To say that Soames Hines is a veteran in the marketing and communications industry may come as an understatement. With over 40 years of client and agency roles under his belt (or suspenders, which he’s known for in his circle), Soames has seen the evolution of the industry, not just in London where he started his career, but across Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam.
“Advertising or being an Account Executive was the most desired role for graduates in the early ‘80s. Everyone wanted to be in. I was lucky enough to work for Ogilvy London. And then about 10 years later, I came to Asia, just as the Asian tiger economy was taking off,” narrates Soames in a Vietnam Innovators episode with Hao Tran.
He moved to Singapore and Hong Kong, where he drove client growth for Lintas, and then in Ho Chi Minh City in 1993, where he set up the agency. But Vietnam, at that time, was still a very young market for a big advertising agency, says Soames. “It was very difficult for an agency to grow.” So he moved to Shanghai to launch J. Walter Thompson, and there he led a team that built JWT into the largest and most respected agency in China. Under his leadership, JWT Shanghai became China’s number one billing agency.
But while he found China’s advertising landscape exciting (and being a huge contributor to its growth), Soames always had his eyes set on Vietnam. He knew that the country has got so much potential, advocating it to new graduates and new hires as the “most exciting place to be in the next five years”. And so he came back.
In January 2020, Soames became the CEO of Ogilvy Vietnam, where he pours all his passion for building culture and capability, as well as pioneer thought leadership on Brands in Culture and Modern RAD Creativity.
“Vietnam has a big runway for growth, probably better than any other market. And the work ethics here, of the Vietnamese, is stronger. The entrepreneurial spirit and the talent base is huge.”
‘Sea of sameness’
Vietnam’s advertising industry has undergone huge transformation over the decades, from the use of traditional leaflets to a quarter newspaper ad and then now to digital platforms. But many Vietnamese brands (and the agencies that handle them) seem to all be going in one single direction, following one single pattern.
“Most clients are struggling with building brand power that’s based on being meaningful, different and salient. In Vietnam, there’s no diversity. It’s like a sea of sameness — when everybody’s doing that, nobody stands out.”
Businesses are now demanding for more sophisticated marketing, and to do that, advertising firms such as Ogilvy, need to leave behind their old-school ways and focus on creativity, data and technology to build brands. It’s a big shift, Soames says, but it’s imperative.
“What’s gonna be interesting is how Vietnamese brands can tap into Vietnames pride and how they can do it well,” says Soames. “Even though they’re Vietnamese brands, it’s important to understand deeply how culture shifted, particularly the emerging GenZ culture. That’s gonna be another source of growth: Vietnam going to the rest of the world. And there are terrific brands here that are well placed to do that.”
Ogilvy itself has made significant transformational changes over the years, getting the right people with the right experiences to lead teams and re-establishing structures that would help the company make more impact.
Building the next generation of marketing talents
To help Vietnam’s growing advertising industry — and support brands as they navigate away from the “sea of sameness” — Soames’ team is piloting Ogilvy Apprenticeship, aimed at bringing young people from all backgrounds for a two- to three-year training. The apprentices will have the chance to become “hybrids” (people with many skills), and choose the career path that they want, be it in Ogilvy or not. This will go hand-in-hand with the Mobility Program, says Soames.
“Gen Z wants to constantly learn. If after six months of the program, they’d say they want to go use their learning somewhere else, we have to allow that. Years ago, people would say no to that scheme, but today, things have changed. One of the reasons people quit a job is because they want to experience something else. With the Mobility Program, Ogilvy will have secondments with some of our clients, where our people can learn from other sources.”
Gen Z will soon lead Vietnam’s workforce. And with the advertising industry (digital expenditure, specifically) forecasted to reach $1.43 billion in 2022, making sure this new generation of talents get the utmost support and best guidance will help the country’s still-young marketing and advertising industry the boost it needs.
Soames has set his hopes high — and is doing everything he can — to build the next generation of marketing talents that will reaffirm Ogilvy’s reputation as the best place to work for and clients’ most preferred agency.