Former Grey exec sets up China agency

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[Hong Kong] Viveca Chan, who resigned as Grey Global Group's chairman-CEO, Greater China, earlier this year, has set up WE Group, the first independent ad agency in China run by local executives with international experience, and potentially the first global Chinese advertising network.

"We see a gap in the market for a third force between the international ad agencies that find it hard to retain top talent and develop local market understanding and big Chinese agencies that lack scale, a global network and international experience," said Ms. Chan, who will officially become Hong Kong-based CEO after her 18-month non-compete with WPP ends.

The new agency's management team includes a battery of ex-Grey executives, including Kenny Wong and Sam Chung, the WPP Group agency's former managing director and executive creative director, respectively, Grey's ex-Beijing Managing Director Josh Li, and two former client service directors.

WE opened in October and has 60 staff in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Clients include Shanghai real estate developers and a Hong Kong drugstore chain.

Ms. Chan said that Chinese marketers developing their brands overseas will want to hire an experienced Chinese agency network: "Chinese clients are going global quicker than you think. WE's dream is to combine our international experience with national pride. But we can't do it by ourselves, as an independent starting from scratch."

She has forged an alliance with ten of China's leading independent media and marketing companies, designed in part to help these local agencies compete against Western shops ahead of World Trade Organization rules making it legal for foreigners to operate ad agencies in China without a local partner starting in 2006. The entrepreneurs will pool their resources, expertise and client relationships into a holding company, WE Worldwide Partners, jointly owned by each member and private investors. The largest investor is DHA Group, an outdoor media production house based in Nanjing that was the first Chinese media company listed on Hong Kong's stock exchange.

Outside China, WE is the Chinese representative of Worldwide Partners, a Denver-based global alliance of independent ad agencies.

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