Sunny Deo, Creative Director at Access, explains the one key lesson he has brought home after years working in Dubai and Singapore.

On Bank Holiday Monday I posted a picture of Manchester’s MediaCity on Instagram quoting, “North… is the new South.” And if we put it down to the sheer scope of opportunity alone, I am convinced that a growing portion of marketers will agree.

I have worked in Dubai’s MediaCity, at Leo Burnett, and in Singapore’s at Grey Group Asia Pacific, followed by freelancing as a creative director in London. And, like anywhere in the world, you will discover clear differences and, sometimes, surprising similarities.

Where there were differences, there were opportunities to adapt. Something I was reminded of when my team and I attended a presentation on ‘Constraints’ in the Northern Quarter in April.

Religious or cultural, constraints often brought out the best in our creative thinking. As advertisers, we had to work closely with the strategy teams and really understand resident perceptions to have any chance of successfully integrating a global brand into society. Cultural insight can quickly turn into marketing oversight, and even the big boys get it wrong.

In last week’s Campaign magazine, there was an article that I shared with the office: how Weetabix flopped in China.

After living in the APAC region for two years, making many local friends and taking part in cultural occasions, you can understand the enormity of the challenge that any cereal brand would face if they attempted to directly compete with the likes of a traditional Chinese breakfast, served hot. Blood is thicker than water and, quite simply, some traditions are like blood.

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Back to Manchester. Ironically, I left my hometown 16 years ago to pursue advertising and now I’m back because of it. Though working abroad has made me a better creative and certainly thick-skinned, more than anything it was the learning experiences from working with a number of locals and expats that really developed my thinking.

And that’s the one thing I hope happens for all agencies up here. Now that we’re seeing signs of the city fulfilling its potential by attracting more local and international business, we need the corresponding local and international talent to match this growth and, in turn, develop us further as a creative community.

To give your take on a particular issue or subject, contact david@prolificnorth.co.uk