAG tries to adopt practice with all the tenders and pitches it calls with agencies, where it provides mentoring sessions and offer all the agencies a feedback session. He says he also tries to encourage his team to give feedback no matter how junior or new they might be because they are part of the process.
“They understood what we liked and what we did not like about the pitches. I think for this competition, the mentoring session was very interesting for me because it gave me a sense of the chemistry within the teams,” he explains.
“It gave me a sense of how open they were and it was really amazing to see how they could all be so open to feedback and be willing to pivot and really change the ideas and then react within.”
He adds: “About a week before the final competition, we gave them tips on how to improve their ideas, tips on improving their storytelling and try to tell them what would probably interest the audience and what would bore the audience.”
The feedback from Changi and Ogilvy came in handy for Asyura and her team because they learned how to make their information concise and simple because she says ultimately the most important thing for clients is knowing how their needs are met.
She says through the construction of her team’s marketing proposal, they discovered the essentials in a marketing pitch, and what are the integral elements that make it a successful one.
“We also realize that sometimes, less is more and that there’s power in simplicity. Indeed, it’s not always about having a flowery elaborated pitch but it’s more about what we bring to the table that makes it memorable,” she adds.
“In a nutshell, we learned to extract the most important aspects of our idea that gives the client exactly what they want. When combined with a strong presentation, we will have a successful pitch.”
Helping schools train the next generation of talent
With the industry constantly changing at speed, agencies and clients have previously stated that forming collaborative partnerships with schools will enable future marketers to learn by doing and being a part of the process.
From an employer's eyes, Ng says, because the students are the talents of the future, it is important for CAG to tell them what the company is actually doing and how the marketing teams within the organisation works.
He explains at the same time, this can clear up the misconception that working at the airport is all about dealing with air traffic control because there are not a lot of airports that are marketing about themselves.
“It was more of me actually learning from them and seeing that we need more hyperpersonalisation because mass messages do not work anymore because I think with some of them they were probably taught a certain template of how to present certain categories,” Ng explains.
“They tried to fill in these categories, so we told them to move away from this as it is not about scoring points or participation marks. It is about selling an idea.
He adds: “We needed to explain to them the complexity of the business. It is our opportunity to reach out to them and hopefully convince them that when they finally graduate, they want to come to Changi Airport to work.”
For Han, she observes that it was only the storytelling that the students lacked experience on, as well as the clarity and coherence of the message. However, as the students are consumers themselves and younger consumers are the ones who lead the way with trends, they understood what consumers wanted.
She also points out that Ogilvy has internship programs for both creatives and account managers.
“We definitely got educated on what techniques work for the youth, but I was impressed with how well they were able to convey that through heir pitch and how well they wrote down their arguments in the time that they had.”
She continues: “They are literally the next generation of marketing practitioners. The more that we can work with them, then the more they are ready to hit the road running if they decide to join the industry."
The Singapore Management University previously explained to The Drum how it is helping young talent to experience the industry outside of the lecture halls with the likes of Google.