Star Echo has large-scale activation, premium design and sourcing capabilities across 150 cities in China. Founded in 1999, The company employs over 300 people with offices in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, as well as some second-tier cities in China. Besides Procter & Gamble Co., which accounts for about 40% of Star Echo's turnover, the agency works with Dongfeng Nissan, Amway, Warner Bros. and Coca-Cola Co. Following successful joint pitches over the past couple of months with Grey Advertising and G2, its below-the-line division, Star Echo has also started working with Visa International and British American Tobacco.
Star Echo’s president and the chief architect behind its rise into one of China’s leading marketing services agencies is Ms. Wang, 32, a petite, soft-spoken Chinese woman known to colleagues as “Crystal." She joined the company at its inception at the request of her friend and Star Echo’s founder, Allen Yao.
“He had already started a little company called Echo Marketing but it was very small and he thought I would be the proper person to run it and grow the business,” said Ms. Wang. At the time, the most attractive part of the offer was a “flexible timetable” that would allow more time for travel.
At that time, she was a marketer in National Westminster Bank’s representative office in Beijing. She had worked at the bank for two years, after earning a Master of Business Administration degree in Shanghai from the Washington University in St. Louis through its joint program with Fudan University. She also has a bachelor’s degree in international journalism from the Beijing Institute of International Relations.
Ms. Wang became a partner in Star Echo alongside Mr. Yao, who handles some financial duties but it is not actively involved in the business, but she has had little time to see the world in the past seven years. Star Echo has grown into one of China’s leading marketing services agencies under her management.
She relocated to Guangzhou in 2000, to oversee Star Echo's P&G business, which accounts for 40% of its total revenue. Her husband, who works for WPP’s Ogilvy Group, is based in Shanghai, so Ms. Wang bought apartments in both cities as well as one in Beijing, “because I travel so much within China, and I don’t like hotels,” she said.
She still spends much of her time in Guangzhou. One of China’s largest cities, it is also one of the least-liked by most executives working in the mainland, because it lacks Beijing’s heritage, Shanghai’s cosmopolitan nature and Hong Kong’s efficiency.
“Guangzhou has been okay for me,” laughed Ms. Wang, when asked about the transition from her native Beijing to the southern Chinese metropolis. “I have a lot of friends there now so I’ve adapted to the culture and the environment. It has delicious food, and the weather is better, there are no sandstorms like you get in Beijing.”
As a young, successful entrepreneur who has adapted to China’s fast-evolving consumer market, she has developed a distaste for stuffy corporate environments however, another factor that led her to Grey.
“We talked with several WPP companies. Landor Associates and Wunderman also have P&G as a client. Finally, we picked Grey and Grey picked us, because we have the same chemistry. Star Echo is run in an entrepreneurial culture and Grey may be the most entrepreneurial of WPP’s companies.”
Early on in the process, recalled Ms. Wang, Grey Group’s CEO-chairman, Asia/Pacific, Singapore-based Mike Amour advised her, “When you start an acquisition process, everyone wants to look at the positive parts of the business and sometimes they don’t look at people and culture in their due diligence. You need to be logical and reasonable, but you also need to like the people you are dealing with, you need to want to spend time with them and appreciate them as people.”
The company’s strong track record with P&G and other marketers was certainly appealing to Grey, said Mr. Amour. Star Echo “is one of the few players of scale in a largely fragmented and localized market. This acquisition is totally in line with our aggressive strategy of expanding G2’s presence.”
The preference for one-to-one marketing initiatives in a country with one of the largest populations in the world seems counter-intutitive at first glance. It stems from the cluttered nature of China’s print market, home to thousands of titles, the high cost of advertising on its national state-run TV network, China Central Television (CCTV), and the desire to form strong connections with consumers who have not grown up with western brands.
P&G, for example, called on Star Echo to create a Teen Club, a loyalty program for Whisper that expanded to other brands like Crest toothpaste, Rejoice shampoo and Safeguard deodorant. While these are not youth brands, “those kinds of products are brands they could end up using for a lifetime, so P&G wanted to start building loyalty during teenage years when people start to use adult products.”
Procter closed that program when membership topped one million kids at the request of China’s government, which dislikes youth organizations in general. Today, Star Echo is focused on building P&G’s shopper marketing initiatives, helping the U.S. consumer goods giant to build strategic partnerships with retail channels like Carrefour and Wal-Mart.
“Shoppers are different from consumers,” said Ms. Wang. “Consumers of P&G products could be men, but the shoppers who buy their products are mostly women. A husband may have brand preferences but when his wife goes shopping, she will decide what to buy based on what she sees in the store. They are the ones touched by an in-store promotion.”
Star Echo also created a ongoing project in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu for P&G’s Crest oral care brand, starting in 2003. The agency transformed four vans, one per city, into mobile dental clinics, equipped with dentists and product managers who educate consumers about dental care and give free checkups.
Star Echo isn't the only agency expanding rapidly in China as marketers increase their on-the-ground promotions in China. Highteam, Singshine, Shunya, Betterway Marketing Solutions, Always Promotion Network and Unisono Fieldmarketing International have benefited from the growing trend. Always has been acquired by WPP’s JWT, while Publicis Groupe has taken control of Betterway.
Other appointment news in Greater China
[hong kong] Adam Good has resigned as the Hong Kong-based president, Asia/Pacific for Tribal DDB, effective the end of August, when he will relocate to New Zealand in a new role as executive director, digital innovation at Clemenger Group in Auckland. Clemenger is affiliated with Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide. Mr. Good's new role will involve all the agencies within the group, including Colenso BBDO, Media Direction and Dashwood Design. His successor at Tribal DDB, which he founded in Australia in 1999, has not been named.
[guangzhou] Integrated Cyber Media has appointed Dennis Wang as national sales director based in Guangzhou.
[shanghai] Weber Shandwick has appointed Terence Lau in Shanghai as associate director of its sports marketing practice, managing one of the public relations firm's largest clients in China, Nike. Previously, he was manager, corporate development at Rocketball Ltd., owner of the Houston Rockets, Houston Comets and the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, where he managed sponsor activation. The agency has also appointed Amanda Wu in Shanghai as account director for its consumer & travel practice, handling brands like Gibson Guitar, Royal Caribbean International and Laguna Phuket. Until now, she was a public relations manager at Visual Oriented, which runs Bund 18, a cluster of high-end restaurants and bars in Shanghai. Both executives are filling new positions.