Although he was unofficially overseeing TBWA’s offices in the Middle East and Africa already, Mr. Smith will take over the Omnicom Group agency’s network in Europe, in addition to his existing responsibilities. He continues to report to TBWA’s global CEO, Jean-Marie Dru.
With dozens of countries in a large, diverse region reporting to him already, the U.K. native has long been a road warrior. Cathay Pacific Airways’ loyalty program has even recognized Mr. Smith as one of its top ten members.
A veteran of London’s ad industry since 1972, he has worked at DDB Worldwide, McCann Erickson and Grey Worldwide. In 1983, he joined Holmes Knight Ritchie/WRG. Nine years later, the agency became TBWA/Holmes Knight Ritchie, leading Mr. Smith to various European positions until he relocated with TBWA to Asia in October 1996.
Despite his significant European experience, Mr. Smith won’t elaborate on his plans for the new job. The promotion “came a bit by surprise,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it at the moment, but I will have to fall back on some of the people who are already in that region.”
Mr. Smith does know that he plans to remain based in Hong Kong, even though his wife and children primarily reside in London, because he wants to stay near China, one of the world’s most promising ad markets: “I think what I’m doing here is important, and Asia gets in your blood.”
During the past decade, he has grown TBWA’s regional Asia operation from scratch into a business with $1 billion in turnover and more than 1,600 staff. In China, TBWA and its Tequila direct marketing arm employ about 400 between a flagship operation in Shanghai and smaller offices in Hong Kong and Beijing. Clients include Adidas, Pernod Ricard's Chivas Regal and Martell brands, Mars, Haagen Dazs, Nissan and Shangri-La Hotels.
While TBWA is not Omnicom’s largest advertising network globally, it does overshadow both DDB and BBDO Worldwide in China. The agency’s success has led to some “healthy rivalry” with its sibling agencies, “but there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Mr. Smith, with a friendly, familiar chuckle, one aspect of a personality that has earned him respect across the region.
“Keith is a real nice guy and a true professional. For a senior executive, he’s very modest and down to earth. He has big ideas but he’s easy to relate to, talk to and work with, and he keeps his word,” said Ian Chapman-Banks, Motorola’s VP-Asia/Pacific & general manager, marketing & business development, mobile devices, North Asia in Beijing.
In a former marketing role at Apple Computers in Asia, Mr. Chapman-Banks worked with TBWA, and more recently, when TBWA pitched for Motorola’s creative business in China, the Middle East and Africa. TBWA lost China to incumbent Ogilvy & Mather, partly because TBWA’s Beijing office was considered too small to lead Motorola’s account in one of the U.S. company’s largest and most important markets.
“You win some, you lose some. [Ogilvy] had more people in their Beijing office than we did, and price was a factor as well,” Mr. Smith said serenely about the Motorola pitch.
But in the past six months, he and Shanghai-based Gavin Heron, TBWA’s longtime CEO, China, have noticeably beefed up TBWA’s office in Beijing while also adding high-level staff in Shanghai, in part to make the network more competitive in future high-level pitches.
“We’re looking at organic growth, which has been fantastic, and utilizing other global TBWA-owned companies in China. We are also looking at acquisitions, but there is nothing immediate coming up,” said Mr. Smith. The agency also bought out its Chinese joint venture partner earlier this year.
“We were lucky,” said Mr. Smith. “Our partner, an industrial company, never really wanted to interfere. Other agencies have been far less lucky, because they had partners who were also ad agencies and who wanted to be involved.”
Other people news in Greater China
[beijing] Chien Hwang to executive creative director, TBWA Worldwide, Beijing from creative director, Young & Rubicam, New York, where he managed creative for brands like Diet Dr Pepper, Texaco and Toys R Us.
[hong kong] Aquent, a human resources company focused on the marketing industry, has relocated Paul Slezak to Hong Kong as director of its office in the Chinese territory, succeeding Hong Kong-based Area Manager Ivy Wong. Previously, he was director of the headhunter’s office in Sydney.