L-R: Chan Su Ling of Ensemble, Aditi Kohli of Near and Jane Morgan of Golin, three of the 2018 Women to Watch
Kazuko Abe | Industry head, branding solutions home products and consumer goods, LCS Japan | Google | Japan: Having grown up in the US before settling in Japan, Kazuko Abe straddles the opposing spectrums of Japanese and Western culture. Westerners appreciate her straight talks that cut to the chase, but she can easily slide into an indirect and gentler style required with Japanese clients and agencies. Being a communication chameleon has helped Abe stay on the pulse of both local and international clients and successfully convey their needs to various levels at Google. On the other hand, clients also trust Abe to make the best of their partnerships with Google. Her greatest hits include record-high revenue and winning over difficult clients. Combine this with her digital marketing savviness and it is no wonder the company has given her the reins of its largest global branding customers in Japan. Abe does not disappoint. Her 17-year marketing experience and deep product expertise make her the go-to expert for global product specialists when optimising ad products for the Japan market. After all, she runs one of the top performing pods on the Google sales team.
Marrah Africa | Senior manager, training and certification APAC | New Marketing Institute, MediaMath | Singapore: Originally from the Philippines, Marrah Africa took up her current role from a regional position at MediaCom in 2016 because she saw that the industry needed educating around programmatic. She launched the New Marketing Institute to do just that. Over the past two years, she has run more than 200 courses across Asia-Pacific, training over 4,000 people. Part of the reason the institute has been successful so far is Africa’s ability to put complicated ideas into language that everyone can relate to. One media agency CEO says a workshop she took didn’t just show how to make media buying more efficient, but also helped unlock an understanding of how programmatic can contribute to creativity—an area that is still not well understood in the region. In this way, she is helping to advance the industry as well as MediaMath’s own business, where her efforts have had a significant impact, including raising the level of programmatic spending from emerging markets.
Athena Bughao | Senior media activation director, search and biddable platforms | Essence | Singapore: Athena Bughao is an "unquestioned" subject-matter expert and "tremendous" leader without whom Essence wouldn't be where it is today, according to her colleagues. She excels at creating effective systems and tools. In one recent example, Bughao conceptualised, built and then automated an ROI margin calculator, which charted a major client's lifetime value (LTV) per lead against its weekly acquisition cost, providing a close-to-real-time view of spend effectiveness across 16 markets and 10 channels. She also drove 127% year-on-year growth in biddable investment for a client by organising platform training across the region, helped a major regional client grow customer acquisition by 4X, and grew the agency's media activation team for a key client's B2B product from five to 17 people.
The latter example points to Bughao's excellence as a team builder. While she now heads up a team of 80 across APAC, the native of Cebu, Philippines, manages to make all her team members feel they are treated as individuals and encouraged to up their game. She was also one of the first APAC employees selected to take part in GroupM's 'Walk the talk' initiative for women leaders.
Chan Su Ling | Strategic planning director | Ensemble Worldwide | Malaysia: It took Chan Su Ling a mere five years to go from being a Brazilian Jujitsu novice to ranking ninth worldwide. In advertising, too, she is every bit the overachiever. Her competitive grit and team-captain charisma are credited with helping Ensemble double its revenue in Malaysia over the last year.
Unlike many creatives, Chan does not see data as her Achilles heel. In fact, it is her core strength. Named Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Southeast Asia Strategic/Brand Planner of the Year 2017, the advertising degree holder combines data insights and creative strategies. In her first job at Naga DDB, for instance, Chan’s idea to launch the Ladies Edition of the Perodua Myvi car led to a sellout success within five months. Championing diversity and equality in the office, Chan is part of the management team curating a diverse set of talent from different races, backgrounds, countries and skillsets for Ensemble. The three-year-old agency is currently run by a leadership consisting of 70% women—another source of pride of the athlete/advertising lead who refuses to be pigeonholed.
Monica Chia | SEO director, APAC | Reprise | Singapore: Chia credits her skills as a Chinese speaker for leading her to the SEO industry after being hired out of university by a UK firm looking to enter the Chinese market. Six years later, she led a team of 15 as head of SEO in a full-service digital marketing agency. Skilled at simplifying the complex, Chia has had a transformative effect on the way that Reprise clients understand SEO, keeping the solution and benefits clear while approaching the practice from the viewpoint of the consumer. Her specific successes include activating and leading the largest multi-region APAC SEO account in the business in 2017, more than doubling the number of regional SEO accounts over 12 months, leading the strategy on competitive FMCG and fashion e-commerce industries and training over 80 colleagues in eight countries on SEO and search fundamentals. Such efforts have helped to secure new business wins in five countries with no previous SEO accounts.
Alice Chou | CCO | Dentsu Taiwan | Taiwan: What does it take to lead a 60-year-old agency to win its first ever Cannes Lion in 2017? A lion, a sherpa, a boss who isn’t bossy, and a prime number, apparently. In short, Alice Chou, who has been described as all of the above. Chou is as persistent as a lion on the prowl when exploring new angles and territories in her work, and she acts like a sherpa of new hires, guiding their ascension to the international stage without airs or arrogance. Her uncompromising pursuit of creative excellence is likened to a prime number that cannot be divided. It is hardly surprising that Chou was named Outstanding Creative Person of the Year at the Taiwan Advertiser Association in 2017. Since bagging the Cannes Lion for Dentsu Taiwan, she has also won Grand Prixs in Adfest and Adstar as well as other major creative award shows in Asia-Pacific. As the first person in Taiwan to sit on the Cannes Entertainment Lions jury this year, Chou increased the visibility of Taiwan’s creatives and lent the country’s unique perspectives to the selection process. But, as Ted Lim, CCO of Dentsu Asia-Pacific, says: “She's not done yet.”
Laura Cibilich | Design director | RUN | New Zealand: Her team may be small, but Laura Cibilich thinks big. With 15 years of industry experience under her belt, this self-starter built her own design and advertising agency, RUN, from scratch in 2008 and its course is now charted towards becoming one of New Zealand’s top independent creative agencies. One of Cibilich’s strategies to get it there is to throw out the clunky operational layers of traditional agencies, allowing clients to deal directly with creatives instead. Another is creating a diverse team—one of the few Maori creative directors in New Zealand is under her employ. To her, this is where the best creative solutions come from. Cibilich also joined SheEO Activator, a global network designed for women to support and finance each other in entrepreneurship. So far, RUN seems on track: the number of clients doubled in the last year and net profit is up by 30%. From being a newcomer in the industry, RUN has grown under Cibilich’s leadership to become an award-winning agency with an impressive client list including 2degrees, Ruapehu District Council, Niue Tourism, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Carolyn Devanayagam | Head of corporate, Asia-Pacific | Weber Shandwick | Singapore: A maestro in an industry of flashy communication, Carolyn Devanayagam prefers the nitty-gritty of crunching numbers—she was once set on becoming an auditor before she was inspired by two communications executives to join PR. To her, “being numbers-oriented” and influencing business decisions are the true north of PR. Thanks to Devanayagam’s deep-dive into every client’s business, her role extends miles beyond media relations. One global energy conglomerate entrusted her with the implementation of its change-management strategy. Another data-storage giant enlisted her leadership on a multi-channel integrated marketing partnership. Devanayagam has come a long way since her first foray into the industry, when she offered to intern at Weber Shandwick for no pay. Now, at 38, she is still with the firm and has rocketed up its leadership ladder. Among her feats are turning Weber Shandwick’s US$40,000-a-year business in China into a multimillion-dollar partnership within three years, leading global assignments for Sealed Air and Honeywell in the US and moving back to Southeast Asia to helm the agency’s regional corporate practice. Crediting her stellar track record to her mentors, she is now coaching the next generation of PR practitioners to be more than “simply a communicator”.
Cecile Dominguez-Yujuico | CEO and founder | Evident Communications | Philippines: When Cecile Dominguez-Yujuico founded Evident Communications, she envisioned a company that would break the traditional mould to focus less on spectacle and more on substance. Five years on, she leads a company that has an uncommon focus on social impact and serves clients like AusAID's Investing in Women, the Jollibee Group Foundation, Philippine Business for Education, and the Coca-Cola Foundation. Moreover, she is committed to inclusive hiring because a diverse team translates to better ideas and better decisions. Dominguez-Yujuico believes content that is relevant, compelling and effective can create sustainable solutions for both companies and NGOs alike—and that such content can only be created with a thorough understanding of the client, its challenges and its audiences. For example, the agency's award-winning 'Dear Teacher' campaign elevated the role of teachers (and boosted job applications) by having celebrities and other successful people read letters to the teachers that inspired them. Furthering her belief in causes, Dominguez-Yujuico regularly assists NGO communicators through pro bono workshops, branding and strategic advisory. She also serves on the board of the Association of Foundations, the Philippines' oldest and largest nonprofit network.
Emily Foster | Client partner | Wavemaker client solutions, Hong Kong | Hong Kong: Emily Foster goes the distance for what she cares about—the avid charitable volunteer has completed triathlons to raise funds for organisations working with the poor. As the global lead for behemoth accounts like Huawei in Hong Kong, Foster pushes boundaries too: her passion is in taking Asian and Chinese brands global. Thanks to her experience in varying agency roles spanning local and international markets, as well as her Philippine-British mixed ethnicity, Foster stays on top of cultural nuances. This led her to nab a Bronze at the Festival of Media Global Awards for Best Use of Programmatic for her Alibaba e-commerce campaign, the brand’s first ever international campaign outside China. The hands-on leader has an infectious fervour, whether it is her push for programmatic or her passion in football (she was a finalist in the Football Blogging Awards in 2017). Foster’s rallying flair could be why her team has doubled in size with 100% staff retention since January. Her dream team is one that is diverse, thus driving her to champion equal opportunity hiring as a member of the Asia-Pacific steering committee for GroupM’s All Means All Initiative.
Donna Garcia | Associate director/general manager | Rice | Myanmar: The fact that Rice has a presence in Myanmar is down to Donna Garcia, who proposed the idea of an office in the market after a holiday and has spent the last four years building it. It has doubled in size in the past year, with revenue growth of nearly 70%. The 11-member team works with a variety of private- and public-sector clients and NPOs, from Hilton Hotels to the Yangon Investment Committee. A standout piece of work for WFF helped spur a move to crack down on the illegal wildlife trade. In her spare time, Garcia is active in charity work and causes she believes can benefit society, and is responsible for launching the Myanmar Talent Programme, which aims to strengthen the skills of communications professionals and open up employment opportunities. Alison Harley, director of communications for WFF Myanmar, describes her as running things with “lightning efficiency but always with a human touch”. “She has the rarest of talents—becoming more creative as pressure grows, and constantly adapting to changing situations,” Harley says.
Marivic Garcia | President | OMG Advertising | Philippines: Marivic Garcia is a maverick. Not one to adhere to the status quo, she thrives at using game-changing innovation to add value to overall service quality. From launching proprietary software tools that better deliver business results to fine-tuning key processes, this go-getter gives clients plenty of reasons to pay more amid the trend of falling service fees and stiff competition. OMG doubled its net income year-on-year for the past three years under Garcia, who was shortlisted in the Innovation of the Year category in Campaign Asia’s Women Leading Change award recently. In 2017, she led her lean team to win an ICE award from the Media Specialists Association of the Philippines. Described as a no-nonsense achiever, Garcia demands nothing less from her staff—85% of which are women. Garcia benchmarks the team’s performance on global standards while investing in getting them there. About two-thirds of her management committee members were sent to Stanford University’s Continuing Education Programme for upskilling, for example. Tenacious learning, she believes, empowers women to stand toe-to-toe with the big wigs of the male-dominated industry. And Garcia is a living example, with her 25 years of experience in working and calling the shots for large corporation campaigns, including for The Bank of the Philippine Islands.
Giang Nguyen Thanh | Managing director | The Purpose Group | Vietnam: Caring is a quality that describes Giang Nguyen Thanh well. She doesn’t just care about producing the best work, but also cares deeply about the wellbeing of her staff. She does not like to limit staff to specific designations and instead tries to free them up and encourages them to take full ownership of the projects they work on. As a leader, she puts in extra hours to make sure they have all they need to work to the best of their abilities, and avoids taking on business from clients that are likely to be troublesome. A P&G marketer for eight years, she has found success in the agency world by focusing on the purpose brands have in people’s daily lives, and over the past year, company revenue has grown by over 20%. Joris Jenssen, marketing director of AB InBev Southeast Asia, calls Giang a “true partner” who combines a “strategic perspective with a pragmatic hands-on mentality”. “Her dedication to high quality output…is relentless,” Janssen concludes.
Laura Green-Wilkinson | Marketing and communications director | Dentsu Aegis Network Asia-Pacific | Singapore: Laura Green-Wilkinson joined Aegis Media in Singapore five years ago, moving from London where she led external EMEA comms for McCann Worldgroup. She is praised as “an effective change agent and influencer” by iProspect global president Ruth Stubbs, with whom Green-Wilkinson helped to form DAN’s Female Foundry, an accelerator programme for female-led startups that is set to launch in 30 markets by 2020. Green-Wilkinson now guides a team of 40 in 14 APAC markets with foresight and enthusiasm. She also heads the NGO Advocacy for Female Founders, has pioneered a year-round extension of the company’s ‘One Day For Change’ CSR event and was recently voted vice chair of the IAB’s Southeast Asia and India board. Green-Wilkinson’s current focus is her strategy for business growth, which includes implementing a new CRM tool to all markets, creating a prospecting process and shifting her perspective to help pitch and client teams grow their relationships.
Brenda Han | Managing Partner | Ogilvy | Singapore: It’s been a pretty spectacular year so far for Brenda Han. A critical cog in the machine helping Ogilvy through its global ‘re-founding’, Han also managed to land Ogilvy’s largest integrated win for Changi Airport Group in Singapore, beating over 30 agency competitors to the highly valuable contract. The win topped off six months of work conducting some 20 multi-disciplined specialists through multiple rounds of submissions, a task Han embarked on to great effect less than a month after returning from maternity leave. Han is that rare beast in the industry, a (self-proclaimed) introvert who has repeatedly forced herself out of her comfort zone to get ahead - she’s one of just four managing partners in Singapore’s 350-people office - but her innate ability to read people and really listen to them sets her apart as a truly inspirational leader. This is exemplified by the gender equality and mentorship initiative she founded at Ogilvy, which has now evolved into the #MeWeWPP project representing 3,800 WPP employees across Singapore.
Farrah Harith-McPherson | General manager | BBDO Malaysia | Malaysia: BBDO Malaysia was bleeding talent when Farrah Harith-McPherson joined the agency, with staff turnover rate at a huge 96%. To galvanise the scattered troops, McPherson installed regular town hall meetings to hold clear and transparent discussions and rolled out various employee wellbeing programmes. Staff morale bounced back; they felt appreciated, as a junior creative puts it, by the “people’s boss”. McPherson is not keen on more brain drain from the industry. To address the widespread woes of staff retention, the 4A council member pushed for mandatory training for all agencies and staff to upskill talent. She also founded Heels of Steel in Malaysia, a series of talks by prominent female leaders to inspire women in the workplace. The initiative has since caught on in BBDO Singapore, BBDO Indonesia and BBDO Vietnam. Fiercely creative and constructively nurturing, McPherson habitually wins over both coworkers and clients. She sat on many senior leadership teams during her 18-year career at places including Zenith Malaysia, national car company Proton, CRUSH Communications, M&C Saatchi and now BBDO Malaysia. This go-getter is not above donning a latex mascot costume and prancing around in a meeting room of clients to sell her idea of a brand mascot, however—and she won that job, too.
Valerie Jaquet | VP programmatic sales, APAC | Unruly | Singapore: Described as calm and patient in her working style yet steadily driven with energy and passion, Jaquet started her media career seven years ago selling print for Australian publisher Fairfax Media. She recognised, however, that the future lay in digital and became an early advocate of programmatic advertising, moving to Amnet Australia to become the top salesperson in New South Wales and Queensland. Since joining Unruly, Jaquet has been instrumental in the rollout of programmatic solution UnrulyX across the region and its subsequent success. She has helped to bring on new clients and integrate with new partners, all the while launching new innovative products. One of these has been Unruly's groundbreaking ‘emotional private marketplaces’ or PMPs, which allow advertisers to target premium media environments that match the emotional footprint of their ads. Under Jaquet's stewardship, Unruly won a silver award for best programmatic media solution at the 2017 Spark Awards for Media Excellence.
Milan Jiang | Founder and CEO | VeryStar-Linked by Isobar | China: Milan Jiang gets up at 5 am every morning, bids “good morning” to her 100,000 fans on Weibo and begins her day as China’s ‘Queen of Mobile Commerce’, her nickname in the industry. Since establishing VeryStar-Linked by Isobar seven years ago, the spirited entrepreneur has led the mobile and retail commerce agency to pioneer online-to-offline solutions for brands in China. Staying at the forefront of the cutthroat mobile space in China is no small feat, but Jiang is no small fry either—her 21 years experience in retail sectors have made her a respected voice in the industry. She chairs the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) Wireless Marketing Alliance New Retail Committee, a working group tasked to discuss key issues, develop and execute initiatives and establish best practices for the industry. Jiang is also a frequent judge and guest speaker for industry awards or events. Meanwhile, she’s steered her agency to crank up business wins by 192%. Transactions through the company’s proprietary mobile payment platform have also swelled 465% in volume, which is equivalent to 1.4 billion mobile orders and US$23 billion worth of mobile transaction value. It looks like Jiang’s foresight deserves the praises it gets—her leap from retail marketing into the digital game in 2011 certainly turned out to be the right move.
Fatima Khalid | PepsiCo account lead | Mindshare | Pakistan: Khalid remembers family and friends telling her “Pakistani media is a boy’s club, you won't even survive". Yet passion, perseverance and brains have propelled her in a male-dominated media industry after first joining Mindshare Pakistan on the PepsiCo account as an assistant media planner in 2013. Expanding business on big FMCG accounts is always challenging, but Khalid and her team managed to win over Pepsi’s PR and digital business while garnering a big increase in her client’s feedback score, along with official marketing recognitions from Pepsi on multiple campaigns. A strong advocate for improving skills and education, Khalid introduced training sessions for clients on how to use to media more effectively and leverage new innovations targeting youth. She also began a partner training program for her team to teach one another about skills and trends where they excel.
Priya Khatri | General manager, Asia | Eyeota | Singapore: A banker-turned-creative, Priya Khatri is not a person to be confined by comfort zones. The certified financial analyst upended her life in India and started a career in marketing and advertising across Asia-Pacific. Her experience leading campaigns in different areas—including publishing, media, mobile and ad tech—spanning various parts of the region proved valuable when she was put in charge of Eyeota’s programmatic data business for 11 markets. As the regional lead, Khatri expertly navigates cultural differences and has boosted the firm’s revenue by 250% over two years. This is impressive in a playing field where programmatic struggles to grow. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, Khatri spurred growth of 105%. On top of bringing in the dough, Khatri also organises and facilitates the Eyeota Edu series, roping in speakers from CNN, Adobe, AppNexus, DoubleClick and so on to share industry insights with Eyeota staff. The award-winning data whizz has also rolled out roadshows to educate the industry on enhancing campaigns with programmatic and data, presented at Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) workshops on digital strategy, and mentored past members of Eyeota’s Insights Team. Khatri is, after all, as big an educator as she is a programmatic evangelist.
Aditi Kohli | General manager of Southeast Asia and Hong Kong | Near | Singapore: To someone used to the cushy comforts of corporate life, switching to a startup setting could have been as daunting as venturing into virgin jungle. Not for Aditi Kohli; she has always been a hardy trailblazer. Before joining Near’s leadership during its formative days, Kohli was MTV Asia’s first hire for Asia-Pacific, in 2004. Three years later, she became The Walt Disney Company’s first hire to set up Disney Interactive in Southeast Asia. The MBA holder cemented these bigwigs’ feet in the regional digital space with game-changing partnerships and customer-focused, profit-turning teams. But it is in Near that Kohli’s ability to navigate unfamiliar ground truly shines. When she took the reins of the startup’s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong business, the region was at a critical juncture of pivoting to Enterprise SaaS. Kohli rode the change. Under her leadership, which peers described as “inspiring” and “resourceful”, Near scaled the SaaS business revenue from zero to seven figures in a span of six months. Southeast Asia and Hong Kong now represent 20% of Near's global revenue.
Felicia Li-Gaillard | Marketing director APAC | Integral Ad Science (IAS) | Singapore: Felicia Li-Gaillard is good at data-driven marketing, but what she’s best at is creating from scratch. This makes her completely at home as IAS’ first marketing hire in Asia-Pacific, a position tasked to unite a disparate region to work cohesively to raise transparency and trust in performance marketing. What doubles the challenge is that IAS deals with brand safety, ad fraud and viewability issues, which are still relatively new concepts here. Yet this ad tech professional has made great strides in establishing IAS’ main sell in these markets. Aside from organising breakfast events with industry bigwigs to discuss mobile measurements, Gaillard also launched the first Media Quality Report for Southeast Asia, Taiwan and Hong Kong in April, scoring IAS plenty of regional eyeballs through press coverage and social media reach. As such, she increased the firm’s marketable database across Asia-Pacific by 2.5 times. The regional lead earned her stripes by dedicating 12 years to agency and in-house roles across IPG and Publicis, GMR Marketing and ad tech startup Eyeota. She also volunteered to be the IAS APAC representative of the IAS Diversity and Inclusion Council to champion for diversity and cross-cultural understanding, as expected of a trilingual marketer fluent in English, French and Mandarin.
Angeline Lodhia | General manager, Asia | Inskin Media | Hong Kong: It is hard enough for one person to find their footing in an unfamiliar country. But helping a whole agency stand on its own two feet in a new market? Many would have balked. Angeline Lodhia, however, said: “Here’s my business plan.” On a sabbatical in Asia in 2013, the star commercial manager of London’s Inskin Media identified a gap in the market that her agency could fill. Hence she wrote a proposal, convinced the board, scored investors and boarded a flight to Hong Kong to set up Inskin Asia. Cultural and language differences posed no barriers for the bubbly and bright digerati on a roll. Her nascent team in Hong Kong has gone on to deliver over 228 successful campaigns for 60 blue-chip advertisers including Cathay Pacific, LG and Audi. It has since added a base in Singapore and expanded its reach across Southeast Asia and China. Lodhia is also key to the rise of digital media in Asia through her role as a member and activist in the local Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Meanwhile, she has single-handedly developed Brand Digital events that unite prominent media and agency players for dialogues on industry issues.
Mabel Lu | Managing partner, APAC | Cosmose | China: After over a decade of scoring wins for leading marketing houses across Vietnam and China, Mabel Lu was ready to take the reins; she set up the Cosmose office in Asia-Pacific, along with the company’s founder and CEO, Miron Mironiuk, earlier this year. She was thrilled by the potential she could see in Cosmose’s OMNIcookie technology, which connects online ad performance with customers’ in-store habits. Her aim is to solve one of the persistent challenges of the digital advertising market: measuring how well online ads are working for offline sales. Lu proved to be the woman for the job. Having barely warmed her seat, she led her team to hit over 50% of month-on-month revenue growth and reach a 90% customer-retention rate. She opened up market opportunities in Singapore, Taiwan and Japan. The inspiring and hands-on boss also steered her team to win the 2018 Mobile Monday Startup Challenge in China, which qualifies them for the international finals in Spain next year. On top of this, she closed deals with five out of the seven luxury groups in the region, expanded Cosmose’s client list and doubled the size of the Asia-Pacific team. Even more impressive? Lu achieved all these within three months of starting at Cosmose.
Nhung Mason | Managing director, products operating group, ANZ | Accenture | Australia: Women in technology roles are rare in Australia and Asian leaders are even rarer among ASX200 companies, but Nhung Mason defies the norm on both counts. In 1982, a four-year-old Mason migrated to Australia from Vietnam with her family as refugees. The bumpy beginnings did not trip her steady gait. Mason completed a bachelor of business degree with distinction and boarded the Accenture ship after three years at a different consulting firm. For the next 14 years, the mother of three and main breadwinner of the family stayed with the company, evolving from strategy consulting to helming one of the most diverse and successful teams in Accenture Africa and Asia-Pacific. Her staff stuck by her, too; in the past 12 months, the Products Consulting team she leads has had the lowest attrition rate in Accenture Australia. Not only that, its size has grown four times and sales have tripled since 2016. While her sharp eye for technology-driven solutions makes her a high-value employee, Mason’s modest background keeps her down-to-earth and benevolent. She combines these qualities in leading a pro-bono partnership between Accenture and a local charity, using a data-centric model to improve the organisation’s success rate in reducing chronic homelessness while being able to show quantifiable social impact when requesting funding.
Annie McNamara | Head of sales, APAC | LoopMe | Singapore: LoopMe booked its first campaign in Asia-Pacific last year. Good thing it had just secured an office space in Singapore: the mobile video platform and its chief Annie McNamara had only arrived in the city state shortly prior. The expansion was McNamara’s idea, based on her belief that the region holds great untapped potential for the company’s AI brand advertising solutions. The booming business proved her right. Under her leadership, earnings have ballooned from just US$20,000 of remote bookings in 2016 to nearly US$750,000 at the close of 2017. The lean team of five opened up over 20 clients across 13 Asia-Pacific markets in a year and was selected as one of the Unilever Foundry Top 30 New Business in Asia. Not bad for a startup whose core offering is artificial intelligence—an area still in its infancy in the region. McNamara’s enthusiasm for ad tech knowledge is as infectious as her positivity. As an active member of the Commerce Committee under the trade body IAB Singapore, she helped delivered 'The Asian Consumer’s Journey to Purchase', which was the highest scored training session in the association’s history.
Naomi Michael | Head of marketing and communications APAC | IPG Mediabrands | Singapore: Naomi Michael is a mere 17 months into the role at IPG she took after six years with Omnicom in Australia and Hong Kong, but she’s wasted not a minute of that time. Channelling her incomparable efficiency, Michael set up a company website and four social-media channels within three months; won complimentary sponsorship for UM at the innovation festival Innovfest Unbound, plus $52,000 worth of tickets and a partnership extending to other regions; conceived and managed 15 thought-leadership events and drove a 130% uplift in press coverage for IPG; and built a CSR partnership from scratch with a new health-tech company, Plano. While achieving these “results comparable to a team of people”, Michael also finds time to mentor four people within IPG and play an active role in the company’s Women Leadership Network. Oh, and she’s just completed a marathon. “When Naomi sets her heart on anything, she’s unstoppable,” sums up her colleage Yean Cheong, head of Cadreon Asia-Pacific.
Jane Morgan | Managing director, Hong Kong | Golin: Since becoming MD in May 2016, Jane Morgan has restructured Golin's Hong Kong operation both literally and figuratively. She not only hired an all-new leadership team but also reportedly took a hands-on (and chainsaw-on) role in an office revamp that erased cubicles and director offices. These actions and more are credited with transforming the business to be more digital and creative, while delivering 7% year-on-year growth, underpinned by increases in new-business win rate and organic growth. Fed up hearing that there's no talent in Asia, Morgan believes training is the answer. She proved her point by hiring a graffiti artist to lead a creative team (a gamble that paid off). She also dramatically improved retention in Hong Kong with a 'Train All Out' programme, which included theatre-style sessions with cake and wine, plus an incentive of mentorship from Golin chairman Fred Cook. Morgan is the kind of leader that many others aspire to be—and not just because she encourages steam-releasing exercises such as Friday cocktail sessions, PJ parties, and a foosball tournament. "She leads by example, and the result is a staff that is truly a team," says one observer. "They are dedicated to Jane, to Jane's vision, and to Golin as a result of her management techniques."
Myat Noe Khin | Account director | Nexlabs | Myanmar: Working for an independent in an exponential growth market like Myanmar means Myat Noe Khin has had to wear several hats, representing the agency by collecting briefs, pitching to prospects and clients, winning new projects and managing them—often with less organizational support than at large established agencies. In the short span of a year she has helped the agency win eight agency-of-record accounts against larger competitors. Despite being the youngest employee to become account director, she has been a top performer, always overachieving on her commercial targets. Given full responsibility to manage some of Nexlabs’ top accounts like Carlsberg, Tuborg and Nescafé, she leveraged her computer-science background to lead innovative digital projects from microsites to mobile apps to QR code-based brand activations. Her deep understanding of Myanmar millennial consumer behaviour allowed her to work with sensitive target groups like BMX and skater cultures in developing Nescafe’s Urban Movement campaign.
Joy Orteza | Head of investment strategy | Mindshare | China: At 26, Joy Orteza became Mindshare Unilever’s youngest media director, capping off five years with the company that saw her swiftly rise through the ranks. Back at Mindshare since December 2014 after working at Nokia and Accenture in China, she’s spent her second stint at the agency developing a powerful investment strategy group and in the process shattering all stereotypes around trading as a boring, intimidating part of the business. Orteza is that rare combination: a champion of “both people and numbers”. And on her “personal crusade to change trading conversations from numbers to values”, she and her keen understanding of client requirements have been instrumental in winning 70% of the 72 pitches made since the start of 2017, including clients like Yum! and LVMH. The immeasurable value she brings can also be seen through the savings plans she’s made for clients, which amount to over US$8 million, the multiple investment reporting tools and trackers she’s developing for use across APAC and the work she does to champion opportunities for women across Mindshare’s Asia offices.
Ron Pun | Reprise lead | IPG Mediabrands | Taiwan: When Ron Pun took over Reprise in Taiwan, it seemed like a sinking ship. But the struggling and unprofitable outfit flipped the script in just 12 months with a revenue that has doubled in size and a team that has expanded fourfold. With several valuable accounts in the bag, the agency is now making a greater contribution to IPG Mediabrands’ revenue. Pun is the driving force behind the turnaround. Under her leadership, Reprise has switched gears from getting by as just a media agency to becoming a holistic marketing partner that works closely with clients. Likened to a “supercomputer”, Pun’s on-hand marketing knowledge and proficiency in streamlining complicated jobs down to efficient, detailed processes are well-lauded by her co-workers. The captain of the Reprise ship has not only expanded her crew in size, but also in skills. Gone are the days when they relied on resellers—Pun encourages each of them to undergo training to learn how to independently run self-serve technologies. These days, all Reprise staff are Facebook and Google certified experts.
Hani Ramli | Head of social insights | Isentia | Malaysia: In two years since taking the helm as Malaysia's first-ever head of social insights, Ramli has worked with her team to turn Isentia's social insights practice around from a loss-making business to Isentia’s most profitable Malaysian business unit. Given that more than half of consumer purchase decisions are made by women, she championed an all-female team for unearthing insights, including young and single mothers with half of them given flexible working arrangements. Ramli’s work has been crucial to growing the practice’s client base, for which her team has produced award-winning work like a social trend-jacking campaign for casual restaurant chain Nando’s in Malaysia. She also worked with other regional offices to build an improved social listening tool to monitor and analyse social media conversations, allowing Isentia to compete with larger global players. But perhaps her proudest achievement has been empowering fellow women through her thought leadership and the all-woman internship programme she runs.
Geet Rathi | Design director | TBWA | India: Geet Rathi never comes out of ‘beta’ mode. This, to her colleagues, is what makes her work so good. The self-taught designer unceasingly experiments to come up with solutions that are intuitive and, as befitting of TBWA’s identity, disruptive. Perhaps taking after her mother, who is an artist and avid trekker, the adventurous creative turns away from the well-trodden path of aesthetic trends to chart her own design trail, making surprising discoveries for her team along the way. Rathi wants to lead the industry to do the same. She is part of the mentoring programme at Sophia College of Arts, and gives talks advising young designers to push past the industry conventions to focus on mere beauty and aesthetic. Rathi leads by example. One of the pinnacles of her achievement is the ‘Blink to speak’ campaign for Asha Ek Hope Foundation and NeuroGen Brain and Spine Institute. The Cannes Grand Prix winner is the world’s first eye sign language created for paralysed patients who cannot speak. The work generated worldwide coverage, but the highest praise came from neurosurgeon Dr Alok Sharma, who says it will “benefit innumerable patients around the world.”
Linda Schroeder | Head of consumer insights and advocacy | Manulife Asia | Hong Kong: If anyone can teach a 130-year-old insurance company new tricks to satisfy evolving customers, it’s Linda Schroeder. The Malaysian was born in Taiwan, grew up in Hong Kong and Singapore, studied in the US and has worked across the region, giving her a pan-Asian insight into what makes the consumers of different markets tick. Collaborative and research-centric, Schroeder’s focus on customer happiness has culminated in one of her proudest feats, spearheading the rollout of the Net Promoter System (NPS) at her company. While many firms have installed this customer loyalty measurement, few have been able to turn feedback into actions as well as Manulife, thanks to Schroeder. The Taekwondo red-black belt holder and her team have broken down the mental and skill barriers that confined the system to the use of senior management and marketing, guiding the design, refinement, development and implementation of NPS so that the front-line, back-office and mid-tier management can all leverage the feedback and improve their processes. As such, this century-old company is reinventing itself into a nimble and customer-first outfit—an achievement credited to Schroeder, who was awarded the company’s Global Star of Excellence for rolling out NPS across Asia.
Alvina Seah | General manager | Energy BBDO | Shanghai: Alvina Seah believes in impact through storytelling. She pushes her creative, media and shopper-agency colleagues to unearth local consumer insights related to category usage, content consumption, or purchase dynamics. Then she translates these into "innovative programs that punch way above their media investment", as one global colleague puts it. Case in point, a McDonald's campaign that tapped into anxiety over China's university entrance exams to increase sales of a 'hero' product by over 400%—and ended up winning China's first Warc Grand Prix. Under Shea’s leadership, Energy BBDO Shanghai's reputation has changed from that of a boutique brand-communications agency to a powerhouse in path-to-purchase digital solutions. The agency has expanded by 70% and achieved 17% growth in just eight months, winning work from Alibaba, McDonald's and Disney. Seah also spearheaded a series of collaborative client workshops. These have led to SC Johnson Raid developing a product tailored specifically for China, Master Kong targeting travellers who pack instant noodles in their suitcases and Vita repositioning around non-sugar options.
April Srivikorn | Industry head, strategic partnerships | Google | Thailand: "Strategic capability" doesn't begin to describe April Srivikorn's ability to tackle and resolve highly complex problems on behalf of her clients, according to one colleague. She has a knack for assessing issues, deriving models and getting C-suite buy-in for solutions that unravel complexities for clients. Moreover, Srivikorn has led the development of a series of private-sector partnerships that are positively impacting Thailand's digital economy. These include a partnership with Thailand's largest bank that aims to equip more than 100,000 small businesses with digital knowledge and tools, a partnership with a mobile network to cultivate the next wave of YouTube creators, and a partnership with a leading consumer-products company to fund a rollout of free WiFi across the country. In one case, her partnering skills turned an iconic Thai company from an "unstable" customer into the largest customer for Google Thailand across core offerings. These and other successes demonstrate an ability to couple "audacious" strategic vision with the day-to-day execution required to bring it to life.
Tish Tambakau | Innovation manager | Dentsu Aegis Network | Australia: Tish Timbakau’s role was only supposed to last six months, but it’s become an essential part of the business. It all started with the re-establishment of DAN’s Innovation Council. Since then she has launched 10 separate initiatives with an annual investment of more than $1 million. They include an accelerator programme, a design thinking programme, a ‘Masterclass’ education programme and a partnership with YBF Ventures that has brought the agency closer to Australia’s tech innovation community. Tambakau is motivated by a desire to help Australia become an innovation leader, however hard that may be. She also believes strongly in being an ambassador for diversity in leadership. For her, success in anything depends on having the courage to accept some discomfort and start. Her role is the first of its kind for the network but looks set to be an important part of its future.
Christine Wang | General manager, e-commerce Greater China | Publicis Advertising | China: Armed with a background in science and finance, Christine Wang is a potent blend of creative, media and technology insights. Her ability to see the big picture guides her foresight that moves the industry forward. For example, she was one of the first advertising players to see that e-commerce would emerge out of its sales channel shell to become a brand channel, leading to the creation of Publicis Commerce. She also educates entrepreneurs, students and executives on best practices in advertising for free – this, she believes, is the key to improving brands’ trust in advertising. Her zeal for innovation is used for optimising team structures, revenue streams and creative collaboration between clients and agency. With Wang at the reins, brands under Nestlé saw a major sales hike, Chillean Cherries dominated two thirds of the total market size, Tmall scored hundreds of millions of impressions for its monthly campaigns and Pampers regained its number one position in e-commerce in the diapers category. Even small brands like Moleskine benefited from Wang’s expertise, doubling their eCommerce sales in China without hefty media spend—proving she truly deserves the ‘disruptor’ title accorded by colleagues and clients.
Joanna Wong | Head of business marketing | Spotify | Singapore: With a background in marketing at global entertainment companies including Sky Germany, MTV and HBO, Joanna Wong was ideally placed to take the business marketing lead as a founding member of Spotify in Asia-Pacific in 2014. Named a “tremendous asset” to the firm, Wong has successfully built and guided her team here, making sure it integrates well with parallel Spotify departments and spreading a layer of welcoming inclusivity over all—notably by spearheading a Spotify Asia Social Committee. In business mode, she is just as impressive, driving a very strong average sales increase and pioneering new strategies for the APAC market. Wong’s highly successful Spotify Digital Day, started in Manila this year, as well as the Hackathon Workshop she instigated in Singapore, are just two examples: the latter secured Spotify’s largest advertising deal in Singapore to date, and the idea has since been adapted beyond APAC.
Cathy Yue | Senior director | Edelman Public Relations | China: Cathy Yue has been an instrumental part of Edelman China’s story. Having strengthened the agency’s digital business significantly between 2013 and 2015, she took on the challenge of building Edelman Brand, which aims to offer full integrated marketing services. In the space of two years, the division’s business has grown from around $875,000 to $2.5 million. Notably, Yue is credited with leading HP to return its digital business to Edelman, and this year helped land a $2 million piece of business from Adidas, for which she assembled a team of 20 in the space of a month. Yue is more than just a workhorse, however. Her leadership style is based on creating a vibrant environment that inspires staff to give their best. One subordinate sums her style up as being that of a “life coach” as well as leader. “I can see that she cares about each and every team member,” he says.