APAC managing director Tuomas Peltoniemi speaks on R/GA's modern approach

16 April 2020 Consultancy.asia 9 min. read

With the firm’s 10th anniversary in Singapore just over the horizon, R/GA APAC managing director Tuomas Peltoniemi joins Consultancy.asia for a sit-down, covering the digital and business consultancy’s recent growth journey and direction for the future, along with his personal views on the modern creative industry at large.  

After a long career in the digital-creative space, R/GA’s Asia Pacific managing director Tuomas Peltoniemi joined the digital and business consultancy at the beginning of last year amid the firm’s ongoing transformation and tilt toward consulting. He speaks to Consultancy.asia about his personal journey and R/GA’s contemporary market approach in Singapore and the wider region.

You came on board with R/GA at the beginning of last year. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about your path to the firm – why you joined and what you think sets it apart?

Digital technology has always been a part of my life. I built my first website in the mid-90s and have been involved in the digital business ever since. Having spent a considerable amount of time at creative agencies helping to build digital capability, I was naturally drawn to a company like R/GA where the digital side of the business has always been in the company’s DNA.

There’s something special about a company that has globally recognised consulting, experience design, marketing, and technology offerings, all built into one business and operating seamlessly. This is what sets us apart from other consultancies and creative agencies. I think of it as having a creative agency, a product and service design agency and a consultancy all in one. Being able to approach business problems and opportunities through all of these lenses at the same time provides unique perspectives and solutions for clients.

Tuomas Peltoniemi – APAC managing director – R/GA

R/GA is approaching its 10th anniversary in Singapore, the firm’s Southeast Asian hub. How would you describe R/GA’s regional growth story, and what are the plans for the future?

R/GA started ten years ago with an office in Singapore, servicing clients across the region from the central hub. Our Singapore office still solves business and marketing problems for clients across South and Southeast Asia. Over the years, before I joined R/GA, the business grew organically with clients into key hubs across Asia-Pacific. These key hubs are Shanghai, where we work with clients across Greater China, Tokyo, where we specialise in helping both Japanese clients as well as international brands and businesses in Japan, as well as our two Australia offices in Sydney and Melbourne, which both have their own specialties.

Our latest expansion in the region was the opening of our technology hub in Indonesia, where we provide our clients a broad spectrum of technology, delivery and quality assurance services. Our strategy in Asia-Pacific continues to center around key hubs where all our talent from consulting to strategy, experience, design, creative and technology, work together in helping clients capitalise on opportunities in the region.

You’ve worked on three continents, and now oversee an Asia Pacific region which is also culturally diverse in its business approach. What sort of challenges does this bring, and how have they been overcome, both from a personal perspective and working as part of a global firm?

I’m in my ninth year in Asia-Pacific, and both at R/GA as well as in my previous company I have spent a considerable amount of time around the region, working with clients from a multitude of industries. Asia-Pacific is certainly unique, not only in business but also in culture and consumer behavior. Personally I don’t think there are any shortcuts in this region. You have to spend a lot of time on the ground working with clients in all markets to truly appreciate the local nuances, the local culture, the business landscape, and the unique challenges all of this brings.

At R/GA, we are lucky to have an incredibly diverse team in all of our offices. In our line of work, I feel it’s a little bit less critical to have teams on the ground in every market. Our approach is the opposite, where we rely on our specialist capabilities in our key hubs, and ensure we have Asia-Pacific markets well represented in the talent we hire into our hubs. This also ensures we provide our clients with solutions and talent they may not be exposed to in their respective home markets, while ensuring we have the knowledge and respect for the unique aspects of each market.

There has obviously been a heavy move from the big consulting firms into traditional agency space in recent years. Some agencies have scoffed at the encroachment, while others have responded by expanding their own offerings into consulting. You’re probably sick of this question, but what are your views?

We do get asked this question a lot. At R/GA we have transformed our business model five times since we started applying design and technology into film production in Hollywood in the 1970’s. Our DNA has always had digital in it, with design and technology coming together to help clients build brands, businesses, products and services, and marketing that are ahead of their time. In the mid-1990s our own transformation focused on capitalising on the newly scaled Internet through web-based services. After that we started helping clients like Nike build digital products and services, and to help clients capitalise on mobile technology.

All of this meant that it was natural for us to also build our own consulting business to help companies innovate and to help design modern brands. We have had our consulting business for a number of years now, and the major difference is its integration into the rest of our company. We call ourselves consultants who make, and this difference isn’t something we’ve made up, it’s something that’s always been a large part of our culture. And it is something clients have come to expect from R/GA.

R/GA - Nike

On that point, R/GA Singapore has spoken of its own transformational journey over the past eighteen or so months, with a strong tilt toward business consulting and providing an end-to-end offering. What steps has the firm taken to bolster this move?

Much like the rest of our global business, this comes down to three things. Our people, the way we work, and the integration of our business. We hire people into our business who come with deep specialisms in their own craft, be it innovation strategy, brand strategy, experience strategy, design, technology or any of our other capabilities.

Our own brand is very strong with talent, and we attract people globally into our Singapore office. R/GA’s end-to-end offering means being able to start from defining an active purpose for a brand, and then having the specialists in one company that help design the brand, the business, the experience, and the marketing stories for our clients. Having all of these perspectives working together without having to worry about artificial barriers to collaboration, such as separate P&L’s, was always our goal in Singapore. And this is what we’ve built over the past 18 months. And the work we’ve done as a result of this has been nothing short of exciting.

R/GA recently launched a ‘Lean Experience Stack’ offering for the Asia Pacific, which followed on from the launch of a Smart Design and Technology Centre of Excellence in Singapore last year. How do these offerings fit within R/GA’s strategy, and is there anything else in the pipeline that you can share?

We have always used design and technology to drive innovation for clients. A number of years ago we launched R/GA Ventures, to support and grow new innovative companies in areas of marketing technology, and others. Inspired by this approach, we are seeing clients ask for solutions that don’t always rely on traditional enterprise technology stacks. Our perspective is that having superior digital experiences is an unfair advantage for brands. And we would like to see more companies invest in the experiences they provide, rather than heavy up-front technology licenses and lengthy implementation timelines.

This means crafting Lean Experience Stacks powered by carefully selected modern technology solutions that power these experiences, all integrated into an architecture that’s fit for purpose and fit for the future. And because investments are made in the experience itself, rather than capital intensive experience technology solutions, we are able to provide better outcomes, and a much faster time to market for digital solutions.

The Lean Experience Stack offering, together with our Smart Design and Technology Center of excellence, are aligned at the core of this strategy. We have always helped our clients capitalise on digital opportunities and these aspects of our business have accelerated our capabilities in bringing solutions to life for our clients across Asia-Pacific. We also recently opened a technology hub in Indonesia to scale these practises further.

Lastly, R/GA neatly describes its approach as ‘thinking and making’, which underpins a methodology of ‘Transformation at Speed’. Can you tell us in your words what this philosophy means to you and the R/GA team?

Thinking and making is absolutely core to our business. When clients work with us, all of our projects from consulting to experience to marketing lead into something concrete that either goes to market or is validated in the market. With R/GA, our work never ends in a powerpoint presentation. Our methodologies, collaboration, and ways of working are built knowing we have combined consulting, experience design, creativity and technology into a single company, a single team, and a single culture.

This means we are able to have the right people as part of our team at the right times, driving outcomes that hit the market faster than our clients are perhaps used to. It means the transformations we work on will have a concrete client or customer impact quickly, and excess time isn’t spent on theoretical strategies. This mandate is deeply rooted in our business, and it’s one of the reasons I personally think our work is so strong.