Forging a global footprint with Fame and Flow

Initiative Malaysia CEO Darren Yuen

PETALING JAYA: Initiative, a media agency which is part of the IPG Mediabrands network, has a notable global footprint in over 25 countries, and has secured several global accounts recently, expanding its worldwide relationship.

All this has distinguished the agency from its rivals, working much like management consultants would.

By leaning on tried and proven multi-market operating models that are incorporated in managing a range of clients globally and locally, the agency looks to solve and find innovative solutions for their clients’ problems.

For years, the agency has operated around the concept of “cultural velocity” – the ability to use media to raise brand awareness in culture. Now, the agency has launched an upgraded proposition that is proving to be the perfect match for leading global brands like Amazon, Merck and LEGO, even as others look to tie up with Initiative.

StarBiz spoke to Initiative Malaysia chief executive officer Darren Yuen, about the agency’s global footprint, practices, and how the agency is looking to adapt its new Fame & Flow proposition locally.

Commenting on the new proposition, he said: “With brands now having a greater need for quantifiable marketing, Initiative has restructured itself around a new position – ‘Fame & Flow’.

“What this means is making sure that brands stand out in culture (Fame), while improving the customer path to purchases (Flow).”

He said Fame & Flow represents a natural evolution from its previous proposition, Cultural Velocity.

The new proposition was introduced to ensure Initiative continues to operate at the top of its game, strengthen its competitive edge and consistently improves its service offerings to cater for the world’s top brands and best talents in the industry.

Fame & Flow was born from Initiative’s DNA driven by culture, he added.

“Marketers are often obsessed with ‘short-termism’, which has far-reaching repercussions in terms of division and divisiveness in culture. Short-termism refers to an excessive focus on short-term results at the expense of long-term interests.

“Our new proposition helps marketers tap into the magnificent power of media to unite people in culture, thereby growing brand fame, while simultaneously guiding individuals along their journey, accelerating customer flow. Hence the terms: Fame & Flow.

“This is a fresh and expansive take on the brand-versus-performance debate and elevates the role we play as the agency in guiding our clients’ brands to growth,” Yuen said.

Initiative’s approach to building brand fame draws from years of study in the space, with some of the most highly regarded institutions in marketing, such as the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).

He said brands are now moving away from just content and messages to having a dialogue, engagement and experience with customers.

“As culture moves at lightning speed, we need to fully unpack this for the clients we work with.

“We combine this with an integrated approach to accelerating customer flow by orchestrating precision media and creating personalised content and seamless experiences connected to commerce that moves customers along their path to purchase.

“This then moves beyond purchase, to a lifetime of loyalty,” he noted.

The Fame & Flow proposition is driving game-changing business growth globally and when deployed and correctly calibrated, it unleashes unstoppable momentum for clients’ businesses in an incredibly challenging time, he said.

Yuen added this integration has proved compelling for brands.

“Initiative has always used media to tap into culture. It changes how we think about brands and media playing a part in uniting people and culture. Fundamentally, we are connecting people to something bigger than themselves. And flow is this conceptual dynamic that allows people to connect to themselves.

“More and more, we are also looking at the positive role that media plays in the world, industry and on behalf of our brands.

“Brands now need to define their purpose and stand for something to connect with the consumer. This connection comes about intentionally with the use of data, tech and insights.”

Why Fame & Flow now? He said the industry in general has changed and clients have shifted to become more performance driven and return on investment-led. This has distracted from the fundamental marketing science for how brands grow, he said.

Yuen said Fame & Flow rebalances the brand and performance debate and expands it beyond the realm of paid media to help clients orchestrate an ever-expanding marketing audiences, objectives, channels and contexts.

Thus, helping global and local brands drive brand equity, he said.

Putting data to work is key. All of Initiative’s campaigns are backed by data analytics unit Acxiom, which compiles consumer insights from 60% of the world’s adult population across more than 60 markets.

From here, it is up to the Initiative team to uncover that data, distilling it often into a single insight that will help to drive an effective media plan.

Yuen added: “It is not just the size of the agency or the buying power, which Initiative already has on its side, (with Mediabrands recently ranking at the top in media research company Recma’s activity volume), but it is about having an agency with mental resilience and a global footprint that is able to strategically problem solve, and move at the pace of culture.”

He said this vitality has shown with Initiative dominating Recma’s vitality criteria which analyses the dynamism of agencies, coming up tops in the competitiveness of pitches scores over a rolling three-year period.

“The culture proposition of Initiative cascades down into our work, our internal processes and how we interact with our people.

“We bring this to life in pitches and in the work we do with a charter for our clients that helps us understand each brand uniquely, to bring the Fame & Flow thinking into each brand we work with.

“Once we have this understanding, only then do we activate to inspire the brands we work with and look at our key performance indicators and business problems to take on,” Yuen said.

Internally, he said the new proposition is helping drive a culture shift to create new ways of employee experiences, such as how the agency drives belonging and equity in teams, wellness efforts, and across its corporate social responsibility activities.

Furthermore, he said: “Talent has always been our biggest asset, and in a hybrid world, it is about building relationships that matter. Our partnership looks slightly different across each of our clients, and we are constantly discovering how best to do great work together in more productive ways.

“What matters to people looks different, and our people take the trouble to find that out.”

What’s next for Initiative? To this end, Yuen said several key areas are evolving within the agency to bring forth new opportunities to provide more services and a diversified set of products for clients.

This includes a new planning process and an expanded offering and service architecture to carve out more areas of focus such as performance and commerce, growth, strategy, consulting, content and production, he said.

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