Starcom’s Nancy Lan on the power of quiet leadership to drive growth

Starcom - Nancy Lan

Plus: Lan on her highlights as national managing director, recognising quiet leaders and her outlook for 2024

As the industry continues to make strides in championing diversity in all its different forms. Starcom Australia‘s national managing director Nancy Lan believes it’s time to recognise quiet leadership.
“As an industry, we don’t celebrate or could do more about celebrating quiet leadership. We’re an industry that celebrates and gravitates towards charismatic people who will hold court and are happy to stand up confidently and present with no script,” she said. 

“Quiet leaders tend to be purposeful in how they listen; they tend to be more inclusive because they create space for different voices to emerge. Sometimes we overlook quiet, thoughtful leaders who bring a lot to the industry.” 
Lan, who stepped into the role of national managing director at the start of 2021, has quietly overseen a dynamic few years of growth at the agency, which reported 12% growth in 2021 and 9% in 2022.
“We’ve come into this year with a lot of momentum,” she told Mediaweek.
That momentum has included new client wins – namely TPG – and a significant number of client retentions – P&G, Bega Group, Miele and Metcash, which equate to more than $130 million in billings this year.
The retentions are significant. On average, Starcom clients stay with the agency for 9.8 years.
“In an industry where the global average is about three years of international relationship, we’re proud. We’re proud of that, and that is the foundation that we’re building going into next year. We’ve secured our clients for a successful year in 2024.

“This year, we’ve been successful and have had the privilege of winning TPG as a major client. But more importantly, we’ve secured and locked in the core of our agency, and that’s our existing clients,” she added.
She noted that these client retentions are important because they are the foundation of growth. Lan said: “You don’t want to be a leaky sieve where you’re losing clients while trying to grow. I think long-term relationships speak to the long-term health of an agency.”
People are the key to success
According to her, one of the key factors in building and maintaining such strong relationships is being curious about their clients and asking the right questions.
“We’ve gone through a process of surveying our clients as to their biggest business priority going into 2024, which will then shape our product and service roadmap for 2024,” she said.
Lan believes the Starcom’s people-led business focus is part of its success. “I think our people are why we have productive, healthy relationships with our clients.
“The core belief we have at Starcom is one of never standing still, and that’s how we expect our people to show up for each other and our clients — always agitating for better, never settling for the status quo.

“That’s all underpinned by our positioning as a people-powered growth agency and our understanding of what we can do for our clients,” Lan added.

“Our investment team was named the Trading Team of the Year, which was such a great moment to recognise the hard work. Often, the investors and the back end of the agency don’t see as many accolades, so it was really thrilling to see that recognition for them.”

Lan’s growth as a leader

Lan has experienced both sides of the fence first working client side at Telstra before going agency side with Publicis Groupe’s Zenith in 2011 in London, as part of their content team called Newcast. Lan later moved to Shanghai, China, to set up the same division for China before returning to Australia as part of Starcom Sydney.

While she notes that each market is “profoundly different” Lan highlight’s China’s digitally advanced market – notably its immense e-commerce market as a learning experience. 

“We saw that acceleration of digital technology, which was a real foreshadowing of what’s happening in Australia now. They leapfrog several steps from a digital perspective in China. I’ve brought Shanghai’s content and economy experience into this market as e-commerce has blossomed over the last couple of years.”

Top image: Nancy Lan


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