With Urban China Focus, Jiang Elevator Ads Have Nowhere to Go But Up

By Published on .

Jason jiang, a charming, gregarious ex-poet whose favorite leisure activity is getting a traditional Chinese foot massage, cuts an unlikely figure as one of the richest media moguls in China's bruising marketplace.

Yet three years ago, Mr. Jiang, 33, created Focus Media, which operates a network of flat-screen monitors that air commercials 24/7 for numerous marketers.

Shanghai-based Focus Media became China's largest publicly quoted ad company last July after raising $172 million from an initial public offering on Nasdaq.

Since the IPO, the CEO of Focus has pulled off two large mergers in China's ad industry. Last October, Focus snapped up Shanghai Framedia Advertising for $183 million, allowing Focus to combine with Framedia's network of ads mounted in elevators and lobbies. In January, Mr. Jiang took over rival Target Media.

Focus Media's clients have included General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Nokia, Motorola, Unilever, Maybelline and McDonald's Corp.

public space

The company has revolutionized the way marketers communicate with Chinese consumers, particularly coveted white-collar office workers, by installing screens in urban public space.

"We reach consumers around their lifestyle," said Mr. Jiang, who started with office lobbies and elevators, expanding to common areas in residential buildings, restaurants, shopping malls, gyms and golf clubs. Focus Media's in-store network, covers more than 4,000 stores in 77 cities, reaching 90 million shoppers weekly. "High-income earners are very busy. They don't have much time to read newspapers or watch TV at home." He is quick to admit, though, "many Chinese actually like ads."

Western ad agencies are taking advantage of Focus Media's wide reach. "Big media agencies like MindShare and ZenithOptimedia spend about [$3 million to $3.7 million] each with Focus every year now. It fits well with our 360-degree approach, so we use them a lot for clients like Motorola and Nestle," said Andrew Meaden, MindShare's managing partner-Eastern and Southern China. "Focus dominates lift advertising now; they're pretty much everywhere.

"Plus, Jason is a very charming, charismatic salesman. His sales pitch can convince media buyers that he can get consumers who don't watch TV."

Mr. Jiang came up with the Focus Media idea waiting for an elevator and staring at a small poster. He realized that if the ad had been moving, it would have been more effective and noticed by thousands of people every day.

Mr. Jiang started his own ad agency, Ever-ease, in 1994 after graduating from a Shanghai university with a degree in Chinese literature. A published poet, Mr. Jiang said he abandoned the literary world after he discovered girls were more attracted to successful businessmen than to writers. The bachelor stills finds time for a little writing, but most of his attention goes to Focus expansion.

He's widening his reach into opportunities in other markets. Mr. Jiang also wants to expand into delivering video ads via mobile phones. Earlier this month, Focus acquired 2-year-old Dotad Media Holdings, which operates the largest Wireless Application Protocol-based ad delivery platform in China, reaching 70 million WAP users.

Just Asking

Jason Jiang

Focus Media

Who's your favorite poet or author? Qian Zhongshu [whose works include the acclaimed 1947 novel "Weicheng," or "Fortress Besieged"].

Where's the best place in Shanghai for a weary traveler to get a foot massage? Shanghai He Zhong Tang, part of a national foot bathing and massage chain. Foot massages are relaxing and help me regain energy for work, plus I don't have to stop working.
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