I’m very grateful to the G8 group of political leaders, assorted
Kings of Madison Avenue, Martin Sorrell and a delightfully camp steward
on Thai International Airways. Their obsession with the current Asian
crisis legitimises my ’what I did on my holidays’ column.
How bad it is in Asia depends on your perspective. If you’re Joe
Bangkok, it’s not too bad. Countries like Thailand are largely
self-sufficient food producers, so prices haven’t rocketed. However,
mass unemployment is just beginning to bite. Inevitably, one of the
first reactions is to blame immigrant workers (Laotians, Burmese) and
take steps to kick them out.
If you’re Thai International Airways it’s painful and embarrassing.
Painful, because you’ve announced a massive first-quarter loss, and
embarrassing, because no-one likes passing on that pain to consumers -
like not being able to serve food on certain flights. In the stores,
stocks of foreign goods are low - they can’t afford to import any.
Nowhere is the situation worse than in the media industry. As a gauge of
just how bad is bad, commercial television in Thailand has just suffered
a 50 per cent drop in revenues in one year. The result is a lack of
commissioning of new shows, and existing shows hopping around both
schedules and channels in search of audiences to satisfy
And yet, despite the abandoned, half-finished skyscrapers and empty
stores, there is no long-term panic. Those Kings of Madison Avenue made
light of the situation. Remember the comment of Grey’s Ed Meyer: ’If
England or Germany went down I’d be in despair and walking on a ledge. I
feel sorry for my people in Asia but it’s not a tragedy for us yet.’
That’s because, as Meyer quipped, Asia is either 8 per cent of your
business or the rest of the world is 92 per cent, according to the
necessary PR spin.
Sorrell didn’t really need a PR spin announcing last week’s pounds 177
million full-year profits. Asia Pacific accounts for 14 per cent of
WPP’s group revenue, yet the world outside the mature markets of North
America and Europe still managed revenue growth of 17 per cent. It is
still the fastest-growing significant marketplace. The only real
difference is that while the likes of the UK, France and Germany can be
in boom or recession independently of each other, the less mature
South-east Asian economies remain more inter-dependent. Let’s not
forget, WPP’s revenue growth in ’booming’ Britain was only 5 per
Another effect of the crisis will be an increased onus on Dentsu and
Hakuhodo to seek greater growth outside their troubled domestic mainstay
- particularly once the former floats. Expect both to make moves
Also expect to find many of the better opportunities in advertising to
be in Asia for years to come.