Southeast Asia's Agency Turnaround Man

Matt Seddon's Plans for Saatchi's Philippines Office

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On the eve of Ace- Saatchi & Saatchi Philippines' 60th birthday, Vice Chairman Matt Seddon tells us that we still do the same detergent advertising the way we used to. He stands up, walks to a side table filled with mementos from the past. There's a radio plastic reel, an old transistor, a Compton folio, an archive of rare collectibles and many other treasures that could be in a Saatchi museum.

He picks up an album and leafs through the pages. He's right. Except for the vintage look, the folio reveals the same things we are doing today. Through roller-coaster years, the word "illustrious" may aptly refer to the lineup of people from this agency, which, along with the others, has helped strengthen the corner pillars of the Philippine ad industry. Ace-Saatchi & Saatchi (formerly Ace-Compton) comes to mind when you talk about a long list -- a generation of people who've made an indelible mark, mavericks who've sculpted creative reputations, advertising gurus who've built not only brands but also their own names.

One of two grand dames of Philippine advertising, Ace-Saatchi & Saatchi is turning 60 in 2009 and is banking on a man who almost single-handedly resuscitated Saatchi & Saatchi Malaysia and built the network's Vietnam outpost. Matt Seddon is a British national and a great fan of the Filipino for being strong in the face adversity. And he has a Filipina for a wife.

Mr. Seddon helped build Saatchi & Saatchi's Ho Chi Minh's office, Vietnam's most creative ad agency today and first to win in Cannes. Under Mr. Seddon's leadership, Saatchi & Saatchi Malaysia rose from the grave dug for it by the 1997 Asian financial crisis to become one of Southeast Asia's most consistent creative empires. It was Malaysia's back-to-back Agency of the Year in 2003-2004.

Mr. Seddon started his career in the Philippines by taking over an equally illustrious institution on the verge of being forgotten -- JWT, the oldest surviving ad agency in the country. He dismantled bureaucratic layers, got rid of old thinking and, most important, re-energized its creative department by hiring fresh people.

The results, as we all know, were just mind-blowing. Between 2005 and 2006, JWT surfaced from being a minnow to a giant-killer, winning in the world's toughest award shows: a print gold in Asia Adfest, a silver in the One Show, a bronze from both Cannes and Clio.

The following year was even more mind-boggling. JWT brought home the brightest jewel in the Philippines' crown: a gold from the world's biggest advertising festival, Cannes.

In two years' time, JWT Philippines under Mr. Seddon was the most awarded agency-country in its entire global network. Now as Ace-Saatchi & Saatchi Philippines' vice chairman, Mr. Seddon hopes to once again bring his magic touch to an agency reinvigorated by a talent-laden young team to serve a unique Saatchi brand of creativity to the agency's roster of clients.

"We are in people's business so, therefore, we should get the right people. Right people give you the best ideas, and the best ideas redound to money and awards," Mr. Seddon says.

He walks the talk. No wonder he brought in young Tony Sarmiento, formerly of BBDO and Proximity, as VP for integration. Tony's part of a new generation for Saatchi, 40 minds in all, from different agency cultures, with varied backgrounds but one common denominator: talent combined with overflowing passion.

"You can't teach passion. If you don't have it, you don't fit in. Advertising isn't complicated. It's us who make it complicated -- over-intellectualizing, over-researching things to death," Mr. Seddon stresses.

The Saatchi Asia country-builder (he also worked with Saatchi & Saatchi Hong Kong and Indonesia), better known as "The Turn-Around Man," is proud of the Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide advertising mantra developed by Kevin Roberts. Called "Lovemarks," the Saatchi thinking is not just being product-centric, with the brand being a mere commodity. It goes even further beyond the brand's rational equities.

The "lovemarks" concept tells us that an emotional benefit is compensation money can't buy. It identifies that benefit as "love," the immeasurable experience a brand provides to consumers. "When you have high love, you get high respect. You build a connection, you build brand intimacy that begets trust that ultimately bears a long-lasting relationship," Mr. Seddon says.

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