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Kate Stephenson got two kinds of reaction to her new job. Some thought it was great; others speculated about what vast sum of money lured her away this spring from head of Leo Burnett Co.'s Greater China media department to Carat-a U.K.-based media buying specialist flogging an unproven concept in Asia.

As client services director of Carat Asia Pacific, 32-year-old Ms. Stephenson knows one major task will be educating Asia about Carat.

"This market does not understand who Carat is," she said.

Two things going for her are: a media buying market she thinks is ripe for change and the boost of entering Asia with a significant client-Volkswagen.

The Volkswagen account, already handled by Carat in Europe, prompted the expansion.


"Our contract with Carat is an open one," said Jurgen Osmer, the Hong Kong-based manager of advertising, sales, promotion for Volkswagen. "We hope to see the first ads for our new campaign by the end of [July]. We'll use only print media this year and add regional and national TV next year."

The marketer is spending about $4 million on newspaper and magazine ads, excluding the marketing budget of Volkswagen importers and exporters. Because brand awareness is high (Volkswagen has been in Asia since the end of World War II), the campaigns will highlight reliability and safety.

Mr. Osmer said the brand's ad budget next year will more than double when TV is included.


Ms. Stephenson isn't actively going after new business now.

"In the next few months we will be setting a strategy," she said. And the strategy of which markets to develop first will depend on the needs of Carat's clients in the region. For now, only Carat's existing global clients will be taken on in Asia.

Having spent five years in Asia, first on Burnett's Cathay Pacific Airways account, Ms. Stephenson said the region is ripe for the rise of media independents.

"Clients are becoming more media literate and there's a lot of interest," she said. Yet work still needs to be done to raise awareness of buying media separately.

Ms. Stephenson is unfazed by the competition, primarily from CIA and potentially from Zenith Media. Full-service agencies have also started to spin off their media departments into separate operations. "I don't think clients have seen independent media buying as an option until now," she said.

Part of the challenge of establishing independents in the region is breaking the traditional advertising agency hierarchy. The focus in Asian agencies has traditionally been on creative and account servicing, Ms. Stephenson said.


Media has taken a back seat. "Media people here don't feel like an important element in the mix," she said. "Media departments are not treated as stand alone."

In addition to research, media specialists also need to offer analysis and conclusions, she said.

European independents turned media into a commodity, forcing agencies to band together to compete with lower bulk prices.

"There is a desire to make sure that the same thing doesn't happen here," she said. The European experience has prompted agencies to pour more resources into media. And it's none too soon, she said. "Because the market is fragmenting so fast, media has become a lot more specialized."M

Contributing: Juliana Koranteng, London.

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