MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The past few years have been a turbulent time for the creative industry everywhere, and Hong Kong — in between the pandemic and political disruptions that have defined it at the turn of the decade — is no exception.
How can the advertising and marketing industry stay afloat — and maybe even thrive — after such a tumultuous era? What does it take to reform and empower a company into one that is fit for the changes imposed by this new age? And in the post-pandemic world, what else is on the horizon, from big shifts in customer behavior and priorities to dramatic shifts in digital and AI, that the creative industry should prepare for?
These are things that DDB Hong Kong has had to face in the past three years. While they may be big questions, the gravity of the agency’s ability to tackle them comes with the need to not just survive but also grow despite these unprecedented times.
To provide a window into what exactly facing these challenges entailed, DDB Hong Kong CEO Andreas Krasser shared some of his thoughts on the agency’s journey in the past few years with adobo Magazine. As he looked back on the shifts that DDB — along with the Hong Kong advertising industry as a whole — have had to face, Andreas shared the developments the agency had to put in place, the significance of DDB’s unwavering focus on company culture and prioritization of mentorship, and what he sees in Hong Kong even after all the turmoil, not just as a creative leader but also as a resident of the still-vibrant city.
adobo: To start things off, can you give us an insight into how the marketing and advertising industry in Hong Kong has been impacted by the pandemic and the recent political disruptions?
Andreas: Overall, I believe that the industry in Hong Kong has experienced both progress and regression due to the turbulent years. On one hand, businesses have made significant advancements in their digital development to adapt to evolving consumer expectations. On the other hand, creativity has taken a step back as many marketers have adopted a risk-averse approach to their campaigns. Despite the reopening of Hong Kong and mainland China, there remains a prevailing sense of caution in the atmosphere.
Some agency networks have closed in Hong Kong and some centralized out of Shanghai. What strategies or reengineering plans were put in place to ensure DDB Hong Kong’s operations and business stay on plan?
Our clients had to swiftly adapt to the ever-changing demands of their customers, which meant we too had to transform at the speed of culture. As television took a backseat for many brands, we established an in-house digital and social content production unit, comprising a skilled team of videographers, editors, and producers. Additionally, we incorporated data analytics expertise and formed a dedicated division to connect our clients with the world of e-sports and gaming.
However, the most crucial aspect was our unwavering focus on culture. Over the past few years, we acknowledged that while external events were beyond our control, we held the power to shape the atmosphere within our agency. Our people were instrumental in this, and collectively, we had the ability to create an environment that evoked pride for everyone involved.
Can you give us an idea of the creative ethos DDB Group Hong Kong operates on and how that has been reflected in your work and the brands that you handle?
At DDB, we are in the business of emotionally-charged creativity that moves people. It is our goal to create work that makes people laugh, dream, cry, remember, and ultimately also take action.
For example, recently, we helped Hagar International, an anti-slavery NGO, engage potential affluent donors through a one-of-a-kind statement piece that appealed to their interest in the fine arts. We invited donors to a personalized workshop through a custom-designed toolkit so they could directly participate in the restoration of a shattered sculpture –made in the likeness of a human trafficking survivor — through the Japanese art of Kintsugi.
Ultimately, this helped achieve 110% of Hagar’s annual donation target, translating into 1,160 survivors now getting direct access to Hagar’s support network.
You have over 100-strong people working in DDB in the Cyberport area, which is a surprisingly large workforce for a city like Hong Kong. Do talk us through your current setup, work dynamics, and your current search for senior creatives to join your agency.
Given the uncertainties of the past few years, which resulted in the largest brain drain in Hong Kong’s history, we made culture our top priority. Our goal was to empower our employees to be part of the solution, so we established the Game Changers, a culture advisory board.
Their mission is to facilitate organic internal communication by actively listening to our staff’s feedback and regularly conveying the office’s voice during management meetings with agency leadership. They have done a tremendous job so far, and our staff engagement results have never been better.
In regards to senior creative talent, we recently welcomed Alejandro Canciobello, as our regional ECD. Ale perfectly embodies our hiring philosophy of seeking individuals who are both talented and nice. Not only does Ale possess great passion for the work, but he is also dedicated to nurturing the next generation of creative leaders. I am absolutely thrilled to have him as part of our team.
Will the agency expands its offering and capabilities considering the dramatic shift in digital and AI? Do you think this is the industry’s biggest challenge at the moment?
We are constantly exploring ways to enhance our staff’s capabilities, and AI is an area of interest. We have experimented with AI and integrated it into our creative process for inspiration.
However, while AI is a prominent topic in the industry, our primary challenge is talent. Instead of properly mentoring our people, we often opt for quick fixes like salary or title inflations. Rather than emphasizing the long-term value of a career in our industry, we entice them with short-term perks.
To address this crisis, we must prioritize dedicated mentorship, effective growth planning, and create supportive environments that prioritize well-being. Each agency should take individual action, but a coordinated effort in our industry is also essential for this.
On a more personal side, how has living in Hong Kong been for you and your family? Being half-Korean and half-Austrian who has spent a decade in this dynamic city, can you give us a glimpse of what living in Hong Kong has been like?
Despite the picture that some Western news outlets might be painting, Hong Kong remains an incredible place to live. There is so much vibrancy and also creativity running through the veins of this place — it just hasn’t had the opportunity to showcase this side to the world.
Having moved here a decade ago, Hong Kong has been exceptionally kind to my wife, our daughter (who was born here), and myself. We love that you can get the best of both worlds: the big city vibe, and also the adventurous outdoors. Hong Kong still is a beautiful melting pot of cultures, and life here can be tranquil and fast-paced at the same time…certainly never dull. The city possesses character – authentic and rough around the edges – and its people are refreshingly direct, which keeps you grounded.
Above all, Hong Kong and its people have grit. While some may have dismissed the city, I know for a fact that it will once again reinvent itself, just as it has done numerous times before.