Tapping the demand for innovative thinking

Lee: ‘Sometimes a company’s culture is not completely aligned with what the brand promise is.’

NINETY Five Percent Sdn Bhd, the company behind 95% The Advertising Academy, has over the last decade built a strong reputation as a premier training agency in the advertising industry.

This year – its 10th business anniversary – it hopes to widen its coverage in other sectors of economy.

When its chief executive officer Janet Lee presents her calling card during the interview with StarBizWeek, conspicuously missing from the logo is the phrase “The Advertising Academy”. It’s just “95%” now, tagged with the slogan Unlocking potential, transforming business.

Ninety Five Percent was created in 2004 to fill a gap in the advertising industry that did not have a specific training provider.

Lee, who had 20 years’ experience as a copywriter and creative director, set up the training agency in 2004 with another senior ad practitioner, Peter Gan. One may recall that the academy was then called 95% The Writers Academy.

Since then, it has become well known in the advertising industry, having trained more than 2,000 people and offering about 10 core programmes. In fact, for three years now it has partnered with the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) to conduct the Graduate Fellowship Programme, an effort to attract more top talents into the industry.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve developed a lot of modules that can bring out people’s creative talent – help them in idea generation and being innovative in their thinking,” Lee tells StarBizWeek.

“Some of the programmes we’ve been doing for the 4As have gained a lot of traction, so the corporate sector has started to take note of them and has asked us to run idea generation, brand internalisation and culture creation programmes for them.”

In conjunction with its 10th anniversary, Ninety Five Percent decided to grow and expand into the corporate sector.

Lee cites two areas that are gaining a lot of interest from the corporate sector: business innovation and brand internalisation/culture creation.

“Sometimes a company’s culture is not completely aligned with what the brand promise is. We can create a culture transformation programme so that the company can get all its staff to behave accordingly,” she explains.

In the last eight years Ninety Five Percent gets 65% of its revenue from the advertising sector. Its target this year is to reverse the ratio so it will be 65:35 in favour of other sectors.

“The advertising side is quite stable,” Lee says. “There is more demand from the corporate side. Especially in the last few months, companies have become worried about the advent of GST (goods and services tax), so they need to be more innovative in their marketing approach. Also, human resources people need to be more innovative in recruiting and retaining the Gen-Y talent.”

In October last year, Ninety Five Percent did a survey of about 50 companies and found that 85% of them were already implementing business transformation and innovation strategies. So companies already realise that being innovative is crucial for business success, she says.

“But there are stumbling blocks. The primary hurdle, cited by 48% of them, is inadequate employee skills. This is where we want to come in and make a difference,” she says.

Of the survey respondents, 85% said they were willing to increase investments in training to tackle the skill shortage.

Lee says a common misconception is that only a few people are creative. “Actually, creativity and innovative thinking are skills that can be learned and institutionalised. Over the years we’ve developed modules that can bring out creativity. We can introduce frameworks and run programmes that bring about a culture of innovative thinking.”

She points out that innovative thinking can dramatically reduce the cost of producing products. She cites the example of India’s Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan, whose mission cost about 10% of the cost of Nasa’s Maven Mars satellite mission.

In April, Ninety Five Percent will hold a two-day public workshop Strategies for Business Innovation conducted by Global Brand Advisory chairman Karthik Siva. The same workshop is expected to be held also in October.

To implement a culture of innovation, Lee says, the company would usually recommend a follow-up coaching programme.

“The workshop is good for gaining the awareness, some knowledge and a bit of hands-on practice. But for a company to really transform and get the practices to be institutionalised and implemented, a longer programme is required,” she explains.

Ninety Five Percent can design a customised programme to take companies to where they envision themselves to be.

Does Lee expect companies to cut training due to the economic uncertainty? “They’ll cut advertising budgets, for sure.

But for training, it depends on the companies’ point of view. Some companies think that because it is hard times, they need their resources to be more effective and efficient.

The only way to get their employees to be more effective is to train them to do a better job.”

Ninety Five Percent’s revenue has been stable in the last few years, but Lee says this year, with the new focus, it expects to see a “quantum leap” in growth.

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