Mother Enters Asia in Deal With Shanghai Shop

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Michael Wall
Michael Wall Credit: Mother

Mother is launching in Asia through a deal with The Secret Little Agency, a ten-year-old independent shop with offices in Shanghai and Singapore.

As part of the deal, Mother Holdings will become the majority owner of TSLA's Shanghai agency, which will be renamed Mother Shanghai. Mother will also make a smaller, minority investment in TSLA's original Singapore office.

TSLA and Mother have already worked together, most notably on a successful global pitch for Nokia, and are consulting jointly on another piece of business.

Mother also quietly opened a Los Angeles office in early summer on the back of a win from a big tech company. Michael Wall, Mother's global CEO, didn't name the client, but says it's "one of the big three you'd want to be working with."

Mother is still looking at how to build the L.A. office into a fully-fledged agency. Earlier this month, Mother made 17 creative hires for both L.A. and New York, but won't say how many are going to each office. In the last couple years, the New York office has laid off staff and seen a number of senior management changes. Now, Wall says, "the U.S. is starting to motor again."

Adding Asia offices in Shanghai and Singapore is likely to be the last time Mother ventures into new territory. Mother opened in London in 1996, added the U.S. in 2003 and a Buenos Aires office called Madre in 2005. "That's it," Wall says. "We don't want to create a micro network or a rigorous structure for international clients. We just want the best people from around the world to be part of Mother."

TSLA opened in Shanghai last October with just seven people. The agency has 12 people in China now, but it's still tiny. The plan is to add local talent and import at least one heavy-hitter from Mother London. "If we want to make it work culturally and quickly, we need an exchange of people," says Wall. "It's important that someone moves over there, but we don't yet know who or for how long."

Wall, who gained international experience during his six years as global CEO of Lowe & Partners (now MullenLowe Group) before joining Mother in 2015, says, "China is massive and complicated. We have a lot to do to get it right. Just because we're launching in Shanghai, it doesn't mean we have any right to crack Shanghai, let alone China."

TSLA was founded in Singapore by CEO Nicholas Ye, and is now run by a six-strong leadership team, of whom four are Asia women. For one client, Netflix, TSLA temporarily turned a Singapore restaurant into the cafeteria from "Orange Is The New Black," serving prison food with a gourmet touch. The agency also works with Nestlé's Milo, and Zespri, a kiwi fruit brand.

Mother works with marketers like Diageo and Anheuser-Busch InBev who are active in China, and Wall says he hopes such clients might provide a springboard into China. Mother's clients also include KFC, Ikea, Target, Baileys, Stella Artois and Walls says here are no client conflicts between TSLA and Mother.

TSLA and Mother are "very, very compatible," he says. "TSLA is the most significant purely independent agency in a market which is dominated by networks and holding companies. They are smart, ambitious, energetic, focused, and want to be one of the great global creative agencies. It's the right environment to get the best people to join."

"We've had a crush on Mother for some time now," says TSLA's Ye in a statement. "Mother doesn't just create great work. They move culture. To do this sustainably, independently and together with friends from three other continents, is a future we're definitely looking forward to."

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