Small is mighty: How specialist agencies are winning in Asia

September 20, 2021
  |  by 
Sherawaye Hagger

Marketing is a complex beast. In the early 2000s, agencies were busy growing their networks. Their global narrative was based on offering a one-stop international shop. From Shanghai to Seattle, the biggest networks were driving consistency as well as hub and spoke models for their clients. Global accounts were the future.

Today, the “global – local” dynamic is vastly different. The pandemic lockdowns and restrictions have forced companies and marketers to focus on local and specialist issues. COVID-19 has created a whole new world of opportunity, with specialists reaping the rewards.

In a region where technology has driven jaw-dropping disruption, the agencies who have chosen to specialise are seeing growth like never before.

Market strategists predicted the increasing demand for specialists. Just as the pandemic has accelerated digital adoption, it has also accelerated marketing structures. It’s unlikely this demand will slow down. Demand for experts will continue, especially in Southeast Asia.

You don’t need to dig too deep to see this trend starting to take root. Today, a quick search on LinkedIn shows an overwhelming number of jobs in the technology space, calling for communications and marketing professionals with eight to 10 years of experience in core disciplines such as B2B, media, technology, or finance.

There is a desire for candidates who are comfortable with topics such as AI and machine learning. These are jobs that would not have existed five years ago. Today, these roles are instrumental in the growth of many tech brands. LinkedIn Talent Insights talks openly about the future of work, and many leaders believe hyper-specialisation will play a pivotal role in communications and marketing.

So let’s explore the reason why specialist agencies will only get stronger in Asia.

Uncertain times need an expert opinion

As businesses are seeking to scale, they do so in a time full of uncertainty. And when things get complicated, companies do not run to generalists; they seek comfort from skilled experts in critical fields.

Business-critical decisions are made by finding alliances with people who live and breathe your world. Furthermore, it is a reduced risk to businesses to use a specialist agency compared with a generalist. The world of cryptocurrencies, blockchain and ESG is one full of regulations, complex issues and challenges. When opportunities arise overnight, you need a team that understands the problems and can provide counsel at lightning speed. Slow might be steady, but fast and agile is the pace being set by the independent agencies.

Value attracts more value

By creating an offering that is clearly defined, this becomes a clear vision. And, as we know, a vision is a necessity when building a business and motivating staff. Once these agencies are known for doing things successfully, they simply become more valuable. This is certainly our experience at Bud Communications. By focusing on technology, our team can stay on top of industry news, new regulations and understand complex situations with greater ease.

Today, each one of our teams at Bud can spot trends and challenges faster. Pattern recognition has become key to not over-servicing our clients, and attracting value beyond hitting the figures. We have staff that are invaluable to our clients and us.

Staff, skills and specialisation

Pre-pandemic (2019), big brands such as Unilever started restructuring teams, moving away from generalist roles such as product managers. Data, audience segmentation and a programmatic approach to media buying were causing seismic shifts in the agency world. Brand communications were starting to transform. With big brands choosing to shift before COVID-19, today, they are forced to adapt.

Data has become fundamental. And with the latest workforce coming from Gen Z, LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report shared that 76% of Gen Z learners believe learning is the key to a successful career. Training communicators in specialist sectors from data analytics to automation will be compulsory for all. Learning new skills at work will help drive retention in a pool where talent is shrinking and experts are dearly sought after.

Key finding: The time for the generalist has hit a pause for now, and small is the new big. If you seek to make your mark and scale your business, pick a niche and become known for it. Equally, if you are a brand looking to expand, the answer should not exclude the specialists. The future model will undoubtedly include a hybrid, but whatever shape it takes, the future of communications has taken an exciting turn.

The writer is Sherawaye Hagger, director at strategic regional communications consultancy Bud Communications. This article was first published by Marketing Interactive.