Asian market lacks business opportunities for independent agencies, says agency boss

Australia’s independent agencies may be looking to expand overseas, but there’s little business in the Asian market and they may struggle, reveals Simon Bookallil, CEO at Bashful agency.

Simon Bookallil - SAGE

Simon Bookallil, CEO at Bashful, speaking at SAGE on October 12.

Speaking on a panel at the Secrets of Agency Excellence conference (SAGE) on October 12, Bookallil said while Bashful will move into the Asian market, he doesn’t believe there are many business opportunities.

“I have to say having been to the Asian market many times, I know that people jump into Singapore and Hong Kong and various markets. I don’t actually think there’s a lot of business there,” Bookallil said.

“When you go to markets like Singapore, there’s a lot of international, multi-national businesses. For an independent I think it would be very difficult to set up in those markets.”

Bookallil added that in the south east asian market, independent agencies can be viewed as a premium service, a service the market isn’t ready for.

“In terms of the south east asian market, I don’t think they’re at a maturity level, in terms of paying for the services,” he explained.

“We are seen as a premium service. To go and hire people and set up infrastructure, we become more expensive.”

The panel (L-R) Chris Walton (Nunn Media), Kim McKay (Klick Communications), Simon Bookallil (Bashful), and Mumbrella editor and panel moderator, Alex Hayes

However Bookallil said the independent agency was open to opportunities in other markets, including Asia, with 20% of clients across Hong Kong, Manila and India.

“For us, certainly somewhere in Asia will happen. I think that’s something that will occur at one point in time. I’m not sure where that will be.”

“I like North America as well, I think that’s somewhere where we have certain niches that we provide service in. We have great expertise in that area. And I think we could open in that market as well,” he added.

Kim McKay, founder and director at Klick Communications added to the discussion, explaining how growing businesses through expats did not work.

“I learned really quickly, which innately I kind of knew, you can’t build a business on expats. Forget that,” McKay said.

Kim McKay SAGE

Kim McKay, founder and director, Klick Communications at SAGE

“We are in a small market already, imagine being in the Aussie market in that town.”

“You have to live, breathe and act as an LA local,” she said.

On hiring in new markets and keeping employees engaged, McKay said: “It’s really tuning in to what floats their boat.”

“I don’t have a one size fits all, for me it’s really around helping them create their dream, because they’re helping me create mine,” she explained.

Also in the session, McKay stressed the importance of saying no to new businesses when expanding into new markets.

“Be very comfortable saying ‘no’ to new business. Taking on the wrong client can really derail you,” she said.

Chris Walton, managing director at Nunn Media in Sydney, added: “Retaining the freedom to say ‘no’ is immensely liberating and is a very powerful thing to have.”


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