Western media specialists have piled into the Asia Pacific region
with about as much restraint as a snowboarder in an Amsterdam coffee
shop. As a result, the media specialisation process in Asia will happen
in a fraction of the time it took in Europe.
’More and more agencies are taking the European template and setting up
media specialists in Asia and the process will be a lot faster,’ says
Mark Proudfoot, international strategic planning manager at MediaCom and
former associate media director at DMB&B Hong Kong. ’After all,
multinational clients won’t all have to be sold the idea of having a
media specialist buy for them.’
There are several reasons for this mad dash for a presence in Asia,
including the huge growth potential of the ad market. By some estimates,
Asia Pacific will account for 40 per cent of the global ad market in
five years’ time, with regional TV forecast to enjoy average annual
growth rates of 13 per cent between 1998 and 2005. And that’s despite
the economic meltdown in South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
The economic crisis is more likely to spur the media specialisation
process as clients look to consolidate their media and take advantage of
economies of scale and cost savings to offset ad budget cuts.
The Asian media scene is incredibly complex and diverse. It varies from
a TV duopoly in Hong Kong to the 2,300 TV channels in China. It is also
fast moving. In South Korea, the newspaper market has grown from 30
dailies to more than 100 in the past ten years.
The emergence of the Asian media specialist is reflected in billings
figures. The media specialist industry was virtually non-existent in
1995 but now Zenith and MindShare claim USdollars 1 billion in billings
apiece. MindShare can account for up to 50 per cent of total agency
billings in markets like Hong Kong.
The fact that more big multinational clients want their agency of record
to have a media network across the region was a driving force behind the
launch of MindShare, the Ogilvy & Mather/J. Walter Thompson media
specialist rolling out across Asia. ’It’s often the big multinational
clients who want better media planning and buying, plus a media network,
standardisation and common quality across the region. Outfits like ours
will be best placed to get that business,’ Dominic Proctor, MindShare’s
chief operating officer, claims.
MindShare has recently opened seven offices and Proctor plans to have a
presence in all the major Asian markets by the end of this year. Given
JWT and O&M’s strong position in Asia, MindShare will provide the
biggest challenge to the number-one Asian media specialist, Zenith
Media. Zenith, with ten wholly owned offices in China, Australia,
Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, plans to open in Thailand, Taiwan and
However, the media operation with the most extensive network is Grey’s
MediaCom with 21 offices in 18 countries. CIA was the first western
media specialist in Asia in 1993 but it has adopted a cautious approach
It still only has two offices - in Hong Kong and Singapore - with an
affiliate in India but it plans to enter four Asian countries over the
next two years.
Carat plans to increase its network from five to eight in the next few
Apart from MindShare, newcomers on the agency side include BBDO, DDB and
TBWA with Optimum Media Direction, and FCB with Optimedia.
A few media buying clubs have sprung up in Taiwan and Australia. Leo
Burnett is rumoured to be working to extend its Australian media outfit,
Starcom, which buys for six local agencies.
The pace of activity is all the more impressive because Asia is not an
easy market for media companies to enter. Apart from the tough
restrictions on foreign investment in many countries, the media
specialist industry in Asia is not at the same stage of development as
Europe was when the industry took off. ’Unlike Europe, where Carat, CIA
and their ilk bought media companies, there’s not a lot to buy in Asia.
It’s still an advertising agency-dominated market,’ Tim Jones, client
services director, worldwide, at Zenith, says.
But there are still significant obstacles facing media specialists.
’Asia has a full-service culture. We knew that when we went in, so we
don’t expect to make an enormous impact quickly, but we’ve been
encouraged by client interest,’ Brian Jacobs, managing director of Carat
Kate Stephenson, the client services director at Carat Hong Kong,
explains the difficulties: ’Separating media and creative is a very new
concept here. The normal response from clients to a media-only pitch is
’what will my agency say?’ Everything is very relationship-driven in
Asia but it is changing. There are more agencies of record doing central
buying, but separate planning and buying will take longer.’
What impact have the western media specialists had on Asian media buying
practices? First, research standards are being raised. ’Although some of
the larger markets are more sophisticated,’ Proctor says, ’the Asian
market as a whole has under-invested in research and planning. That’s
why we’re opening in Asia - it’s crying out for research.’
The markets are also becoming more negotiable, although this is partly a
result of the recession. In Hong Kong, where TVB dominates the ad market
with a 65 per cent share, it used to be able to name its price and force
clients to commit their annual budgets in November for the year
The TV station has now become more flexible and media specialists can
use their volume to get better deals. In China, where TV used to be
bought on behalf of agencies by brokers, Zenith has trained local staff
to deal directly with TV stations and negotiate cheaper rates.
Western agencies and media companies have helped to raise the profile of
the media function and improve standards. Media used to be seen as a
backwater that no self-respecting Asian ad person wanted to find
themselves in, but now it is viewed as a decent career with proper
training and management and business responsibility.
There is no doubt that there is a role for media specialists in
Media consolidation is becoming more of an issue and, as media owners
such as Rupert Murdoch tighten their stranglehold on the scene, media
buyers will need to counter the owners’ clout.