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That’s Junk: behind TSLA’s editorial desk charged with finding cultural insights

Behind TSLA's editorial and research desk Junk

To kick off a thought leadership series between The Drum and The Secret Little Agency (TSLA)’s editorial and research desk Junk, The Drum speaks to TSLA managing partner Sorcha John and partner, head of strategy of TSLA and Mother Shanghai, Eunice Tan, about running a content business within an agency.

To stand out from the rest, agencies are seeking new models, creating intellectual property, and finding new ways to connect to consumers on behalf of brands. For TSLA, one part of this is a research and editorial desk called Junk, which creates content for Asian readers and brands.

According to TSLA managing partner, Sorcha John and partner, head of strategy of TSLA and Mother Shanghai, Eunice Tan, the concept sprung from a problem in which the agency believed Asia was being represented in the wrong way and nuanced, interesting insights into Asian life were being missed.

What is Junk and how does it fit into the wider TSLA model?

Junk is a cultural research desk that helps thinkers, creators, and brands who are hungry to understand Asia. We love culture but we’re tired of seeing Asia misrepresented and misunderstood. As both a research desk and an editorial voice we explore what culture feels like, the spaces between people, the places they go, things they value, attitudes they share. We work with collaborators across 20 Asian cities to get closer to fringe cultures and emergent behaviors. Within TSLA & Mother, JUNK collaborates to unearth answers to client questions, as creative fuel for our work whilst maintaining our independent editorial collective with its own explorative agenda.

What’s the editorial mandate for Junk?

Having long felt that there wasn’t a platform that reflected real cultural conversations about Modern asia, we set about creating our own. So our mandate is to represent this continent we call home as we know and love it. Everything we do is raw, insightful and blatantly honest, investigated by people who are passionate about the region, ideally delivered in entertaining and interesting ways.

Why take such a content focus? How does it differ to other publications or content out there?

Editorial content, experiments, and visual artifacts are key to our work because they reflect the channels and spaces our audiences live in. Our work is uncensored, insight-rich and inspiration heavy - just like good global journalism.

How do you tie the editorial into the client work? How does that relationship benefit clients?

Our editorial agenda is defined every quarter in discussion with our team of collaborators. We typically spend three-four hours debating the shifts that we’re seeing and the topics we feel passionate to explore.

What’s an example of content Junk’s produced that you think helps explain the concept?

To explore the shifting dynamics and expectations of the political landscape in Singapore, we analyzed the semiotics of Party Rally speeches. We asked our collaborators how politics and power could or should be reimagined for the next generation of voters and re-wrote these speeches to voice the lesser heard views. This piece piqued the interest of Asian news broadcaster Channel News Asia and our editorial correspondent was invited to an on-air panel with thought leaders and government ministers to discuss JUNKs perspective on local and regional politics.

Why do you think it gives TSLA a competitive edge or something different?

Brands, communities, and individuals often fall back on a homogenized and lazy view of Asia. Stereotypes abound, often resulting in a rather homogenized portfolio of work across the region.

Cultural analysis is subjective and nuanced and we want our work to start a discussion, dialogue, and probably disagreement, rather than simply spoon-feed answers. Our creative process is also one of dialogue and interrogation... Having JUNK’s expertise at the heart of the TSLA family makes that process all the more interesting.

We embrace the diversity, oddities, and insanity of the region. And most importantly, we make dreary & expected our enemy from objective to the final format. For politics, we may choose an Index of hair height to explore hierarchy and status symbols. Or like in our most recent volume in ‘My Covid Romance’ we just let the stories speak for themselves.

What’s the future of Junk?

Continuing to unpick and champion Asian culture, the good, bad, and especially the ugly. More forecasting, more experiments, more provocative cultural exploration Look out for our upcoming series in the drum and on our website.

What can we expect from the content created in partnership with The Drum?

We’ll be sharing our latest thinking with The Drum’s global readers every six weeks -you can expect topics that will challenge, inform and inspire your thinking. If there’s a topic that the Drums readers are concerned about let us know and we’re open to exploring it together.

Read the first in the series, ‘what marketers need to know about love, sex & marriage in Asia’.