Why every agency needs an Asian outpost

I’ve spent a lot of time recently deciding between chicken or beef; on my way between London and Singapore. Both Hyper Island, the Swedish digital media university college I helped start in the mid 90’s, and my London agency, the OTHER media are looking east towards Asia as we respond to both client needs and opportunities.  We’re by no means alone in planning such new ventures but the reasons are so compelling that it surprises me that there aren’t even more headed in this direction.

Clients and talent are the twin reasons behind our decisions. As our ecommerce clients grow in confidence, they want to reach out and access customers in the vibrant and increasingly wealthy Chinese and broader Asian markets. They could, of course, replicate sites, apps, fulfillment and marketing using local agencies but partnering with their existing agencies to adapt their European and US presence offers greater economies of scale and consistency of both message and operations. And, to be effective in these new markets we have to be there; operating in their languages, cultures, timezones and on their terms.

Our second reason is access the considerable talent that exists in this region who come with a hunger and enthusiasm which is sometimes hard to find at home.  In Hyper Island’s case we want to be part of nurturing and building that talent with plans to offer both our Masters programmes and our shorter Executive education to an audience which is receptive and challengingly keen to learn. This is not us delivering truths to naive designers, project managers and technologists but a real opportunity to swap knowledge and experiences.

We have much to learn as well as to teach and funneling this knowledge back to our Swedish and UK hubs will provide our existing students with powerful new tools and insights that will help them in their global careers. This is a win-win for our whole operation and is mirrored in the goals for my agency. We want to really understand the business, technology and cultural differences in this huge market so that can help our clients make sense of it. This is going to be particularly true in a region that will be hugely connected, mobile and social without, for most, passing through the desktop PC phase we went through in the 80’s and 90’s.

I’ll need local staff and local partners to make both these projects work and I’m already excited to have met great marketers, designers, social media experts, entrepreneurs and data visualisation experts. Every time I have a meeting, my narrow preconceptions of this region are challenged but with local help we can help clients and students understand the impact of the second largest (Chinese) social network on the planet, help design tools that will give brands insights into their fastest growing fan base and manage relationships with Union Pay, Alibaba and other ecommerce business partners.

We’ve chosen Singapore over other possible entry points into this market because of its hugely welcoming attitude to digital business and the enthusiasm for Hyper Island’s participative style of education in the country. With luck we’ll be fully operational by the Autumn.  I can’t wait!

Jonathan is Professor of eBusiness at Kingston University, Co-Founder of Hyper Island and Chairman of the OTHER media

  • ChrisJReed

    Singapore is the place to be Jonathan. It’s the ultimate Asian hub and very business friendly. Welcome to your new world!

  • Dildar Baig

    Really a thought provoking article! Rachel, I don’t want to change my career but definitely want to help others through my career. I have a vision according to which I do every thing. 
    When you say that many people want to change their line but they don’t because it seems a daunting step to them, you are 100% right. 
    I think most of us lack the knack of taking that first step which is pivotal to change our line.  It is just like we see in the story “His First Flight” by an Irish author Liam O’Flaherty.  Anticipations are always more intensive so we are just stuck in them. 


    • Rachel Brushfield

      Thanks for posting your comment; I will have a look at the book you recommend.

      Having a clear vision and personal values really helps to make decisions
      in life and your career and to say ‘no’ to options too. In a world of infinite
      choices and overwhelming information, it really helps. The world of work is changing fast. 2 excellent books are ‘The Shift – the future of work is already here’ by Lynda Gratton and ‘The start up of you’ by Reid Hoffman.


      A different second career isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs a career strategy and plan and anyone can help others
      through their own career e.g. mentoring. I recommend that my clients define a
      career vision & strategy – it is like a horizon towards which they move,
      even if they sail towards interesting and unexpected destinations along the way. Their chosen
      career horizon is always there to come back to.