P&G's Alfonso De Dios

And other people news in Greater China

By Published on .

BEIJING--Every year on Nov. 18, Alfonso De Dios is king.

Procter & Gamble's associate director-media, Greater China, assumes his throne for 10 hours at one of the world's most colorful media events, the China Central Television auction. (See special report: CCTV Auction, Nov. 29, 2006)

By committing $53.6 million to CCTV over the coming year, P&G was the biggest spender for the third year in a row, earning the friendly, soft-spoken Mr. De Dios the nickname, "king of the auction."

“I'm happy with the results, we were looking for good value and got the time slots we really wanted,” said Mr. De Dios, 39, who has a low-key approach to handling one of the biggest spectacles in China's media industry. He prefers the silent paper bids, and deliberately avoids high-profile packages likely to spiral into a bidding war.

While Mr. De Dios, 39, is humble about the attention he receives at the auction, his stature is clear. His team--Jason Lai, senior media manager, Greater China, and four executives from Starcom, which manages P&G's media buying in China--are whisked past the line of people waiting to go through the metal detectors and are seated in the front and center of the packed auction room, in a hotel owned by CCTV next door to its headquarters in Beijing.

His professional life hasn't always been so glamorous, however. A native of the Philippines known to colleagues as “Pon," he joined P&G in Manila as a media manager in 1995. Before that, he earned a Master's degree in integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University, and served as media manager of JWT's office in Manila.

Now one of the most powerful media executives in Greater China, he has done more than witness the changes taking place in China's media landscape during his five years based in Guangzhou. He helps make them happen both through scale and innovation, even as the country is undergoing an enormous transformation.

To summarize how China is evolving, Mr. Dios recalled a recent meeting with the grand monk at a Shaolin monastery in Henan province, a cradle of Zen Buddhism. After a traditional greeting, the monk handed Mr. De Dios his name card with e-mail and web site addresses, and mentioned he would soon be visiting Disneyland.

“That demonstrates China today, a healthy tension between tradition and the new order. As much as China is opening up, it still remains grounded on its core traditions and values, a 1,000-year-old tradition plugged into cyberspace. A great, no-miss opportunity to connect and make a difference in our consumers' lives,” said Mr. De Dios.

“This market has changed immensely from the rise of local and provincial broadcasters,” he said. “The improving skill sets of the people at those stations and their openness to the marketing process and how media can be part of it. There is still a lot of risk aversion in the market, but I'm seeing more brainstorming and willingness to work with us.”

P&G's mammoth ad budget has certainly opened doors. The U.S. consumer goods company is China's largest advertiser, spending about $400 million on media annually, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its distribution arm reaches consumers in 2,000 Chinese cities and more than 11,000 towns and villages.

Despite his strong support for CCTV at the broadcaster's auction, Mr. De Dios is moving away from basic 30” spots, reflecting a global decision P&G initiated about five years ago. P&G has become the biggest backer of reality TV in China during that time, especially since 2005.

In that “watershed” year, provincial operators like Hunan Satellite TV, producer of China's enormously popular “Supergirl” singing contest series, and Shanghai Media Group “started talking about wireless and other types of new media in a very progressive way. The U.S. is still ahead, of course, but Chinese media have embraced innovation and improved their capability,” said Mr. De Dios. “I'm also seeing more humor and creativity.”

In the past year, P&G invested nearly $1 million with Hunan Satellite, for example, to make Gillette Vector the title sponsor of a folk art show and a series featuring outdoor singing performances. It also inked a deal with Chongqing TV to search for the best smile in that city, including TV coverage and a road show sponsored by Crest.

With just four executives on his team, Mr. De Dios relies heavily on a hands-on approach to put such deals in motion. He spends about 60% of his time traveling in China to meet with station heads at local and provincial channels all over the country, and, of course, with CCTV officials in Beijing, although "you find more creativity the farther you get from the capital,” he said.

“He's a tireless worker who is visible in China because he gets into the markets to get a real sense of how people are leading their lives and to meet the media on their turf. I think the media respect him for making the trip, particularly when he goes to the more remote provinces,” said Shanghai-based Doug Pearce, who was CEO, Greater China of Starcom, P&G's media agency for the past three years. “As a result, he's often the first person media people will contact to share an idea or thought for a new program or publication.”

But the lifestyle does take a toll: “You have to be in crisis mode all the time, even if there is no crisis. I never let up. I worry about quiet days, because I wonder what I'm missing out on. That's why I travel so much. It's also why I'm still single,” Mr. De Dios wryly observed.

“It's challenging work, but I love China and want to stay here. My goal is leaving a legacy about improving China's media landscape and elevating their media commodity into something that better connects our brands with consumers.”

In the meantime, he'll have to settle for just being a "king."

Other people news in Greater China

[beijing] After less than two months running Yahoo's China operation, which is controlled by Alibaba.com Corp., Xie Wen has resigned for "personal reasons," according to a company statement. Zeng Ming, a senior VP at Alibaba, will become the acting president of the Yahoo China division. Mr. Zeng joined the company last August.

[shanghai] Focus Media has promoted Diana Chen Congrong to chief operating officer, a new position at the Shanghai-based company, which operates a network of out-of-home flat-screen monitors airing TV commercials across China. She was chief marketing officer. Before joining Focus in May 2005, Ms. Chen worked for Phoenix Satellite TV from 1998 to 2004, serving as general manager, director of international advertising and president of the East China region.

[hong kong] Kitty Wong, Greg Carton and Houston Wong have been promoted to general manager, business director and associate creative director, respectively, at WPP Group’s OgilvyOne in Hong Kong. Previously, Ms. Wong was business director, Mr. Garton was a senior account director and Mr. Wong was a senior English copywriter. In addition, the agency has appointed Danny Tsang as senior account director, interactive. Previously, he held the same position at XM, an interactive agency, based in Beijing.

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