The World: Insider's View - Singapore

Despite its rising status, Singapore is still far from a major force in advertising. Stuart Clark looks at the promising areas of the country's ad and media industries and those that still need improvement.

Singapore is increasingly acting as the key strategic media centre for Asia. It is central, geographically, and the quality of life is probably better than Hong Kong. It's a great base from which to experience the growth happening all across Asia.

Singapore itself is very small as an advertising market - with just over $1 billion in total expenditure. But it's a big "marketplace", because so many multinationals co-ordinate their regional activity from here.

The agency environment is extremely competitive. I've heard that there are 450 advertising agencies in a land of 4.5 million people. M&C Saatchi closed its office here recently because it felt the fundamentals didn't make it worthwhile. But you can't be a network in Asia without a presence in Singapore.

Singapore is a seller's market. There are only two media owners: nearly all broadcast belongs to MediaCorp, owned by a state investment agency; and all print by Singapore Press Holdings, which has close links to the ruling party.

Between them they control 90 per cent of the market. It's also pretty tightly regulated. This dynamic definitely limits the amount of media creativity you see here.

Mobile usage, including 3G, is very high, and broadband penetration is more than 80 per cent. The digital infrastructure is well developed. The government's "Media 21" plan aims to turn the country into a regional hub for digital media and create thousands of new jobs in the new sector.

But e-commerce is definitely behind markets such as the UK. Local websites are not strong, and online only gets around 3 per cent of ad investment. Usage needs to catch up with penetration.

Within the media industry, there is a huge shortage of digital expertise in Singapore, and agencies are falling over each other to recruit the available talent. Media Contacts (MPG's digital sister agency) is developing an Asian knowledge centre for digital marketing here in Singapore, and I think that will be true for a lot of networks.

Media is less of a political and social discriminator in Singapore than it is in the UK. Consuming a particular media doesn't say anything about you culturally (beyond your language), in contrast to the way that one might be a Guardian reader or a Sun reader. Media gives you news, or it gives you entertainment, but it doesn't give you an identity.

One thing I like about Singapore is that advertising and media agencies are extremely multicultural. A typical agency in Singapore will be full of Indians, Malays, Australians, Europeans and Chinese. That's partly because of a lack of local talent, but the net effect is that you get exposed to a broad range of experience and working practices. I don't remember feeling the same way with UK agencies.

- Stuart Clark is the general manager at MPG Singapore.


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