Alyna Haji Omar is shaking up the old guards in Sri Lankan advertising. In November 2018, WPP merged J. Walter Thompson, the world’s oldest advertising agency, with Wunderman, one of its digital agencies, to create Wunderman Thompson—a new agency which brings creative, data and technology capabilities under one brand. Meanwhile, the agency’s latest business reincarnation comes on the heels of numerous changes unfolding within its Sri Lankan arm. “Our singular focus is to evolve and redefine our value by combining creative, data and technology—this is what makes us relevant, and increasingly that relevance is rooted in deep insight into the core issues challenging growth,” explains Alyna.
“Criticizing is a favourite national pastime! So many of us are afraid of being criticized, so we don’t do anything new.”
The agency has also been bolder in its approach. “We’ve become very aggressive. We’ve become innovative and dynamic. We have a digital-first perspective, and we are unapologetic in how audacious we will be,” she notes. Wunderman Thompson Sri Lanka has drawn from its 150-year history, gone back to Comms 101, collaborated with different partners, embraced digital and experimented with its traditional approach to advertising. This approach has earned them brickbats and bouquets in equal measure.
“Criticizing is a favourite national pastime! So many of us are afraid of being criticized, so we don’t do anything new,” Alyna explains. In the four years Alyna has been at the helm as CEO of Wunderman Thompson Sri Lanka, the agency has seen its billing grow by 150%. From 2015 to 2019, the company achieved operating profit growth of 780%. While these changes are taking place within, she is also conscious of the future of advertising in Sri Lanka and the changing nature of competition. Agencies are no longer vying among each other—a host of indirect competitors have now flooded the market.
“If our purpose is simply to create a campaign, then the road ahead is short. Advertising must reinvent itself here to be relevant,” reflects Alyna. “We must think about our purpose as an industry and not as individual businesses. Why are we important when technology has changed how we consume products, services and messaging? If brands don’t necessarily rely on us to access people anymore, then we must reinvent our purpose and demonstrate what is it that makes us valuable in the ecosystem.”