Ending a four-year stint as the APAC Chief for OMD, one of the Omnicom Media Group agencies, Steve Blakeman is all set to bid adieu to Asia, to take on a global role that would see him relocate to London. Replacing him is MEC’s Stephen Li, who will now don the OMD APAC CEO role. The change will be effective October 2015. While Mr Blakeman’s move is largely driven by family reasons, he is not only looking forward to a new role at OMD but also to going back home. In a candid conversation with Digital Market Asia, Mr Blakeman bares all about this decade long stint in Asia, highlights as OMD APAC Chief and the only advice he has for his successor Stephen Li. Excerpts:
While OMD’s APAC operations have grown on different benchmarks in the last four years, what would you reflect back as your biggest achievement for the agency in your role as APAC CEO?
There have been many highlights on my four-year watch at OMD. We have increased billings by over 60 per cent, launched our highly successful programmatic, content and mobile offerings, we have ushered in a new brand positioning, logo and operating system plus our award wins have increased fourfold – including the Cannes Lion for ‘Media Agency of the Year’ in 2013 which ranks as a personal career highlight.
What can you tell us about your next assignment? Would you still be at OMD/ in an Omnicom Media Group role/ where would you be based now?
There is an official announcement due in the next few weeks that will outline the salient details of my new job. For now, I can tell you that it is a senior Global role, based in London, running one of our major Global clients and reporting directly into Colin Gottlieb.
What are some of the developments that have preceded this change in your role at OMD?
The primary reason for our return to the UK is actually quite simple. It seems that our daughter Georgia is a quite talented actress/ singer/ dancer and has won a scholarship at a prestigious Performing Arts school in the UK. As a family, we just can’t be apart so we have had to take the difficult decision to leave Asia. I discussed the situation with both Cheuk (Chiang, CEO, Omnicom Media Group APAC) and Mainardo (de Nardis, CEO, OMD Worldwide) many months ago and they completely understood the predicament. Collectively, we have been working on a solution to find a suitable OMD opportunity in London for myself whilst they also searched for my successor. I’m delighted to say that we have managed to achieve both of these objectives, so the transition should be seamless.
The change in your role also would see you leave Asia. What are some of the highlights of your experience of working in the region?
I have been working in Asia for almost a decade now and I feel blessed that I have had the opportunity to experience what is the most vibrant and dynamic period of its history in terms of media and communications. But the key highlight for me would be the people. The rich diversity of thought leadership, creativity and innovation that resides in APAC is the envy of the world. I have many people to thank for the experience and I can’t possibly mention them all but I’d pick out King Lai who originally brought me out to Asia, Jeff Cressall/ Henry Tajer/ Daniel Simon who were my mentors at IPG and more recently Barry Cupples who brought me into the OMD family with a promise of fun, fame and fortune. Ah well, two out of three ain’t bad Barry!
In your nearly three-decade career, you have worked in Europe and your recent mandate has seen you travel to many other markets? How does Asia stand out, and what are you looking forward to in your new role?
Three decades? Suddenly makes me feel very old. Well, I have travelled roughly three million air miles in 10 years, which is some feat given that I have a secret flying phobia. Not so secret now, I guess. Actually that’s the worst part. I often despise the journey but I love the destination. And APAC is such a vast area to cover. Although Singapore is a central hub, it is still over five hours to either China or India and eight hours to Australia or Japan. There isn’t a region more difficult to service in my opinion. In my new role, I’d like to think the air travel might reduce a little but as it’s a global role I guess there are no guarantees.
If there was one regret, or one item not ticked off in your Asia agenda, what would that be?
I honestly have no regrets. When we moved to Asia in 2006, the original intention was to stay for about three years (or at least that is what I told my wife!) and then we would move back to the UK. But APAC proved to be the gift that just kept on giving. All my dreams and aspirations have been fulfilled out here in Asia and I don’t regret a single moment of it.
What is the advice you leave behind for your team here?
The success we have achieved at OMD in APAC during my tenure is really down to the extended team. They already know how highly I regard them and how much I believe in what they can achieve. I’d like to think that my guidance has helped inspire them to greater things but the truth is that they were always capable of it anyway.
And what is the advice you have for your successor, Stephen Li?
Support Manchester City, not Chelsea! (Although on reflection, maybe not this season)