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I rarely use this real estate to talk about the Agency, much less brag about the Agency. As we coach our clients, no one likes the person who comes off as “OK, enough about me. Now let’s talk about me.”

Today I’m making an exception.

The Holmes Report recognized our Asia Pacific team as the best technology consultancy in the region.

Map of Hoffman Asia Pacific office locations

Calling out every single staff member in Asia doesn’t exactly make for a good TV, but I’d like to at least highlight the senior folks leading the charge: Caroline Hsu (AP managing director), Shingo Nomura (VP of North Asia), Lydia Lau (VP, global operations), Maureen Tseng (GM, Singapore), Marc Sparrow (GM, Hong Kong), Stephanie Yang (director, Taiwan), Frank Zhang (DGM, Shanghai), Ada Song (DGM, Beijing), Miranda Lee (GM, Korea), Kathy Kwok (senior HR manager, APAC) and Nicolas Chan (digital head, APAC).

Kudos to the leaders and the entire regional team for their courage to not take the conventional path.

 

First Tech Agency in Asia

A little bit of historical context —

We were the first tech agency to expand to Asia in 1996 when we opened our doors in Singapore and a “shop house” converted to office space on Tanjong Pagar Road.

Office on Tanjong Pagar Road in Singapore, the Agency's first in Asia

We spied an opportunity. The mega shops had tech practices and global reach, but not a true focus on the tech sector. The tech specialist shops in each country did concentrate on the tech sector, but not the dots on the map. Our offering would bring the best of both worlds to clients — a deep understanding of tech and a global reach starting in Asia.

At least, that was the theory.

The Asia Economic Crisis slammed us in 1997. Budgets dissipated. Yet we managed to keep the scent of the trail, and as we built our infrastructure — Tokyo office in ’98, Hong Kong and Beijing offices in ’99 and Seoul office in 2001 — we gained credibility and that tough-to-quantify characteristic called momentum.

When PR Week named us “Network of the Year” in Asia in 2001, it was a big deal, reminding me of the scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” when Paul Newman turns to Robert Redford and says, “Who are those guys?” The photo below shows my wife Heather on the right and Michelle Herman who headed our AP operation in the early days on the left.

Michelle Herman (left), Lou Hoffman (center), Heather Hoffman (right)

After five years we had arrived. With this foundation in place, I thought the hard part was over.

 

Wishful thinking

We had some good years and some poor years with growth completely stalling around 2011. It’s fair to say that the hiring of Caroline Hsu as Asia Pacific MD in May 2017 set the stage for a reinvigorated operation in Asia. Her leadership team built upon our core assets like the flexibility that comes from being independent and working from one P&L across the region, refocusing the Agency as an international tech specialist.

The numbers are one way to tell the story. As you can see below, revenue has almost doubled since 2015.

 

Asia Pacific Fees, 1996 to 2019

 

With that said, it’s our workplace, the ability to recruit and retain A+ talent and the product delivered by our people — strategy, creativity, execution and, ultimately, happy clients — that drives the numbers. Here are a couple of data points that serve as positive indicators. Revenue from clients we’ve supported for two or more years increased 39% last year. And staff retention, a dreadful 37% in 2017 is on track to come in at around 77% this year.

Caroline’s client-side experience with companies such as Google has helped us shape an offering that addresses client pain points, not just generate media clips. Back in 2017 I described Caroline as the type of leader who is going to take the hill, secure it and move on to the next hill. That’s proved to be the case.

 

The Road Less Traveled

There’s no such thing as a communications consultancy maintaining the status quo. You’re either gaining ground or losing ground.

Our staff and clients and now the Holmes Report award offer proof points that we’re deviating from the status quo.

Time to dust off that line, “Who are those guys?”

You can read the Holmes Report write-up here.

And if you’re interested in digging into our 20+ year journey in Asia, check out “Chicken Rice for the Soul.”

 


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