Isobar Global CEO Jean Lin interviewed by Brazil’s Propmark
First published in Propmark.
In this interview with Propmark, Isobar Global CEO Jean Lin speaks about the reinvention of the industry which is hungry for new models.
Jean leads a team of 6,500 people in more than 45 countries. Her leadership style is considered very peculiar in advertising, since she is based on Shanghai, forsaking the presence in markets like New York, Paris or London, as it is common in other networks. She says she sees the world as a place without borders and seeks to build teams based on values like diversity (not only regarding gender). She is open to find solutions for clients from any place around the world. She has been appointed Cannes Digital Craft jury president in 2018, following on from the role she played in the 2015 Festival as Cyber Lions President.
The Advertising industry has been going through a challenging moment globally, with large groups having unstable revenues. How can this moment be dealt with?
The traditional advertising model is under a lot of pressure. I also think that the industry needs to keep up with what has been happening to the clients. I don’t think it’s a matter of pushing a button and changing everything in the agencies. But more than 50% of the 100 world’s largest advertisers have been reducing the number of partners they work with, which shows that there is something wrong. On the other hand, this is the right time for marketing teams to think about developing, distributing and optimizing engaging experiences with high-quality delivery. The maturity level of the market allows new things to be accomplished. We are facing the open sea, with storms from time to time. I tell our team that we cannot see ourselves as all of us on a big boat, but as people in smaller boats, that adjust the course according to the needs of the clients and help them face the storms.
Do the agencies need to transform their business models, just like companies from other industries have already done?
For sure! Digital transformation is a must for all industries. No company can impact people’s lives if they don’t adapt. Agencies need to maintain their relevance. There’s a correlation between digitally ready companies and sustainable growth in the future.
You lead the Isobar network from Asia. What impact does this region bring to a market accustomed to viewpoints from New York or London, for example?
Asia is, in fact, experiencing a good moment. And it has become more important to the advertising industry. But we live in a more connected world, with global brands. It makes no sense for us to have a “headquarter” viewpoint, concentrating the leadership in just one place. We need a more agile performance from our offices, but with a global vision that allows us to create influence and help clients from all over the world. In general, Asia doesn’t have the same maturity level of other markets, but its innovation spirit makes it very strong. All the regions have strengths. Innovation and Creativity can come from any place and we need to keep an open mind for diversity. We have, for example, a lot of good things from the United States and from emerging countries. The best thing about innovation is that we don’t know where it will come from.
How do you see the development of the Chinese market, which has gained significant relevance in advertising over the last years?
China is going through a positive moment, but it has a model that can’t be adopted in other places. It has major players, such as Alibaba, and a market where there’s a great connection among social, mobile, content and commercial transactions. When I go out, I don’t take my wallet with cash or credit cards, because all payments can be done directly through the phone. This mobile-first vision is something that completely changes the scenario, allowing e-commerce and social commerce to offer better experiences for the consumers. There’s a big transformation in the market and it is changing the traditional scenario very quickly.
Isobar is working on the concept of augmented humanity, which makes a reference to augmented reality. What are you proposing with this idea?
We live in a world in which technology has changed our lives, but, in the end of the day, the augmented reality is what will really help improve our lives. The technological interfaces will become more natural and instinctive, automating repetitive tasks, thus freeing time for us to be more creative and compassionate. Voice interface, for example, is already helping people navigate in a way that is different from touching screens, in a more human way. This greatly impacts the way we create, with the help of social elements and artificial intelligence.
What’s your view on one of the biggest problems of the industry, the lack of female leaders?
What is happening in advertising is not different from what is happening in any other industry. It’s a challenge for all society. It won’t improve as fast as we would like it to, but we need to pay special attention to the lack of women, especially in a market like advertising, which needs innovation in everything it does. Diversity in the workforce is crucial for companies to advance, regarding gender or even nationality. The more diverse the team, the faster creativity and innovation will be noticed. Of course, the matter of gender is a good place to start, since half of the world’s population is composed of women. It is only natural that they should have the same weight in teams and in the leadership.
In the international market, there are signs that advertisers are losing trust in the work of agencies, particularly in digital advertising. How can we salvage these bonds and requalify the relationship?
Trust is like a marriage, which needs to be valuable for both parts. I think that the pursuit of agility has made the innovation speed too fast, and we are all still learning about the potential of technology. We need a major change in principles, policies and the current business environment in Advertising, so that agencies and advertisers can reestablish the trust in each other. The key is to create a common understanding about how to insert technology into advertising and how to improve the business environment, with its practices and cultures. There’s no easy way to solve this issue, but it is a step we have to take.
Which events have remained really relevant for the Advertising industry?
There are several festivals, with different points of view, that are complementary. Cannes Lions is a trend indicator and it continues to be very important for the industry all over the world. I will be the jury president of Digital Craft and we will have many interesting issues to debate, such as the impact of technology in the creation of experiences in people’s lives; information privacy in the digital world, which is a very current issue; and the growth of the importance of craft in a world where consumers smell, taste and experience other sensations to engage with the brands. Cannes Lions has reinvented itself for this edition and it wants to look ahead, without losing its essence of being the place that defines the world’s greatest creative works. Among the events, I also really like DMEXCO in Europe, which has become interesting due to several factors.
Have the categories focused on Craft become more important in the Cannes Lions Festival?
Digital Craft is more relevant than ever in a digital economy. It is important for the festival to balance great ideas with an above-average technical part, because only with this interaction we can deliver experiences that integrate brands and people to solve our clients’ important business problems, thus strengthening their brands. Having a qualified craft impact the way people see, feel and experience a certain brand.
How are Isobar’s operations in Brazil, and in the world, faring?
Although 2017 was a very difficult year for the whole advertising industry around the world, we managed to maintain an organic growth in our operation. We want to offer a complete solution for clients, which integrates the experiences that inspire consumers, connecting brands, products, services, and all the other elements into the same transaction. About Brazil, there was obviously a crisis, just like in the other places around the world. We see the economic situation as temporary, so much so that we are expanding our service portfolio in this market. For example, we were the first network in Brazil to acquire a business-consulting firm (Cosing Consulting). We have also adopted a new structure, with CEO and CCO: in December, Rodrigo Andrade became the new COO of DAN and CEO of Isobar Brazil, while Rui Branquinho took over as CCO of DAN Brazil and Isobar