Production Essays: The global view

Many UK production companies cannot afford to advertise on a global scale, but the APA can help to introduce them to potential new markets.

Finding new markets is an imperative for all businesses, particularly in such a competitive business as production in the UK. The threat of recession makes it all the more urgent.

For APA members, areas with exciting potential include the internet, phones, public screens and other new media outlets for which they may create audiovisual ad content. This potential has become a real market for many members already, and they are now fully immersed in these spheres.

But another area for potential growth is overseas. London production companies have always been alive to that and have developed abroad, often through partnerships with local production outfits.

Naturally enough, the US and Europe have been the predominate regions for such activity. It could be argued that, until relatively recently, there have been few countries outside those areas with the budgets or TV and advertising culture to create a demand for our members' services.

All that has now changed, particularly with the growth of Asian economies. The potential of these has been apparent for some time now, and we have seen advertising agencies focusing on them. Sir Martin Sorrell identified the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - as the markets that would drive the growth of WPP in the immediate future.

Production companies face a particular challenge in exploring new markets. Our members are world- renowned for the quality of their work and manage huge productions, but, as businesses, they are small and very tightly run ships, without the resources to develop and implement worldwide marketing strategies.

The APA's strategy is both to enable our members to understand these exciting new markets and to introduce our companies to agencies in these countries. We have focused first on Japan and China, since our research showed that they had the most potential to offer our members.

The first event we organised was in Japan in 2004. At the London Tokyo Creative Forum, 35 APA members presented the best work from London to representatives from Japan's ad agencies and production companies.

The Japanese demonstrated an enthusiasm about learning more about UK production that has also been encountered in many other countries. Around the world, UK advertising is held in such high esteem that representing it abroad is something like being a Ferrari salesman.

One thing we learned in Japan was that just being there was as important, if not more, than what was said. The fact we had travelled halfway around the world showed we were enthusiastic about working with them. Visiting en masse added to the impact, too: 35 Brits turning up in Tokyo created a strong impression, both in the advertising press there and where we visited.

Tokyo was a success on every level, and stimulated demand for UK production from Japanese agencies. It also helped us learn how we would plan an event better next time - in China.

China's phenomenal economic growth in recent years made it the obvious choice. Indeed, while it was the world's fifth-largest advertising market when we started planning in 2006, it had become the second-biggest by the beginning of this year.

Again, as in Japan, we enjoyed the support of UK Trade & Investment and the local British Embassy and Consulate, which was invaluable. Official government endorsement is of great importance in Asian countries.

The Shanghai London Advertising Forum 2007 addressed some specific issues that Tokyo had thrown up. In showing the very best work from the UK, there was a risk that its high quality would give the impression that it would be expensive and that we might look down on the indigenous output.

So, along with the likes of Guinness' "tipping point" and Sony's "Play-Doh", we included a huge amount of work that was not big budget.

As for London itself being expensive, we needed to show that UK production could happen anywhere in the world. Around two-thirds of the production emanating from UK agencies is shot overseas, so our members are used to going to wherever produces the most economical location to shoot, without compromising on quality.

Production of non-traditional media/branded content also became more of a focus: London is perceived as a world leader and there is great enthusiasm to learn from us.

Importantly, there were as many speakers from China as from London over the two-day event. The hundreds of delegates could see that we were there as much to learn how they worked and what they wanted, as vice versa.

The Chinese presenters - managing directors and creative directors from the country's network agencies - provided valuable insights. They are part of an exciting creative environment in Shanghai, a city which has enormous energy and is at the centre of the eastward global shift in economic power.

The proof of the success of the Shanghai London Advertising Forum 2007 lies in the work seen subsequently. Delegates have generated millions of pounds worth of business.

Although budgets in China are lower than in the UK, the work attracted has tended to be at the top end, with ads for world brands. The creative has come from Chinese agencies but clients tend to go through their global headquarters. This avoids potential problems such as currency regulation.

Our next event is the Beijing London Advertising Forum 2009 next spring. British success in Beijing? That has a nice ring to it.

- Steve Davies is the chief executive of the Advertising Producers Association.