I have been MIA for a few days. Yes I know… I’m sorry. I have an excuse though! A very good one! For the past couple of days, I was in Phuket for WPP Stream.
Quick fact on WPP from Wikipedia:
WPP plc (LSE: WPP, NASDAQ: WPPGY) is a global communications services company with its main management office in London, United Kingdom and its executive office in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. It is the world’s largest advertising company measured by revenues, and has over 2,400 offices in 107 countries. It owns a number of advertising, public relations and market research networks, including Grey, Burson-Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton, JWT, Ogilvy Group, TNS and Young & Rubicam.
The company today is worth almost $16 billion on the stock market.
Every year, WPP has a few of these invite-only conferences around the world. The description on the Stream website:
Stream events bring together the brightest and most innovative leaders and future leaders from the creative, media and technology industries
This year, I was one of the lucky ones among 4 other Malaysians to be invited for Stream Asia held in Club Med, Phuket. I know I know what you guys are thinking. When I told people that I was going to Phuket for a conference, the response I normally got was:
“Hahha! Yeah yeah sure….”
But it’s true! Totally true… and it turned out to be the best conference I had ever attended. For Stream, I think WPP booked up the entire Club Med for 3 Days and 2 Nights. They gave each attendee a room each which was very generous of them considering that EVERYTHING was paid for by WPP. So all we had to do was just buy our own flight ticket there and show up.
This was my room.
I’ve always heard about Club Med but this was the first time I was staying there.
Gotta say it has a really nice resort feel to it. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, this is the view of the room window.
Now unlike typical conferences you have where people would just sit and watch powerpoint presentations all day, WPP Stream is very unlike that. Sure there are some sessions where they have the help of powerpoint slides but most of what goes on the days are group discussions that are led by the attendees themselves. There was hardly any fixed agenda set prior to the event itself.
In the main area of the resort they put up this big board that started off blank. Then anyone who was attending the event can take a marker pen and write a discussion topic on any of the time slots. They’ll then be given a place and everyone who was interested could go. At any one time there were some 8 discussion groups going on at the same time covering various topics on technology or advertising.
Topics like “The death of the pageview as a measurement” or “Big data and how to handle them” or “Digital success in China” or stuff like that. The one that got the most attention though was a discussion group started by Jeff Marx. It was titled “THE INTERNET IS FOR PORN”.
Ahh let me tell you about Jeff Marx. I first met Jeff during the orientation of the conference where everyone was holding a drink of their choice and mingling. We all had name tags to see where we were. So I looked at his, saw that below his name, he had “Avenue Q”. Avenue Q is a musical in New York that Shorty and I watched last year when we were there. It’s this really cute musical done by puppets, so it’s a bit like a Sesame Street but it covered young adult themes. Like sex, porn, living on your own etc etc.
One of their popular songs is “The Internet is for Porn’. You can watch a video someone took off their phone camera or something here. It’s blur but it’s good enough to get you a feel of the show.
If you can’t hear the words clearly from that video, you can hear the audio here.
Shorty and I loved it!
So after glancing at Jeff’s name tag I asked him what he does and he said that he was one of the co-creators of Avenue Q. I think he wasn’t confident if I would have heard of it but not only have I heard of it and seen it, I am a big fan of it. Unfortunately I didn’t hide my excitement very well. I went on and on like a Penang Chinese Girl High School student meeting Jay Chou for the first time. I asked sooo many questions and said the words “SO COOL” no less than 5 times in 3 minutes. At one point he asked what was it that I do and I just gave him like a one liner answer and basically went like “enough about me… what about you?”.
Looking back I think I freaked him out a little because the next day we were talking about going jet skiing in the evening. He said he wanted to come but wasn’t sure yet so I told him that he could decide later. That I would just send him a text when some of us were going and he can decide then. I asked him for his number but he told me to e-mail him instead (code for saying: “Uhh… noo.. it’s okay… don’t think giving you my number is a good idea”.
He did show up for jet skiing in the end but he was a little too late. I was already in the water then so he waited for Desmond and I to finish and we just took a walk along the beach and watched the sunset. We talked, got to know each other better and on the last night when I said our last goodbye we exchanged name cards.
So he did finally eventually give me his number… and I gave him mine telling him not to be a stranger if he ever comes by Malaysia… whenever that would be. But I noted to self not to behave like a fan girl anymore whenever I met people who did musicals I love!
So anyway back to the conference itself. I attended quite a lot of discussions and what I found really cool about it was the format. Everyone was expected to contribute something or share an insight.
There were people there from all the top companies in the region. People from Google, Facebook, Tencent, Sina, Nestle… you name it. They were there.
So if you have all the brains there then it’s silly not to tap on everyone’s insights right?
On one of the afternoons though we had the CEO of WPP Group, Sir Martin Sorrell come and do a Q&A. Everyone in the advertising industry knows who Martin Sorrell is. He is after all responsible to bringing WPP to what it is today. According to Wikipedia, he’s worth at least $175 million. Listening to him was inspiring. He had such deep knowledge about everything that was going on in the world and such thought-provoking insights in everything from advertising to technology to… everything!
Sure, he did graduate from Cambridge and did an MBA at Harvard but the knowledge he had really meant that he read a lot about everything!
One of the questions he was asked was something a lot of people in the advertising industry are trying to figure out now. With the emergence of social media, creative and media agencies are both competing with one another for their role in social media. So much that you have companies that are within the WPP Group competing with one another. What was his opinion on that?
His response made sense. He felt that the internal competition was necessary for agencies to keep having to reinvent themselves and grow organically rather than be directed on the group level what it could do or couldn’t do. Which makes sense. In a new area like that, you just have to allow your individual subsidiaries to compete and do what’s best for themselves so they can react in time to the market.
He left us that afternoon with one prediction. That with the growth of Asia and the emerging markets, 5 years from now… one major multinational corporation will move its corporate HQ from New York or London to somewhere in Asia…. and he mentioned “probably Singapore”.
There were lots of other stuff going on at WPP Stream. Not just discussions. Like there were a group of people who were making this rabbit out of… well.. stuff from trees.
On the first night they had this thing called a “Gadgethon” where the conference participants could bring a gadget of their own to share it with everyone else. One guy from Google brought a Motorola Xoom whereas others brought all sorts of stuff like a waterproof and shockproof mini camera that you could hook on to your surf board to record yourself surfing. You know stuff like that.
On the second night though they had this “Extravaganza” night where they had performances. One really cool part was when they decided to play music in line with “user-generated content” from the crowd. So the band played the music for the song “Hey Jude” and the crowd sang the words. Then they got one of the participants to go up on stage and conduct the volume and the tempo of the band. With her hand signals the band would either play the song fast or slow. Really cool stuff.
WPP Stream Asia is really the best conference I have ever attended and it wasn’t just because of all the free flow food and drinks. I promise. It was the quality of friendships that I built there with some of the other people there and the insights I got from the sharing and discussions. Thanks WPP for this wonderful event!