Fishermen make the BIG CATCH

In an exclusive interview with HERALD, Mark Darren Lee, one of the co-founders of Fishermen Integrated, shares with us his momentous victory as well as a little bit about himself and his journey.

Jun 07, 2024

David Alan Bates, Joyce Gan, Mark Darren Lee and Stephanie Rosemarie at the recent Webby Awards in New York

By Tianne Ramona Pereira
There’s nothing like a good success story to lift our spirits. While we usually look for these inspirational tales from far and beyond, let me direct your attention to the extraordinary journey and success of our very own local Catholic lads and former altar server buddies, Mark Darren Lee and Adam Miranda, whose advertising agency Fishermen Integrated recently bagged an award at the 28th Annual Webby Awards.

If you did not already know, The Webby Awards or Webbys, as it is more commonly known, is a leading international award honouring excellence on the Internet. This prestigious award is presented annually by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a judging body made up of more than 3,000 industry experts and technology innovators. Categories include websites, advertising and media, online film and video, mobile sites and apps, and social. The New York Times calls it “the Internet’s highest honour”. Some of the other Webby winners this year include star studded list such as Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, Ryan Gosling, and Olivia Rodrigo to name a few.

In an exclusive interview with HERALD, Mark Darren Lee, one of the co-founders of Fishermen Integrated, shares with us his momentous victory as well as a little bit about himself and his journey.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. I come from a tight-knit family of four: my dad, John Lee; my mom, Alice Massang; my brother, Craig Matthew Lee; and myself. The Massangs are a creative family, dedicated to their faith. My mom has been a catechist for 35 years and founded the Assumption Soup Kitchen. My grandpa was a pioneer sacristan at the Church of the Assumption, Petaling Jaya and my uncle, Fr Patrick Massang, is a priest with the Redemptorist community, making faith and service a family tradition. My dad was passionate about sports and instilled the value of family support in us.

I am blessed with my wife, Melissa Jillian Au, and our two loving kids, Matthias and Marcus. My brother Craig is the Executive Creative Director at Shopper 360, and his wife, Joyce Gan, is a partner and group brand director at Fishermen Integrated.

Inspired by my dad, I developed a love for badminton and played at the state level. Following my mom’s footsteps, I served as head of altar servers at Assumption, and as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at the Church of St Thomas More. During the pandemic, Fr Dr Clarence Devadass, Kevin Francis and myself brainstormed and gave birth to the Catholics at Home (CAH) podcast, to keep our community connected. I strive to honour my family’s legacy of service and give back to God for all my blessings.

Share a bit about your work and the people who have contributed to your success story.
At Fishermen Integrated, we specialise in creating innovative and impactful advertising campaigns. I co-founded this agency with my good buddy Adam Miranda, who I’ve known since our days as altar servers and youth group members at the Church of the Assumption. Adam was the one who introduced me to the world of advertising and got me my first job at WWF. With my experience in digital marketing from Digi Telecommunications and Leo Burnett Advertising, and Adam’s background from Saatchi & Saatchi, BBDO, and Y&R Singapore, we always dreamed of starting our own agency. Before we got too old, we decided to take the plunge and see where it would take us.

We were fortunate to start Fishermen Integrated with the help of Koh Boon Ki, who provided capital and brought in clients we could collaborate with on creative ideas. Additionally, we were joined by Joyce Gan, who came from Digi Telecommunications to lead the brand management side, and Andrew Tan, who partnered with Adam as the Executive Creative Director (ECD). Both Joyce and Andrew are partners in the business and have been invaluable in helping build Fishermen to where it is today.

We also brought in David Alan Bates from Digi, who started Fishermen Analytics, focusing on website and data analytics for our clients. David has been running this division for the past 10 years.

At Fishermen, we believe in working a l o n g s i d e friends and trusted individuals. That’s why Dorothea Headley, a good church friend and Melissa, my wife, are leading the way in Finance, HR, and Admin, bringing their expertise to support our team across various aspects of the business.

By the grace of God, we started with just five people and today, we’re a thriving group of over 90 people in Malaysia and Singapore. Our team is made up of fun and talented individuals from all walks of life, who bring creative ideas, digital expertise, social media savvy, and tech solutions to our clients. Together, we collaborate with various brands to help them connect meaningfully with their audiences. With these amazing bunch of people though the years, we’re blessed to have won the Golden Kancil for two years, The Gold for most creative campaign in the Kancil Awards for three years in a row, The Effies Agency of the Year 2023, The APPIES Agency of the year 2022, YouTube Ad of the Year 2021 and the most recent Webby Awards 2024 in New York.

Why the name ‘Fishermen’?
Adam wanted a name that was cool, like something you’d hear from a rock band, while I aimed for a name that would catch people’s attention — no pun intended — with a foundation of faith. After we prayed over it, the name Fishermen came to mind, and we all immediately liked it. Just like fishermen use bait to catch the right fish, we use our ideas as bait to hook the attention of our clients’ audiences. We cast our net wide, leveraging the internet to help our clients reach out to their customers in entertaining and engaging ways. Additionally, the name reflects our belief in being “fishers of men,” where we strive for our company to have values rooted in faith.

What does it take to be the best in the market?
Success in the market isn’t about being the “best” as there are many commendable companies excelling in various aspects. At Fishermen Integrated, we believe in a blend of hard work and a people-driven approach. We prioritise both our clients and our internal team, understanding that nurturing relationships and fostering collaboration are key to success. Additionally, we’re deeply committed to being ideas-driven, constantly innovating and pushing boundaries to ensure our work helps our clients stand out in the sea of clutter. By delivering ownable and creative ideas for their brands, we help them make a meaningful impact. Above all, we firmly believe in putting God at the centre of everything we do, guiding our actions with faith and integrity.

Has there been a time when your faith influenced a professional decision?
In many ways, faith has influenced where we are at the company. Advertising can be difficult and uncertain, but we always put our faith in God and trust that He has His plans for us. For example, there are times when we lose a client or a pitch, and we feel sad for a while. But as months and years go by, we often end up gaining something special or even bigger. We believe whatever blessing we get, we should also give back to the Church. That’s why we always do our best to help out the Church when we can — some examples include helping with the last Peninsular Malaysia Pastoral Convention (PMPC) video and last year’s Lenten campaign for the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

How do you incorporate your faith into your daily work routine?
For me, I believe I’m a steward of God’s company, Fishermen. Everything I do, every decision we make, I pray to ask God to guide us and I offer everything up to Him. We also work based on principles, where we will not do things that are not right to win a business or keep a business. Every award we win is a blessing, and all praise and glory go to Him.

How do you deal with failure or setbacks?
It is always sad to lose a pitch or go through setbacks, especially for some business which we really felt we should win or keep because it was close to our hearts. Sometimes when we lose a business, we don’t really know how we are going to get through a rough patch. However, as months and years go by, we get to see and understand what God’s plan or learning is for us. On top of that, we also evaluate the situation to see what went wrong and how we can improve so that we are able to come back stronger. Sometimes God wants us to go through some losses to humble us or teach us something, and by going through it with a positive mindset in faith, we learn and take these lessons to strengthen us and it is part of growth.

What advice do you have for those looking to start building a dream?
Seek advice, talk to people about it, pray about it, and just do it. See where it takes you. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge – sometimes the biggest leaps of faith lead to the most rewarding catches. And remember, every great idea starts with a single step. For me I started this when I was 30, I’d just gotten married and a kid was on the way. The risk level was high as I needed a steady income to support the family and God put forward to us the partners who helped us start with funding and businesses we could work with. If things didn’t work out it was a higher risk for me as I had to support my parents and also my new family. Hence, I would recommend for people when they are young to get as much experience and join the best company in the field you are interested in. Learn as much as you can then start your business with the experience and network you’ve gained. Do it when you have less risk to lose.

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