WE Asia EVP: the rebrand is just the beginning

Three-pronged expansion strategy is the next step to WE's success in Asia, with focus on India and ASEAN

Matthew Lackie

After completing its transformation from Waggener Edstrom to WE last week, Matthew Lackie, the firm’s executive vice president for Asia-Pacific, says the agency is now ready to grow rapidly in the region and the short-term target markets are India and Southeast Asia.

Lackie, based in Singapore and regional lead for the past three years, told PRWeek that WE’s APAC offices have been employing the wider firm’s new strategy of an integrated, collective offering for some time, and it has been paying dividends for clients.

"We always been strong in different [APAC] markets, and each office was known for doing something distinct," he said. "The main foundation of my role has been unifying the region under a common mission. So the sense of the collective that has driven the WE rebrand is something we in APAC were already on board with."

"So that has meant bringing consistency in terms of skills and in the industries we go after, so we’re in a position to win bigger regional briefs because that’s where the interesting work is and that’s where the budgets are, quite honestly."

Lackie points to WE’s aggressive growth in APAC as a sign that they are heading the right direction; 63 per cent of the region’s client portfolio is serviced by more than one office.

"Three years ago that would have been closer to 10 per cent," he said. "So it’s exciting for us."

Lackie explained the firm’s three-pronged strategy for growth in Asia: acquisition – "not necessarily for footprint but for capability" - developing partnerships, or investing in companies as they have done with Buchan WE in Australia and Shout WE in Korea.

Which of those options is employed when will be taken on a case-by-case basis.

"It depends on the agency landscape in the market, and the relationship you have with an agency," Lackie said. "I’ve seen a number of acquisitions go horribly wrong. The ones that work best are when you’ve actually worked with the agency so you understand their values and how they think commercially."

"That would make me more open to a full acquisition, otherwise maybe we’d think: small investment, make the connections and then build from there."

This approach is particularly important in India, Lackie told PRWeek, which WE has identified as a top priority because of its enormous potential.

"India is a market where scale is super important," he said. "To be recognised as one of the top 10 firms, you need a certain amount of scale and that’s something we need to address. We’re still a relatively small business there."

While keen to focus on strengthening its core business in the technology, consumer and healthcare sectors, Lackie said WE will look to the reflect the local landscape of each APAC market, which could see new industries added to its portfolio. He pointed to financial services in India as a "huge area of opportunity".

As well as a push in India, Lackie said WE will be concentrating on Vietnam and Indonesia in Southeast Asia, because they have large populations and as their economies develop, so will the business opportunities.

"The consumer opportunities in both those countries is massive, and it’s one that many of the brands we work with want to tap into," he said.

China remains in WE’s crosshairs and Lackie said the firm will continue to invest there. But the recent economic turmoil and government policies regarding multinational companies, particularly in the technology sector, is "creating more of a conservative posture for some of our clients", he said.

"On the flipside, [Indian prime minister Narendra] Modi is out there marketing India; he’s extremely pro-business," Lackie said.

With such ambitious plans in the pipeline for Asia, Lackie said WE’s rebrand plays to the firm’s strengths, although he accepted it was "quite brave" of company owners Melissa Waggener Zorkin and Pam Edstrom to remove their names from the company title.

Referring to the blog post Waggener Zorkin wrote announcing the rebrand, Lackie said: "It’s never been about her, she’s always had that mantra. I think she almost feels reinvigorated by this opportunity." 

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