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Going places fast

PHOTO: DSTNCT
PHOTO: DSTNCT
PHOTO: DSTNCT
PHOTO: DSTNCT

Millennials are putting their stamp across the world, making real their aspirations in ways that previous generations might never have thought of. Our series delves into how young people took bold steps to achieve their life goals in Big Plans Take Time. Founders of creative agency DSTNCT, our 13th profile, share the company’s evolution with Michelle Bong.

Integrated marketing agency start-up DSTNCT, co-founded by Mr Mikal Chong, Mr Matthew Zeng and Mr Lesner Chua,  is going places.

Theirs is a story of noteworthy lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs. During the agency’s infancy stage, they struggled with zero funding and had to self-finance client projects, pleading with merchants to defer payments.

Within three years, the fledgling agency has made great strides in one of today’s most competitive fields, showing the industry’s big boys that it is a force to be reckoned with.

DSTNCT boasts eight Marketing Excellence Award wins and a collective staff strength of 40 in its branch offices in Singapore and the Philippines. Its client list includes AIA Singapore, National Youth Council, Scoot, Yes Pinoy Foundation and Maserati.

DSTNCT is the agency for brands of the “always-on” generation and the co-founders prefer not to be known simply for work done in a particular industry or segment, but as a go-to agency that delivers effective work.

Next on their agenda: growing their branch offices, achieving regional expansion through new technology and automation development venture CLRTY, establishing a presence for both DSTNCT and CLRTY in South-east Asia and inking an exciting potential joint venture in Shanghai. 

Humble beginnings

DSTNCT started as an events agency with a different name in 2013.

But the founders always wanted to do work that drives positive business value from all angles. They rebranded themselves as an integrated marketing agency in late 2014.


INFOGRAPHIC: SPH CONTENT LAB

The trio has had to contend with the tough mission of finding and winning new business in a competitive industry. Sustaining that business is tougher, because multiple players gun for the same accounts.

DSTNCT’s strategy is to selectively reach out to brands they feel they can potentially value-add to. And they receive referrals and e-mails about what they do.

Despite the ups and downs, the team has soldiered on. Said Mr Zeng: “Many times, we wanted to throw in the towel. If it weren’t for our colleagues who constantly stood by us and supported our vision, we would not have been able to even hit the three-year mark. As the saying goes, an agency is only as good as its last work, and a company is only as good as its people.”

That DSTNCT thing they do

Just what’s in the mix? The event organisers turned social-media whiz kids put it down to these variables.

Going against the grain: They challenge a client brief if they identify new, better insights. In building the team, they look for drive, hunger, attitude and character. Exciting fresh ideas are generated from each brainstorming session.

Branching out: They made numerous trips to the Philippines to understand its market and culture before setting up an office there. They feel the locals there produce very smart, creative work, and there are collaboration opportunities.

Making moves: They travel at least once a month to meet new clients, train staff, make pitches, sort out business operations or manage accounts. With the upcoming joint venture, they are likely to travel more.