HOW important is branding and marketing for a company that usually handles these two aspects for other companies?
Forefront International chief executive officer Darien Mah will tell you that it is just as vital, if not more so.
“Naturally, the goal of an advertising agency is to help clients market their brands and products effectively.
“The danger of doing so is that they may neglect themselves along the way. Some agencies do not market themselves enough, despite the fact that they are offering marketing services to clients,” Mah noted.
What Mah’s digital and creative advertising agency does is walk the talk.
“A good agency shouldn’t just say that it’s important, but we should practise what we preach – that in itself is a form of branding and marketing,” he said.
The company, which was established by four partners, had a simple start within the four walls of Mah’s old condominium unit.
From a web design-based firm, Forefront gradually progressed into a full-fledged agency with a strong workforce of 90 people; it also has offshore offices in London, Hong Kong, and soon, Jakarta as well.
Mah explained that building their own brand and a strong clientele base is an ongoing and interweaving process.
“We started by knocking on doors. We then managed client relations by providing good services from which we were able to tell better brand stories for ourselves.”
At first, Forefront started with just two clients – the Royal Mint of Malaysia and A&W.
“They were very important clients for a small startup like ours.
“Eventually, we developed more skills and learnt how to have a better grasp of the ins and outs of advertising.”
The agency does quite a bit of advertising work for property developers.
“Our penchant for property design and investment plays a part in how the company moved into this direction,” said Mah.
It started with web designing for property clients before going into other aspects.
Today, Forefront handles bigger projects, having done work for some of the property industry’s biggest names, including Eco World, S P Setia, Gamuda Land and Capitaland.
To work effectively with clients, Mah said it’s important to put themselves in their shoes, but at the same time, we need to think like a consumer too.
“As a property purchaser, I feel I can help my clients with better decisions in terms of their marketing and advertising strategies.
“By understanding their values and needs, we create a range of services which complement what they need to best communicate their products.”
The company provides end-to-end creative solutions such as advertising, digital and interactive technology, CGI and architecture visualisation and animation, video production, holistic branding and strategic communication counsel.
By offering a comprehensive range of services, it has been able to build successful mutual relationships with clients.
“We understand that we have a symbiotic relationship with our clients – if they grow, we grow too,” said Mah.
However, what sets Forefront apart is the way it sets the groundwork for its projects.
“We won’t tell you what’s important or useful without gauging the validity or feasibility of the service or feature.
“For example, if we learn of the latest tech trends, we’d build the relevant tool or write an app to test it out for ourselves first as well as for our clients.”
The result, Mah said, is a cascading positive effect.
“By doing a good job for clients, they do better, and when our clients do better, we build a stronger brand for ourselves.
“We also leverage on clients to strengthen our brand, and from there, we can grow our clientele.
Mah stresses on the significance of small to medium enterprises to work on their branding and marketing, without which it would be difficult for the business to be recognised.
“You want people to know about you and you want them to get in touch with you,” he said.
That is why all the work they do, he added, has “branding-worth”.
“Our corporate identity, name cards, websites, apps, newsletter materials, down to the smallest details, they all reflect who we are,” said Mah.
He said the company also tirelessly participates in award programmes to benchmark themselves against some of the best businesses in the industry and fortify their company image.
Forefront received the silver title for Best in Marketing (under RM25mil) at The Star Outstanding Business Awards (SOBA) 2016.
On top of that, Forefront also makes time to work on its own projects, including video productions.
“We create short films, viral videos and work on social media experiments as well; this is an avenue where we can express ourselves with far less restrictions.”
Aside from helping to build the company’s brand, the company’s own projects are also great morale boosters for its employees as well.
“Sure, we can sell these ideas too, but we also want to be able to speak for ourselves through the passion and engagement poured into these ideas by our own team.”
After all, Mah said the company’s brand and identity is put together by the hands of the talents working in it.
Moving forward, Mah said Forefront will continue to grow its brand in London, Hong Kong and Jakarta.
“Our branches are also property-based, largely serving local clients with projects in the overseas locale.
“We also hire talents there to build local insights there; it’s not just another Malaysian agency setting up in that city.
“We want to be a local firm with a Malaysian brand,” he concluded.