Asia's media agencies are increasingly an excellent training ground for the UK's heavyweight media titles. Antony Young came to London from Hong Kong to lead the freshly merged ZenithOptimedia, while Kelly Clark was flown over to manage MindShare. The media scene also reflects the creative scene in the UK, with Asia now widely regarded as a hotbed of creative talent. Recent high-profile creative appointments at M&C Saatchi, Grey and Ogilvy & Mather have all had some experience of running a creative department in the region. What's more, many talented Brits working in media now opt to go to Asia; it has long shed its image of being the beginning of the end, career-wise.
Mike Cooper, the regional head of OMD Asia, says: "Networks have started waking up to the fact that clients are sending really good people to pioneer new markets. There is much more fluidity of talent around the networks with people who don't think in a parochial sense and who are international in their outlook."
So what does working in media in Asia offer in terms of such valuable experience? Cooper, who first moved out to the region 14 years ago, says: "It's a good way of getting more responsibility more rapidly and seeing a part of the world that is exotic and interesting. I'd heartily recommend it."
There's no doubt that the Asian pace of life involves more thinking on your feet, so the amount of change in Asia over the past two decades has meant agency executives are imbued with a certain fearlessness. Young is a good example, providing a refreshing contrast to what he describes as the "we tried that ten years ago and it didn't work" syndrome. He says: "Eight years ago in China, there were 650 TV channels: now there are more than 9,500. That pace of change forces executives to treat history with disdain as it constrains your ability to manage the future. People are more positive towards change when it's seen as a matter of survival. When people ask me 'will there be changes at ZenithOptimedia?', I say the question should be 'how quickly will we be changing?'"
China is experiencing phenomenal growth: its entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001 has seen more multinationals finally beginning to reap the fruit of their labours. This is good news for agencies as the budgets both of global and local marketers are growing. Other markets that have experienced similarly phenomenal growth include Korea (8 per cent growth last year), Thailand (which is attracting investment from tourism) and Malaysia.
The media brands that are on the up exemplify Asia's rapid pace of change.
Reader's Digest, which boasts a circulation of 1.2 million across the region, topped the latest quarterly Pan-Asian Cross-Media Survey; while, just like in Europe, TV brands such as Discovery, CNN and MTV are becoming more established and sit alongside local TV channels. The latest MTV Asia awards were broadcast to more than 150 million homes in Asia and one of the key sponsors was Nokia, a Finnish brand.
Media owners with their eye on the ball are making the most of Asia's growing population; forecasts by World Bank predict that by 2005 Asia's population will top 3.1 billion; by 2040 it will be closer to four billion.
There's no saying yet what kind of impact the Sars virus will have on this figure to date, but it is unlikely to diminish it that dramatically.
Business titles such as The Economist are growing in stature and popularity: a recent Ipsos survey revealed that the magazine's readership is now younger, wealthier and more female biased. This is no doubt an audience currently being eyed by the Financial Times, which is planning to launch an Asian edition later this year.
Meanwhile, consumer titles such as Tatler are expanding their reach by revamping their titles across Asia to make them more in tune with modern readers. This is before even touching on the strides made by other European media owners such as The National Magazine Company and Hachette Filipacchi with familiar consumer titles such as Cosmopolitan and Elle.
For the moment, though, there's no escaping the dominance of the small screen in Asia. TV's daily reach is more than 85 per cent in key markets and cable and satellite penetration is constantly increasing: in urban China, it nudges 100 per cent already. Reality TV shows such as The Wedding Race, which pits five Chinese couples against each other in different extreme sports as they attempt to win a house, are common on Asia's screens.
The show demonstrates that sponsor-assisted programming is becoming ever more commonplace across the region. It also attracts big-name sponsors, in this case Coca-Cola and Siemens Mobile, just as any reality show worth its salt in Europe acts like a magnet, both to sponsors and advertisers.
Given that the similarities between Asian and European media are rapidly becoming more striking than the differences, it is no wonder that the region's top talent is being poached for plum jobs in the UK.
ADSPEND IN ASIA: 2003 Estimates
COUNTRY Total TV Radio Press
China 27,004,230 21,639 n/s 5,364,405
India 2,070,871 813,798 50,114 1,075,551
Indonesia 1,770,606 1,352,153 47,425 371,028
Japan 33,440,543 16,728,689 1,562,235 12,345,410
Malaysia 842,243 279,519 34,743 523,770
Singapore 957,601 410,643 73,531 412,905
Taiwan 2,004,732 1,542,898 n/s 461,835
COUNTRY Outdoor Cinema Internet
China n/s n/s n/s
India 116,714 3,061 11,633
Indonesia n/s n/s n/s
Japan 2,105,499 n/s 698,709
Malaysia n/s 4,211 n/s
Singapore 52,037 8,484 n/s
Taiwan n/s n/s n/s
Source: Initiative Media.
ASIA'S MEDIA NETWORKS BILLINGS AND RANKINGS 2002 vs 2001
Rank Market Media networks (holding company) Billings* Billings*
02 01 02/03 2002 2001
1 1 17.9% MindShare (WPP) 2,307 2,209
2 2 17.6% ZenithOptimedia (Publicis Groupe) 2,320 2,200
3 3 15.2% Universal McCann (Interpublic Group) 1,997 1,944
4 5 10.4% OMD (Omnicom) 1,369 1,212
5 4 10.4% Starcom SMG (Publicis Groupe) 1,361 1,313
6 7 8.6% Initiative Media (Interpublic Group) 1,098 921
7 6 8.1% Mediaedge:cia (WPP) 1,070 1,002
8 8 7.5% Carat (Aegis) 988 774
9 9 4.3% MediaCom (Grey Global Group) 567 541
*RECMA estimates in dollars m.