Monday 22 April 2024

5 minutes with…Kelvin Chong, Global Strategist, NEXT, TBWA\Worldwide

So Kelvin, why strategy? Were there any other fields or careers you considered before diving in?

I actually studied finance before pursuing a career as a photographer for a few years, but realised I needed something that was more business focused and involved more creative problem solving. My partner at the time was working for VML and the Adland folks we were around would say ‘‘you sound like a strategist’. So, I reached out to a bunch of people to try to get a foot in the door. Matt Moran, now Global Head of Strategy for NEXT, TBWA\Worldwide and Matt Springate, CSO, TBWA\Australia, took me on after sensing I had a keen interest in culture and an innate curiosity to ask questions.

What kind of strategist did you want to be?

I was much more of a generalist when I started, doing mainly brand strategy with some comms and social strategy thrown in. But now I’m focused more on innovation and experience strategy, and that’s the space I love and want to be in. This is what the global role with NEXT is all about – building on communications, which is what the brand says; expanding that ecosystem and imagining brand experiences that people can touch, feel, and interact with. A lot of industries and agencies are moving in this direction to deliver what we call the total brand experience.

TBWA has been your home for three years now – first as a junior strategist at TBWA\Australia and then as global strategist for TBWA\Worldwide, working out of Sydney. How do those roles differ?

The junior strategist role was a great chance to learn and support the wider strategy team, especially with research and insight gathering. Typically, we would take a brief and develop a strategy that acts as the overall framework to the problem at hand and a jumping-off point for the creatives. My global role now is still quite similar in that sense, just with more of a focus on innovation and brand experience. It also now means I get to do that across our collective of 300+ offices in over 100 countries, which is definitely exciting and challenging. Recent projects have spanned LA, Singapore, Hong Kong, Amsterdam and soon Germany, which allows us to be the thread that brings the best from each market to share knowledge and resources on these projects. Then there’s the travel of course!

You completed AdSchool in 2022. What made you sign up to the Core Strategic Planning course and what did you get out of it?

I was a few months into the junior strategist role and felt I was missing the theory to all the practical work I was being given. A few top strategists in our team recommended the course, and I was lucky enough to land Ryan O’Connell, Ogilvy CSO at the time, as facilitator. He was brilliant in creating a conducive environment to learn about our role and strategy more practically. Each week there’s a different lecture, but the real magic happens at the tutorials, when people from all different agencies and disciplines – account managers, creatives and planners – come together to share their challenges in a bid to learn how strategy can help them do their job better. I walked away with validation in the work I was doing, a framework to refer to to ensure I didn’t stray from the basics, and the confidence to take risks.

Who do you look up to in the industry and why?

People like Julian Cole and Mark Pollard have opened the gates to strategy and made it more accessible for outsiders. There is often a mystery to the discipline because those in the field often don’t talk about their work, and that stops great talent from entering the industry. Matt Klein is also someone I respect a lot, an international trend forecaster who looks at what’s ahead and what it means for marketers. His way of providing culturally relevant and actionable insights is something that I strive for.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

If all goes well, I’ll still be here pushing what innovation and brand experience can mean for brands globally. Whether that’s a role based in Australia or abroad, I still see myself working with the NEXT team and the TBWA collective as I love the global experience and the cross-border team, and translating strategy into experiences for people to enjoy and be a part of.


AdSchool’s eight-week kicks off in Melb on April 30, and in Syd, Bris and online from July 11. Get in quick to secure your spot, places are limited. For other courses, visit

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