Cheil Worldwide's China chief, Aaron Lau, has been promoted to a new role as president of international for the Seoul-based agency company. His focus will be on building up business globally and diversifying the client base for Cheil, which for years has been trying to move beyond its history as Samsung's in-house agency.
While taking on new responsibilities, Mr. Lau will retain his role as president and CEO of Cheil Greater China.
Under his leadership, Cheil's China revenues are almost on par with those in its historic market of South Korea. In the first quarter, Cheil made around 23% of its global revenues in China, compared to 25% in Korea. In China, the company has ventured into non-traditional digital territory for agencies, like publishing games and tourism apps for Chinese travelers.
"Cheil for many years has been known as a Samsung in-house agency because that's what we started our foundation on," Mr. Lau said. "There's good and bad to this reputation, obviously -- Samsung has grown leaps and bounds to be one of the power brands in the world, and we're very proud we have played a role in that success. At the same time we have ambitions to be a multi-client agency, with Samsung remaining a very important client."
Cheil has strengthened its international credentials by buying companies including U.S. agencies Barbarian Group in 2009 and McKinney in mid-2012. Last year it bought a stake in London-based Iris Worldwide. Cheil, set up in 1973, is No. 15 on the Ad Age Datacenter's list of the world's biggest agency companies, with 2014 revenues of $845.3 million, up 6.9% from the previous year, It has 48 offices in 41 countries.
"We have now got a portfolio of creative assets, each with its own [specialties], and we feel this is the time we pull the whole thing together for the benefit of clients," said Hong Kong-born Mr. Lau, who spent many years in New York and London.
Mr. Lau reports to Global COO Michael Kim. He will split his time between China and London, where he will head up a team Cheil has recruited to pursue global opportunities. Members include Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer; Simon Hathaway, who leads Cheil's retail experience operations globally; Lotta Malm-Hallqvist, global chief growth officer; Chris Chalk, president, global chief strategy officer; and Peter Kim, global digital officer, based in Seoul.
Mr. Lau will also collaborate with shops like McKinney, The Barbarian Group, Beattie McGuinness Bungay and Iris as Cheil pursues more global pitches. Along with the Samsung business, Cheil network agencies now handle international work for Korean brands Hankook tires and AmorePacific cosmetics, and do work in several markets for Crocs and New Balance.
Several other prominent execs tasked with globalizing Cheil are no longer with the company. Buz Sawyer, CEO for North America, left in 2013 and was not replaced; Bruce Haines held roles as president-global chief operating officer and global chief strategy officer before retiring in 2013.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that China accounted for about 40% of Cheil's global revenue, based on an incorrect estimate supplied by Cheil Greater China. That figure is 23%.