Mind Your Business: Moving Bits’ Jay Soo on why execution is everything

Everyone can be creative. The difference is whether or not you can execute your vision, declares the CEO behind this local success story

Wide-ranging storytelling powers, acute business instincts and a longstanding love for the transcendental – from this trifecta, Moving Bits was born. On paper, the company presents itself as furnishing the ideation and production of creative campaigns for top brands. But, in a deeper, more abstract but fundamental sense, what the company really does is carry the torch for humanity’s perennial love for stories and the impact that narratives have when they capture the heart, the mind and the eyes.

The Singapore-based-but-world-traveling hybrid marketing agency was incepted in 1998 by its founder and chief executive officer Jay Soo, a Cannes Lion-nominated, guitar-playing, pop-culture savant who also has his finger on the pulse of business. The spirit with which he speaks of his story, of his triumphs over the years, which include winning over titans such as Disney+, the Pan Pacific Hotels Group and Resorts World Genting to name just some, is positively infectious and absolutely redolent of the fearless essence of rock ’n’ roll.

As the world accelerates into an evermore technologised present, Jay chats with us on the undying importance of storytelling and why execution is the difference-maker.

What are the origins of the Moving Bits story?

I graduated with honours in studio guitar in 1986 from the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. Once I got home, I freelanced scoring commercials for big agencies such as BBDO and DDB. One day, the Executive Creative Director at BBDO told me that there was a video production job that nobody in the agency wanted to do that was up for grabs. So, I took it and after finding out that not only did I like it, I could also picture things in my head and then translate them to reality. After that, I got my Master Editor certification and caught the wave of production jobs filtering down to desktops because computers were getting better.

It occurred to me that if I did creative work and had medium-to-high-end video production and post-production services in-house, I could make a run of the business. So, the company was born in 1998, when we moved into our building. Now, 25 years later, I think my original idea has been vindicated.

Jay Soo pictured with Executive Producer Michell Tan, and Chief Creative Officer Hazrul Idzwan Lamin. Photo by Jay Soo

What are some rewards and challenges that come with being recognised internationally?

You have to learn that everywhere isn’t Singapore. I had to learn the hard way that you can’t pitch to American clients the way you do to Singaporean ones. In America, people don’t want work that has been done before. Here, people like knowing that other clients have taken a similar approach because it validates their own choices.

The greatest reward came with knowing that I didn’t want to just produce content for a small country. What I wanted was to build within Singapore and let the world know that we can play in the same pool as bigger international firms and win. When we pitched to Disney+, we were up against some big, internationally renowned names and we won.

That’s fantastic. But I’m sure that pitching against international firms can be quite a gruelling process.

Yes. You must know all the pop culture around you. Fortunately, I started life as musician so I was up to speed on that. Pop culture is very important because the buying age is about 20 to 45. Once you’re attuned to what’s happening in the world, you’ll be aligned with what people from where the action happens also know.

And what’s been the most valuable takeaway from your endeavours so far?

That’s a great question. Overseas, nobody cares about my skin colour or where I’m from. They just care about my ideas. They look at me as just another supplier; they don’t tar me with anything. I pitched something at a party to someone who worked at the World Bank. He didn’t care that I was Singaporean. He loved the idea for what it was and told me that he’ll sign off on it tomorrow. Execution is everything.

Everyone can be creative. The difference is whether or not you can execute your vision.

Photo by Jay Soo

Beyond the monetary sense, what value is there in longevity?

One of the merits of longevity is definitely stability. Some of my staff have been with me for between 10-16 years. It’s only with stability that you can build. I’m playing the infinite game. I’m challenging myself to see how far I can take this. Another one is credibility. For me, as a regular, middle class Singaporean, to be here after 25 years, and not as a result of charity or wealth, is a testament to me making sure the company is a success by adding value to my clients. There’s also a certain gravitas that comes with that, and it helps when we’re pitching to new clients. The work speaks for itself.

Social media and its trending technologies – what place does storytelling have in this world?

Storytelling will never go away. Humankind loves stories. In my humble opinion, I think that the short-form mode is short-lived. Some of it is quite well done, but I believe people will get tired of it and might seek out a longer format. If you’re thinking of a legacy, you can’t just make content for today. If you like to tell stories, your stories should evolve as you grow. That’s what separates a career from a flash in the pan.

Right now, the world rewards virality more than the story itself. But I don’t believe in that approach. Everything has to be done tastefully. And what influences taste is education.

Lastly, what still keeps you on the edge of your seat?

What keeps me on the edge of my seat is the fact that we’re not world-class yet, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘Singapore’. I want Benjamin Kheng to be Jackson Wang. We’ve done a great job of building the nation; we’re extremely talented. We just need an outlet.

A rising tide floats all boats.

Moving Bits