ASIA REPORT: MEDIA SPECIALISTS MAKE INROADS INTO ASIA - Asia is not an easy market for media companies to enter but western agencies are rushing to take advantage of its potential, Nicole Dickenson writes

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.

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

to expansion.

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

International, reveals.

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.

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