Co-founder Sivanathan Krishnan on Trapper Group being ranked 3rd media agency in Malaysia

It is also the 5th most progressive independent agency in the world over the past three years.

Sivanathan started the media company 20 years ago (Photo: Trappers Group)

The co-founder and chairman of Trapper Group talks about lessons from the pandemic and future business plans.

Options: Congratulations on Trapper Group being ranked third in Malaysia - the highest among local agencies - and top five globally among independent agencies by RECMA. Tell us a bit about your company and what this recognition means to you.
Sivanathan Krishnan: The name ‘Trapper’ itself has massive significance for us. Twenty-one years ago, we wanted a name that signified growth — growth of the nation based on its exports to the world. But more importantly, its people who painstakingly contributed to this growth. So, we started with the rubber tappers, resulting in our first brand being called Trapper.

Trapper Group comprises marketing and communications brands that specialise in media and tech. Our brands include Trapper and Seed, both integrated media brands; Tin, which is our digital focus media agency;, a media marketplace platform meant for small and medium enterprises (SMEs); Adminer, our programmatic arm; and Trapper Consulting, a strategy consulting business. Last year, we celebrated two decades of being in business by transforming our brand to future-proof ourselves for the next two decades.

We pride ourselves on being growth engineers and take personal and clients’ business growth very seriously. Placing our priority on that clearly has resulted in our receiving this recognition in the industry. We are massively proud of this achievement, of being recognised as the No 3 media agency among the global media agencies in Malaysia. Another accolade is that we have been the 5th most progressive independent agency in the world over the past three years. Truly humbling. We will continue to push forward to ensure that a Malaysian-born business can be highly competitive to global brands.

What are your goals for the rest of the year?
As the country moves into the endemic stage, we expect the national economy to recover quickly. As you know, SMEs are the engine of recovery and I’m glad to say, the fruits of our hard work in converting new businesses last year has certainly given us an advantageous head start in 2022. The pandemic has shown us the best and worst of the industry, and we’re taking a lot of learnings from that.

We will continue to grow our business substantially, but also focus on a people-first strategy. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve been taking measures to digitise our operations even further to ensure the teams are agile, efficient and effective. While focusing on optimising processes, we want to lift our people for growth as well, putting work policies, training and staff experience at the centre of our view this year. There is a high turnover rate in our business because of the high burnout rate, and we aim to fix what the industry has not been able to do for many years.


Trapper Group also took home silver for Media Agency of the Year and bronze for Most Effective and Use – Specific Audience at the MARKies Award 2020

What have been your most significant career milestones?
Oh wow, starting a media company 20 years ago was a massive milestone for us. Honestly, no one wanted to join a company that hadn’t made its mark yet. Everyone, of course, was interested in working for the large network companies and I respect that. So, we focused on baristas or just anyone we could teach about our industry and offered them a career in advertising. We started with two employees, but we now have more than 70 Trappereans and over RM1.5 billion in billings over two decades.

Other highlights include receiving the Media Entrepreneur Award Of The Year during the Malaysian Media Conference 2008 and becoming the VP of The Media Specialist Association of Malaysia in 2016-2018.

What have been the greatest lessons the pandemic has taught you?
Many great lessons were learnt. Everyone will probably say the same thing: resilience, focus, need to hunker down, build yourself up, and so on. But I must say, I learnt two great lessons: people and the meaning of time. Understanding the meaning of time spent well, I must say, was the biggest lesson. Time you never had when you were busy working, golfing, entertaining and suddenly you had all this time and then you find out that the greatest gift is your family right there in front of your face. That is not to say I am the greatest dad on the planet now, but I am making strides and effort. Success alone, without family and those who care for you and vice versa, is pretty meaningless.

The best kinds of lessons I learnt during the pandemic were taught to me by the best and worst kinds of people. There are some really great people out there who will be by your side and huddle together, those are for keeps. But I also learnt to stay far away from toxicity and toxic people. I didn’t want to become the average of the negative environment I had been a part of.

How has the pandemic changed the way Trapper Group operates?
We had a choice — we could hunker down, cut employees/salaries to save costs, get angry as to why this was happening, moan and groan — but we realised that in order for change to happen, we needed to be the change first. We decided to look at who we were and rebranded our organisation, hired some class act individuals such as Trapper CEO Sue-Anne Lim and Kenneth Wong, the CEO of our digital companies, and many more talents while harnessing those we already had. We became more client-brand-focused and not just media-agency-focused. And we gave ourselves a tagline: The Growth Engineers. We found a purpose. With over 30 new business wins since the pandemic, we found the reason to continuously exist based on our ideas and ideals.

What advice would you give young people who want to have a successful career in your industry?
The media industry is intense. It’s like having four seasons in one day. You can be happy, sad, elated, dumbfounded and angry. If you can handle that and you have patience, this industry will suit you and I must say, it does pay handsomely. Stay the course. Just imagine this, the advertising industry manages about RM12 billion of client ad spend, and there are about 2,500 people in our industry. I always believe 80% of the workforce will work for the 20%. The 20% works harder, listens more, adapts, is energetic, wants to consume life and gives it their best. The tolerance levels are high, your bosses can be awful but you will learn an awful lot too. So, it is a choice — either you want to be the 20% or the 80%.

The other thing is that, yes, the industry does pay well — it’s a career after all. But I can promise you this, the comms industry is tough. If you can bring in passion and attitude and add love for the industry to the mix, it could be the start of something brilliant. Focus on growth and learning and never on money. Everyone assumes money leads to a stable career. The moment you focus on money as growth, your career loses out, and you end up losing a lot more later. Stay the course and delay the gratification.


The company is made up of an energetic and innovative team

What have you been reading and/or listening to to stay inspired?
I do read but I am very selective. One of my favourites is It’s a Jungle in There by Steven Schussler, which talks about entrepreneurial daring and inspiring lessons. It’s about staying passionate and you will find that anything is possible. The other is The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes by Deepak Chopra. Hey, don’t laugh, but you know movies and superheroes teach you a whole lot of things and Deepak explains their relevance, importance and, most critically, how to apply them to our daily lives. I am biased of course, I love superheroes.

And I love to watch movies. I love the fact that directors and scriptwriters can take something from their imagination/reality and give strength to power our own lives.


Where do you hope to travel to this year and why?
Two years of no travelling really bugged us as a family and organisation, because that’s a must for our sanity. With family, I would like to head back to San Francisco to see my son who is studying there and our dear friends, Alan and Susie. For the office, the next trip will potentially be to Japan.

Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
It used to be golf every weekend. I do miss it, but I now find spending time with Beverly, my wife/business partner and my sons, exploring the many wonders of eating out in Kuala Lumpur, an absolutely perfect weekend. And with a touch of workout as well, of course.  

This article first appeared on Apr 4, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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