MEDIA BUYING & PLANNING;CLIENTS' DECISIONS TEST MEDIA EXPERTS' METTLE;ARRIVAL OF NEWCOMERS HEIGHTENS COMPETITION

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Asia's increasingly complex and frenetic media landscape is creating a new respect for the media expert. And competitors are emerging as Europe's powerful media-buying specialists follow their clients into the region.

Carat, a London-based media group that controls 12% of all European media buying, set up Carat Asia Pacific last month in Hong Kong to handle Volkswagen.

In another client-driven move, British American Tobacco's entry into Asia has prompted its global agencies, Grey Advertising and Bates Worldwide, to open offices of Grey's Mediacom subsidiary.

Mediacom has offices in Hong Kong (which serves mainland China) and Indonesia, but views expansion cautiously. Each office has to prove it can operate as a profit center, said Mike Townsin, worldwide media director. "Our ultimate goal is to establish Mediacom globally, because agencies need cohesion," he said. "But the priority is the needs of the clients."

Like Mediacom, Zenith Media Worldwide has global ambitions, but expansion will be influenced by client demands. The media agency-an independent buying arm of the Cordiant holding company-now has offices in Hong Kong and Malaysia. John Perriss, chairman, predicts Zenith will have operations in 10 Asian-Pacific areas, including Australia and New Zealand, by the end of 1997.

AN ADVANTAGE OVER RIVALS

Mr. Perriss believes that Zenith has an advantage over networks moving into the region: the existing presence of Asian offices operated by Cordiant subsidiaries Bates Worldwide and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. "These two agencies together would easily be among the top three media buyers in the region," he pointed out.

Zenith's move was prompted by the needs of British American Tobacco. The agency also handles Malaysian Tobacco Corp.

Earlier this month, Ogilvy & Mather simultaneously launched in 13 Asian countries its new media-buying arm called the network, The Ogilvy Media Company. Its president, Andre Nair, said, "Clients and agencies are beginning to recognize that media [buying] is an important element of marketing communication."

Mr. Nair called the network, "our answer to the increasing complexity of the media industry. We are convinced that the best media service for the future will come from specialists controlling their own professional product, but with the benefit of a close working relationship and a shared culture with an ad agency."

The network follows the model of O&M's separate media agency in Europe.

IGNORING THE U.S.

Another major European media group, CIA International, is ignoring the U.S. market to focus its international drive on Asia. CIA has been in the region for almost four years. In February, it opened a joint venture operation in Singapore with Batey Advertising. CIA also has a minority stake in Optima, India's only media specialist.

CIA's modus operandi is to define its strategy in a specific market, then to find a strong local partner. Clients include Mercedes Benz, Singapore Airlines, Tag Heuer, CompuServe and Siemens.

Recognizing market needs, most media executives welcome the trend toward media specialization. But there is still antagonism toward independent newcomers.

When CIA opened its office in Hong Kong almost four years ago, local agencies took out ads telling them to go home. Even now, said Managing Director of CIA Pacific Pamela Dunn, full-service agencies "will do anything to sabotage us."

Yet the biggest threat to full-service agencies, especially local ones, may not be independent competition but their own reluctance to give media its due.

"There is a feeling that clients may not be getting the best deals from full-service agencies," said Bozell Worldwide's regional media director, Mark Ingall.

In Singapore, for instance, only 12 of the 72 agencies in the Four As subscribe to the full TV analysis data available from ACNielsen.

"It's not surprising if the media independent comes in and points this out," Mr. Ingall says.

Media buyers and planners also are developing different strategies for different market realities. Many countries are moving toward de-regulation (or re-regulation for a more competitive structure, as in Singapore) and increasing both intra- and inter-media competition.

IDIOSYNCRASIES ARE PLUSES

The development of media strategies will depend on the idiosyncrasies of each market, observed John McClure, Dentsu, Young & Rubicam's regional media director. "There could be full subsidiaries, separate companies, full independents, probably some other variations," he said.

Despite countries' differences, common threads are driving the market. Among trends behind the new specialization, identified by O&M's Mr. Nair, are an explosion of local and regional media choices, as well as increasing national TV overspill, which complicates a buyer's agenda.M

said.

Technology is also multiplying choice and giving consumers greater control over what they watch.

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