Digital Catalyst: Q&A with Kyoko Matsushita, CEO of Essence APAC

In March 2017, she was named as one of the “lovely leading lady in mobile” by UK mobile publication

Essence is a global digital agency that blends data science, objective media and captivating experiences to build valuable connections between brands and consumers. Clients include Google, FrieslandCampina, Tesco Mobile and the Financial Times. The agency is more than 750 people strong, manages over $1B in media spend and deploys campaigns in 71 markets via offices in Chicago, Delhi, London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. Part of GroupM, Essence is majority owned by WPP, the world’s leading communications services group.

Kyoko Matsushita, CEO of Essence APAC, is a force to be reckon within the digital world, which is often dominated by men. She is a highly respected leader and leads digital transformation for clients such as Google, Financial Times and FrieslandCampina. She heads Essence’s Singapore, Tokyo, Delhi and Sydney offices and manages high value business for the company. She is a big supporter of women empowerment and is grooming next-gen leaders under her leadership.

Q: Tell us more about Essence and its vision for advertising.

A: Essence is a global digital agency with a proud history of using technology, data and transparent media buying to help brands connect with their consumers. We have a strong focus on talent and culture; we empower our people, all 750 of them across 11 offices, globally, to make decisions and innovate to stay ahead of industry trends. Our talent is what makes Essence successful.

Essence’s mission is to make advertising more valuable to the world, which can only happen when brands have meaningful connections with the people who are watching their ads. The best digital advertising is relevant, effective and less obtrusive.  We are proud to work with some of the world’s most advanced brands including Google, FrieslandCampina and Financial Times, running their global campaigns across 71 markets.

Q: How has your background in economics, political science and psychology given you an edge in the digital world and advertising?

A: I received my Masters in Science from the London School of Economics, where I took classes in business management, social science and quantitative/ qualitative analysis. Understanding consumer behaviour, engagement process, buying decisions and being able to analyze them into useful and actionable data points helped me make definitive business decisions.

Looking back, I reckon the social psychology and behaviour aspect of the coursework helped shape my understanding of team dynamics, inter-cultural sensitivities and motivating teams. In any business it’s important to understand the fundamental trinity of processes, technology and people. Our people are our number one priority; we want them to feel that they work in a place where they are invested in, engaged with and cared for.

Q: What/Who sparked your interest in marketing/advertising?

A: When I was in college, I studied abroad for a year in Germany. At the time, I was pre-med, but to earn extra money I got a job as an assistant at an advertising agency.  The agency worked with automotive clients on the technology side of the business.  While I was hired only to translate German or English to Japanese, it was the first exposure I had to the advertising industry, and it fascinated me. In particular, the CEO was extremely inspiring.  For me, advertising was more than just creating ads for clients or providing translation services, it was about translating and communicating a brand’s message in an impactful way. I was hooked, and I realised how much opportunity there was in the industry. When I returned to the US and graduated, I went on to join an agency in Chicago to start my career in advertising.

Q: How can entrepreneurs leverage on digital platforms for their businesses?

A: The modern world is dominated by innovative ideas and new technology, but it takes more than innovation to be successful. Technology is rapidly transforming how people communicate, learn, work and manage new enterprises. Today’s entrepreneurs have recognised this and are leveraging technology to hone their skills and create better business modules.  In fact, many businesses that began as startups have built a customer base primarily via their online presence.

Digital Platforms encompass the use of web 2.0 tools, digital media tools, social media tools, social networking platforms, mobile computing, cloud computing, big data, and the emerging internet-of-things.  With extensive market research, entrepreneurs have pinpointed current trends that can help develop this kind of technology for businesses and consumers alike.

Q:What trends do you see in the digital world, especially with the ever-changing consumer trends?

A: I see the following trends in 2017 and beyond:

– Data-led insights will create more meaningful experiences:  In today’s new Ad economy we have so many insights into customer behaviours and experiences, which means we are able to adapt around our audiences and their context at a level of depth never seen before. But brands can’t take reach for granted. Being boring or irrelevant is commercial suicide, as people will go out of their way to shut you out. Therefore it’s imperative we fuse creative with data-led insights to create more meaningful Ad experiences that will be rewarded with attention, reach and permission.

– Raising the bar on mobile: Emerging markets present tremendous opportunity for mobile advertisers. It’s estimated that advertising in emerging markets will be a $300 billion business by 2020. We need to deliver fast, relevant, assistive experiences that delight users.

– Marketers putting an end to in-housing.  After working both brand-side and agency-side, I’ve seen how challenging it can be to staff marketing teams to act as an in-house agency.  As brands become more technologically sophisticated, it becomes increasingly difficult to tap specialized talent.  Even with the right talent, in-house agencies find it difficult to know where they stand vs. the competition because of their inward and myopic focus.

– Virtual Experiences-. The maturing of VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) technologies fundamentally shift the internet’s role from information-destination to one where experiences take place.

Q: Where do you see the future of the digital world and Essence’s role with the change?

A: We are riding a wave of innovation that’s never been seen before.  In the business sector, there’s the continuing migration to the Cloud and the prospects that the Internet of Things, Big Data, Virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence might bring. There are concerns with things like ad fraud and ad-blocking, which threaten the digital advertising ecosystem.

Essence is committed to transparency and leading digital transformation for our clients.  I believe that a well-managed agency engagement – with transparency, positive intent, the right compensation structure, the right ownership of data and platforms, and alignment behind the right objectives – can be effective under almost any circumstances. We’re committed to investing in R&D, testing and talent to stay ahead of the curve and ensure we’re the best partners possible for our clients.

Q: Tell us about the challenges and obstacles you face and how you overcome them?

A: As diverse as Asia is, we have very few executive-level female leaders. Having worked in media, advertising and product marketing all over the world, I came to Asia to serve as a catalyst for change and support people to pursue the opportunities they’re so worthy of.  There’s still so much to be done at the industry level.  I’m proud Essence is part of the WPP family who prioritizes diversity–gender-specific and beyond.  Last year, WPP participated in the “Common Ground” initiative to support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. I’m happy to know that this is a priority for WPP and all of its agencies, including Essence.

Q: What are some of the women empowerment initiatives in Essence?

A: Women@Essence is our global platform that equips female talent with the confidence they need to thrive in their careers. The initiative creates programming, content and other resources to further support female employees and educate male employees on women’s issues.  Mentoring, helping other women up the ladder and making women more visible are high on the agenda.  Feedback has been resoundingly positive, and we hope to see a ripple effect as participants extend the learnings to colleagues.  We’re proud that two thirds of our regional CEOs are women, and women makeup roughly half of our workforce and global executive team.

Q: Given that you manage people, what are some tips for our Lady Bosses out there for effective management?


– Celebrate talent.  Hire smart people–don’t feel threatened. Take time to get to know them and find out what motivates them.

– Don’t be afraid to be assertive.

– Delegate effectively- Give employees more responsibility and empower them to be future leaders. Encourage people to have a healthy work/life balance

– Build a support system of women and men who inspire and motivate you. Never say ‘no’ to an opportunity and embrace experiences outside of your comfort zone.

– Be brave and go after what you want Have confidence, ask, learn and deliver.

Q: As a business leader what motivates you personally?

A: I feel fortunate to be a leader at a time of constant, unprecedented change. I truly believe that digital has the power to make the world a better place.  I’m excited to see how technology continues to positively disrupt our lives and suggest we stay agile and nimble to ride it’s next wave.

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