Keep Pushing: Dentsu's Ted Lim

Ted Lim discusses his multi-faceted role as Regional Chief Creative Officer of Dentsu Asia-Pacific, and his upcoming appointment as an Executive Judge at AD STARS 2019.

Hot on the heels of winning one of just six Black Pencils at D&AD this week, Ted Lim discusses his multi-faceted role as Regional Chief Creative Officer of Dentsu Asia-Pacific, and his upcoming appointment as an Executive Judge at AD STARS 2019.

Since joining the Dentsu network six years ago, Ted Lim has helped to reposition Dentsu Asia Pacific as an ‘Innovative Business Solutions’ network that produces so much more than advertising. The non-traditional solutions his team has produced have won a slew of multinational business – including a D&AD Black Pencil for BWM Dentsu in Sydney, which was awarded last week for ‘Project Revoice’, created for ALS Association Australia.


You joined Dentsu in 2013. How is it different culturally to other agencies you have worked at or encountered?

I spent a lifetime at DDB and a brief spell at Leo Burnett before I joined Dentsu. The work we do and the way we work at Dentsu are quite different. We produce Oscar-winning movies, make globally syndicated reality shows, create pop groups, work with robots and launch global events like the Olympics. Weird and wonderful.


You often say we’re in “the business formally known as advertising”. How are you repositioning Dentsu Asia-Pacific?

Marketing in the new economy has to be more relevant and personalised to move people and business. It goes beyond communications. Our business is at the intersection of data, media, strategy, creativity and technology. Not this or that, but this and that. We bring these together at Dentsu to produce non-traditional work to get people to stop, stare and share. Different work in the experiential, mobile, digital and social space that makes a real difference, from engagement to transaction. Innovative business solutions.


You have helped to recruit some amazing talent across South East Asia. What is your vision for Dentsu regionally in 2019 and beyond, and what sort of leaders are you hiring?

What I do as Regional CCO is about “we”, not me. It’s more about the people I inspire, the work I influence and the outcomes we produce together than it is a personal claim to fame.

I have to thank Rob Belgiovane, Asheen Naidu, Merlee Jayme, Santosh Padhi, Agnelio Dias, Paul Catmur, Andy Greenaway, Edmund Choe, Alice Chou, Judy Tao, Subun Khow, Jon Chalermwong, Kaz Tsuburaku, Hiroshi Yoda, Huang Ean Hwa, Lee Szu Hung and many more honest, humble and hardworking people who joined Dentsu across the Asia-Pacific to move people and business. I look for creative people with a good head and a good heart, and am fortunate to have found more than a few.


After a slow start in some cities, today, Dentsu agencies are leading the way in multiple markets around the world. What is the network doing right?

Dentsu won a fair share of multinational and local business across the region in recent years and the work the team produced got global attention. We picked up Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions, ADFEST, Spikes Asia and AD STARS. We’ve won Best Of Discipline at The One Show, accolades at Clio, Webby, APAC Effie, New York Festivals and London International Awards. Last week, we won a Black Pencil at D&AD. The network was crowned Campaign Brief Asia’s Most Creative Network 2017 and 2018, ADFEST Network Of The Year 2017, 2018 and 2019 and won the Facebook Award for Innovation. It’s all down to people and support from the network leadership of Toshihiro Yamamoto, Tim Andree, Takaki Hibino and Dick Van Motman.


A big part of your role is people and product development. How do you nurture talent at Dentsu, and are there any interesting initiatives on the horizon?

We spend an inordinate amount of time on people development at Dentsu. We run programmes across the region and around the world. We work with Google and Facebook to stay ahead of the curve. People are our greatest resource and people development future-proofs our talent pool. This takes a lot of energy but it also recharges our batteries. My emails to our people typically end with two words, “Keep pushing!”


You’re joining AD STARS 2019 as Executive Judge. What are your expectations of the festival & judging process?

This is my first time judging AD STARS and I’m intrigued. AD STARS is a global awards show that’s free to enter, which is unique. It levels the playing field for agencies big and small to show the world what they are capable of. I hope to see work that’s different and makes a difference, especially from smaller, independent agencies. Work that moves people and business.


You’ve been to Korea at least once before – what did you speak about at the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul?

I was invited to speak at the World Knowledge Forum in 2016. I thought I was mistaken for someone important as the other speakers at the forum included the UN Secretary General and Heads of State.  There was a lot of debate about digital versus analog advertising back then and I was asked to share my thoughts on a subject that’s still raging today. I just gave a talk on “Gut versus Data” at the CreativeFest in Manila this April, so the debate isn’t quite over.


It’s actually not all that complicated if we strip away the jargon that people like to hide behind. Data tells us where the customer is. Media gets us there. What we do when we are face-to-face with the customer, that’s creative.  That’s the moment of truth. Creativity moves the people we have spent so much data and media money to reach.


What is the biggest challenge of running 26 offices across 15 countries?

There are only so many days in a month. I can’t do it all, not physically. I started Best Of Month when I joined Dentsu, an online platform for offices to submit their best work every month. The work is reviewed by the regional Creative Council and the noteworthy pieces shared with the network. This regular sharing and learning platform has contributed significantly to our people and product development across the region.


You’ve taken MamaLab from Tokyo to Asia Pacific. What have you learned about the power of the “mom economy”?

MamaLab is a strategic support unit at Dentsu Tokyo.  We remodelled it into a specialised business solutions network by mothers for mothers and launched MamaLab Asia-Pacific. Mom is the world’s single most powerful consumer – she buys not only for herself but for her spouse, her kids, the whole family. BBC took notice of the massive potential of marketing to the “mom economy” and featured MamaLab on its World News. MamaLab has since won multiple projects from multinational clients.