Geometry Seoul: Reinvention, Heritage and New Technologies in the Heart of Korea
Since the start of last year, Mike Forster has been leading Geometry Seoul through a transformative period in the company’s history. Before that, his industry expertise has taken him across the world, with roles in Hong Kong, Moscow, Malaysia, the UK, Hong Kong and more on his CV.
And that experience is paying dividends for Geometry Seoul- last week the agency won gold at the Asian Dragons for its work with global K-Pop sensation BTS and YouTube.
To find out where the agency plans to go next, LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to it’s CEO Mike Forster.
LBB> Where do you see Geometry Seoul right now, and how does that affect your work?
Mike> We are well established here now (into our 6th year) and have a good portfolio of client experience ranging over many business sectors. However, like many agencies this is a period of transformation for us. WPP has changed significantly in the last 18 months and Geometry is changing, under our new global CEO, Beth Ann Kaminkow, too. Currently, we are reinventing ourselves as total end-to-end commerce experts in both the digital and retail spaces, leveraging our core strengths and stretching it to adapt to the wave of new technological communications platforms.
Furthermore, Korea is a unique market for international agency groups as 85% of the business is off-limits, being controlled by the in-house chaebol agencies. In-housing might be a hot topic elsewhere but here’s where it was invented, certainly as the norm for big conglomerates.
So, I think both these things (our changes and the market dynamics) come together to make us very focused on the positioning of our offering right now. To get clients to consider working with you, you have to have a truly differentiated viewpoint on what you can do for their brands. It’s an exciting time to be in Seoul with the country’s cultural reputation higher than ever and this also drives us to want to show what we can do with this to create memorable campaigns.
LBB> Since you opened in Seoul in 2013, has there been a particular project that you remember as really important for you as an agency?
Mike> The initial work we did for Porsche in 2016 was very important for us as it allowed us to showcase what we do from an end-to-end perspective. Since then automotive has become a specialism for us and we’ve used our category expertise in our work for Bose and Exxon Mobil too.
LBB> Is there a particular kind of brand that you'd be especially keen to work with in the near future?
Mike> I’d love to work big Korean brands and do work for them that could be used internationally. As the overseas markets become ever more important to Hyundai, Samsung, LG etc., it would be great to do the same in reverse. In addition, with Korea being the global esports hub, a large gaming company like NEXON would also prove very stimulating.
LBB> Geometry is a huge global network - do you guys try and keep your work distinctively Korean, and if so, how?
Mike> I wouldn’t say we keep all our work distinctively Korean – it’s more that we take a brand’s values and make them resonate with Korean consumers. We do that by our cultural understanding of what those values mean from a local standpoint and by knowing the best way to engage with the prospective consumers here. We behave as an international agency in terms of our processes, connectivity with other markets and understanding of global brands but always reflect our work through a local lens. A good recent example of that is the recent work we did for Colgate which was for a toothpaste brand made from Korean ingredients but which was going to be sold in other Asian markets. We only have two foreigners in the agency (me and the CSD) everyone else is local to ensure we keep that Korean insight and soul.
LBB> What do you keep in mind when you're looking to hire creatives? Is there a specific skill set you're on the lookout for?
Mike> We always hire Korean creatives for the reasons above – having that innate feeling for local culture is so important. And also someone who is able to transition and communicate their designs and messages on multiple platforms, because unlike the past, no single platform can be deemed to be a long-term fixture anymore.
Whilst we like our creative team to have a range of different skills, it’s more a mindset we are looking for from them. We want creative thinkers who aren’t rule bound in their approach or constrained by hierarchical pecking order into not expressing their ideas freely. Traditionally that has sometimes been an issue here although its changing now.
LBB> Is there a recent project that you're particularly proud of?
Mike> It has to be the BTS YouTube Red work we did for Google. It won several awards (as did a couple of other client projects) at the Asian Dragon’s last week – including Best in Country.
LBB> What does the future hold for Geometry - where will you be in five years?
Mike> The application of technologies to retail and e-retail will keep Geometry busy in adapting to the new landscapes, and with Korea still one of the most wired countries in the world, the first innovations often break ground in this market, making it sometimes a true benchmark in innovative commerce for the world.
I think in a world where consumers can buy anything, anytime and here where they are particularly receptive to innovation, Geometry with its heritage, deep retail understanding and capabilities spanning experiential to omnichannel, will be seen as the trusted advisor for communication expertise by more blue chip clients and a key partner to many of our sister agencies. Our understanding of delivering experience that really engages with consumers and changes their behavior should see us in good stead to grow our brand as well as those of our clients. In the next few years, Geometry should truly live up to its name and become a leader in the future of marketing on these new platforms that are transforming the commerce dynamic year by year.