In three years at Digitas Singapore, Creative Director Keith Byrne has helped triple the agency’s client list. Digitas Singapore has also been named Marketing Magazine’s Digital Agency of the Year (twice) and Campaign’s Specialist Agency of the Year, and now counts amongst its clients Danone, Disney, HSBC, Mercedes, Novartis and Visa.
Before relocating to Singapore, Byrne worked for some of the world’s most innovative agencies including Rothco, R/GA and Digitas London. We recently spoke with him about the past three years with Digitas, his goals in the coming years, his impressions of Singapore, and more.
You’ve led Digitas Singapore for the past three years. What did you set out to achieve when you first arrived there?
When I first moved from Digitas London to Singapore in 2016, we were 20 people occupying a few desks at BHH’s office in Clarke Quay. We only had three clients.
Today, we are 105 people working out of our own office on Collyer Quay working with some of the world’s biggest brands: Disney, HSBC, Samsung, Visa to name a few.
We’ve grown the creative department to 25 people as well as growing other key areas of the business like tech, data, media and cRM.
What are your goals for the next few years?
My primary goal is to improve the quality of our work. We were very much a start-up when I joined in 2016 and the main goal then was to win new business and grow relationships with key clients across APAC. Now, it’s really about delivering great work for these clients, like the Samsung ‘Little Moments. Bigger Things’ campaign.
Is there a project or campaign you are proudest of making since you joined Digitas?
I’m definitely most proud of the work that we’ve created for HSBC over the past few years. HSBC is a challenger brand in Singapore and doesn’t have the same marketing budget as the much bigger local banks. But this hasn’t stopped us continuing to deliver interesting campaigns and activations.
We were very much a start-up when I joined in 2016 and the main goal then was to win new business and grow relationships with key clients across APAC.
We built a digital wishing tree for Chinese New Year, created an algorithm powered, augmented reality kicking game for the bank’s sponsorship of the Rugby 7s, and made numerous traditional brand campaigns.
How would you say Digitas is different from other digital agencies?
It’s the people and how we bring them together to solve business problems that I think makes us different. We’re definitely not a traditional agency in the sense that a brief goes from the client to strategy to a creative team. Instead we try to bring people with a wider skillset together, often building teams with tech, data, media and creative expertise. This often means the solution we develop isn’t a traditional campaign.
You’re originally from Dublin – how does living in Singapore inspire you?
I’ve been lucky enough to work in Ireland, Australia, UK and now Singapore. There are definite similarities across all markets. For instance, each has a really high standard of craft, whether that be digital or traditional production.
Singapore and London are quite similar in that they are both hubs for their region, meaning you are often tasked with creating a campaign that must work in multiple languages and countries.
What I find inspiring about Singapore is its potential. The country’s location as a hub of Asia and its access to evolving technology gives a creative multiple opportunities to make great work.
What are the biggest misperceptions about Singapore’s creative scene?
That it’s a hot bed of creative innovation. The country is definitely heading in the right direction but the lack of recent digital awards at Cannes is an indication that Singapore is currently underperforming.
You recently judged Ad Stars in Korea for the first time. Were there any surprises?
I thought it was a fantastic experience. We had a very diverse jury with every continent bar Africa represented. This created great debate that often changed opinions, but we were pretty unanimous when it came to selecting the Grand Prix in each category. Truly great work is actually quite easy to judge.
I was surprised by the lack of Innovation entries. I understand that this is an advertising awards show and most of what our industry creates is campaign-driven. But for me, we should be creating more products and services like Dot Mini (Serviceplan Korea), which won Gold for Innovation. It’s a device that has the power to change the lives of 285 million blind people. This is the direction our industry should be taking.
Favorite memory of Busan?
Hangover Soup. Enough said.