AKQA CEO on Mobile, Asia, and the Bay Area Attitude

San Francisco– During a recent visit with AKQA CEO Tom Bedecarré, the marketing veteran shared his views on emerging mobile trends, plans to expand in Asia, and how entrepreneurs in the Bay Area differ from those in China.

From East to West: The Mobile Battlefield Unfolds in His Backyard

When AKQA started a dedicated mobile division in 2006, it had a sense that North Asia like Korea and Japan were far ahead of America. Four years ago, AKQA even explored buying a mobile company in China.

But with integration and merging of mobile and social on iPhone and Facebook, attention shifted to Silicon Valley in AKQA’s backyard.

Referring to news of Google launching Google+ and buying Motorola, Bedecarré asked: Who would have thought the Google juggernaut would need to keep up a multi-front battle with the likes of Apple and Facebook as competitors?

With rising smartphone penetration and Groupon’s increasing popularity, mobile marketing is becoming more geo-sensitive to people’s locations to connect with social networking tools and leverage local deals. He said this would provide more opportunities for mobile payments to take off from Google wallet to the NFC chip including startup Square.

From Play Money to Big Bucks: How Advertisers View Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare

In the U.S., brand marketers from large companies usually have a discretionary pool of money. Even if it’s half of one percent of the budget, that’s equivalent to tens of millions of dollars for marketers to try the “new hot thing” that could be the next Twitter or Facebook.

But when the honeymoon is over, startups have to eventually demonstrate they will drive business and scale to generate a huge audience worthy of big bucks.

For instance, Bedecarré compared Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to how much ‘play money’ big name advertisers are willing to invest in each of the platforms. Global brands are willing to spend serious money on Facebook because of the social network’s high impressions while not quite sure where to place Twitter, so the microblog gets experimental money and that’s still better than Foursquare.

From Silicon Valley to China’s Z-Park: Possessing the Bay Area Attitude

In Silicon Valley, there are interesting examples of visionaries focused on building the right thing and the audience will come. This means turning down money to focus on creating great experience, as the dollars will catch up with you.

“It’s a different culture here,” Bedecarré explained.

In China, startups have the luxury to see what works somewhere else first. Being a fast follower is not a bad strategy especially when barrier entry to the country is so high, he added.

Despite the tough economic climate, Bedecarré said the agency continues to grow with close to 1,000 people around the world and an enviable portfolio of clients from Nike, Visa, to Coca-Cola.

“It’s no secret we are the largest independent left standing and not part of a network,” he said.

The CEO attributed this to having the Bay area attitude: servicing clients well, focusing on business growth, hiring more good people and working with good brands so they will be big enough to continue to attract strategic interest.

From Singapore to Shanghai: AKQA Eyes Tokyo and Sydney to Expand

AKQA made its Asia debut in February 2001 when the U.K. agency merged with creative web shop AdInc from Singapore, U.S. ad agency Citron Haligman Bedecarré and web development firm Magnet Interactive to form an independent global network.

It was an easy decision to base AKQA’s Asia Pacific hub in Singapore 10 years ago, Bedecarré said. However, when the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing was approaching, key clients Coca-Cola and Nike saw China’s increasing importance it became obvious place to shift its regional hub.

Ho Chee Yue, AdInc founder and managing director of AKQA Singapore moved his team to Shanghai in 2006. The five-person team has since expanded to 50 staff in the Shanghai office headed by Leo Chu to serve mainly global clients from Nike to Unilever.

For instance, AKQA created a game app on China’s largest social network QQ for Clear anti-dandruff shampoo as the Unilever brand re-introduced its men and women’s product line with improved packaging in June. The game attracted more than 16 million downloads since its launch.

While China continues to be hot for the digital marketing industry, Bedecarré said the country is still maturing and lacks depth in digital talents. With a 10-year perspective in the market, this actually worked to AKQA’s benefit, he added.

So will AKQA expand beyond Shanghai in Asia?

With the belief in following clients than the old model of setting up shop in every capital city in the world, the independent agency intends to double to 16 offices in five years. For Asia, Bedecarré said he’s reviewing Tokyo, Australia, and Singapore as possible places to expand in the region but declined to provide specifics.

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