Lowe's Ng Tian It

Singaporean creatives remain popular in China

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SHANGHAI--The lure of China’s rising economic status has struck another blow to one of Southeast Asia’s top advertising hubs, as yet another renowned Singapore creative relocates to the mainland.

Ng Tian It is joining Lowe Worldwide in Shanghai as exec creative director for China. For the past nine months, he has held the same position at BateyAds in Singapore, and has helped the WPP Group shop recover from the devastating loss of its iconic Singapore Airlines account earlier this year.

His relocation to Shanghai is part of a growing trend of Singaporeans heading into China, including Saatchi & Saatchi’s Chief Creative Officer Greater China, Peter Soh; regional exec creative director of Bates Asia, Norman Tan; Euro RSCG’s ECD, Greater China, Eddie Wong; Yang Yeo, who will join JWT in Shanghai as chief creative officer, effective Nov. 15, 2007 from TBWA, where he is group ECD, China; Leong Wai Foong, ECD of BBDO, Shanghai; and Yue Chee Guan, ECD of Grey Global Group in Beijing.

Singaporeans are appealing to multinational networks eager to beef up their Chinese operations because many grew up speaking Mandarin, unlike creatives in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, and they are familiar with Chinese cultural cues and values.

While Singapore is one of the strongest creative markets in Asia, “China is where the action is right now,” said Mr. Ng.

During his stint at Batey, the agency started to get back on its feet with new accounts like Qatar Airways, Audi, Mitsubishi and the German furniture maker Domicil. He raised his profile in Singapore in his previous role as ECD of McCann Erickson.

“For a large part of its 41-year existence in Singapore, McCann Erickson [has been] synonymous with solid business growth,” fueled by a roster of Fortune 500 clientele, said Mr. Ng. “The secret of its success is plain simple--pure business. As a result, it had also become a place where no decent creative person would dare to touch with a ten-foot pole.”

Known for “mass-producing dull, predictable work for dull, predictable clients,” he joined McCann two months after Sorab Mistry took over as managing director of McCann’s Singapore office in July 2003. Mr. Mistry was determined to reform the agency into a creative powerhouse for clients like Microsoft Xbox, Johnson & Johnson, Nestle and MasterCard.

Less than a year later, the agency earned an impressive haul at awards shows including the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the D&AD Global Awards, the One Show and the Asia/Pacific Advertising Festival, transforming the agency from a creative minnow into one of the most-awarded agencies in Asia.

Mr. Ng graduated from the Otis/Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration in 1990, and began his career there at Chiat Day. He returned to Singapore in 1993, where he worked at agencies such as JWT, Monsoon, Dentsu Young & Rubicam, Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett. In 1996, while he worked at Monsoon, a strong local creative shop, he was named best new art director at the Singapore Creative Circle Awards, organized by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents.

“Rebuilding the McCann brand has been my biggest and most satisfying challenge to date,” he said, because it “proves that nothing is impossible given the right mindset.”

His turnaround of McCann is significant because Lowe needs him to perform a similar feat in China. Due to a steady stream of global client losses and management turmoil, Lowe is seen as the weakest link in the Interpublic Group of Cos. portfolio.

Earlier this month in the U.S., for instance, General Motors moved its Saab brand to Interpublic sibling McCann Erickson and in June 2006 GM consolidated its Buick-Pontiac-GMC account at Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett.

In China, the agency has been crippled in recent years by political squabbles with its local joint venture partner, Chinese conglomerate Guangming. In September 2006, Lowe appointed Kitty Lun in Shanghai as chairman & CEO, China and she has spent the past year overhauling the agency by bringing in top-level executives such as head of planning, Mike Foster, formerly a Singapore-based regional planning director for P&G brands in Asia/Pacific at Leo Burnett.

Earlier this month, Lowe also appointed Senior Business Director Emen Chong to run the agency’s Unilever laundry business. Before joining Lowe, she was a global account director at TBWA and Tequila in Singapore, working on Singapore Airlines, Standard Chartered Bank and AIG.

With the appointment of Mr. Ng, said Ms. Lun, a creative veteran in North Asia, “my team at Lowe, Shanghai is almost complete. With all these good people taking care of shop [in Shanghai], I can rebuild Beijing now.”
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