“Your ads are funny!” remarks Lun in a detailed conversation with Neha Saraiya
Neha Saraiya | Delhi | November 28, 2011
As head of Lowe China, Kitty Lun has successfully managed to rebuild the agency, post JV in 2006. Today, her agency is one of the nine hubs of Lowe Global network. In conversation with BestMediaInfo.com’s Neha Saraiya, Lun provides an overview to the agency’s business in China and the contrast set of challenges that exist.
Talking about Lowe china, how is the agency doing in your aspect?
We are not very old. We are not as old as Lowe India. We are actually quite new as we broke up from our JV partner just five years ago. That was the time, that we started working as a fully owned IPG agency. We started with Unilver, by working on many of their brands. We share the same brands that they do in India. But we should stop like that because we just can’t survive working on FMCG brands. So we started pitching for local clients and other international clients. The idea was to make sure that we diverse and not restrict our agency as just being a FMCG clients based agency.
So, besides being a newer agency in terms of existence, what are the other changes?
Talking about the networks culture Lowe is quite unique. We call it Lowe and partners. We all have our own characteristic and that is the Lowe culture. So yes we are very different but we share the same concept in terms of believing in the thought that creative is king. Also our positioning in recent years has changed to populist creativity. I don’t whether Indian agency has been following that. But we believe that creativity is not hiding in the every tower. It should be reaching out to people and grounded in local culture.
And talking about the differences in comparison to India specifically?
India is definitely more advanced than china because it developed brands and adverting decades before china. That is the first major difference. Also, India is English oriented so in terms of working in western European American centric environment, Indians are more adopted to it. Chinese in terms of language lack somewhere. Additionally, I kind of like the Indian advertising humour. China advertising is either slap stick or very emotional.
Do you view it changing?
It is difficult to change it because it’s not just you want but it’s also about the availability of talent. China does not have the talent pool as in kind of Thailand or India. Your ads are funny!
But, what are you doing as an agency to groom that kind of advertising creativity and mindset?
I think the creativity and mindset is really fine. But humour is really something that is in the culture. For creativity we try to recruit people from the college, as you want them when they are young. But if you can actually recruit people from college they can adept to your culture very quickly. This has been very successful in our case. Also, everybody can’t be a star. Thus for us as a management our responsibility is to identify the stars and to try your every way to keep the stars. So efforts like doubling up their salary, sending them to New York in first or second year of their joining should be encouraged. And this should be visible to everyone so they know that there is an opportunity and all they need is to work hard to grab it.
Besides Unilever, which are your other big clients?
The other clients are definitely not so big. One of the clients that we really like to work with is the Alibaba group which is an e- commerce platform. We also have, Taobao, an online shopping, or China’s ebay where we work on its B2C aspect.
So, you are satisfied with the agency’s performance over the last five years?
We are a service industry and we sell ideas. People are our biggest assets. I had a lot of mistakes in the higher end, but right now I am very happy with my team. I have got great leadership team in planning, and client service. We are a tightly knit group of people. Because we are not big, our core team service the client directly, rather than sitting up there and generals do the work. We directly interact with clients and understand their problems. I am glad that our size is not the discriminating factor that we cannot do that. Over the five years I have made a lot of mistakes, but I have got a pretty good of people.
What’s the current strength of people at the agency?
We are a bunch of 100 people.
And how many women out of it?
We have many women especially in the client service team. Infact there was a point where we made a decision to hire males. Although in creative team we just have one female, so it is still lacking in women numbers.
Do you generally recruit local talent or look for hiring Chinese advertising executives who may be working in Thailand or Singapore?
There are two levels to it. For juniors we cannot afford the expense, so that has to be the local talent, especially the college graduates. We do internship programmes and we are seeing very good quality talents coming up. But for our senior level, our leadership team has one local Chinese and one Chinese from other parts of the world who has exposure in agencies in other parts of the world.
In India, many independent agencies have come up in a big way over the last some time. How is the scene in china: big agencies v/s local agencies?
There are 50,000 agencies in china. Multinational networks are the networks you can count them. But there are big local agencies that work with many local big clients. And then there a lot of boutiques and small agencies. So far the market is very segmented and there are clients who really know what they want for. It is occasionally there are events that involve both the networks for a same pitch.
But how much is the share of independent agencies.
I think there is a lot of local work to be done especially if you need brand activation. For national work, in terms of media exposure the big agencies have got a lion’s share. But in terms of agency feed and in terms of no. of hours they get paid, the local agencies also get a good amount.
So is this kind of breeding a kind of multi-cultrism?
It kind of worries me because for small agencies it becomes very price sensitive. At times clients just go to the smaller agencies just for the price and not quality. Also it’s not good for people, as at times, people end up doing a lot of low level of work that do not improve their creative talent. The business of the agency will not stop, but their creative carrier will probably be finished.
So, what’s your latest agenda for Lowe China?
Between myself and our leadership team, we have made clear that we want to be more visible in international award circuit. We do win some but not enough. That’s a strategy that we need to follow. Also, doing a lot of budgeting so that we enter global awards. Plus the training to continue bringing up local talents as we can’t afford to be blackmailed by the poaching of other agencies.
Hoards of product range in each of cetegories throws severe challenge for Brand Makers even in India and the market of China is bit different than that of others especially India where just driving a Brand becauuse of a Brand needs a different communication stragegiesm, the ratio of market activation and print , OOH and electronic as well as digital media needs different ratios. In China ad visibility and market activation stil plays more role, while visibility is driving force and brand takes back seat and you need to wait till Brand takes forward after the process of visibility. Consumers feel different about Brands and more eager to put their hands on similar type of products in same product range, they are more on experiment side as the economy is developing fast and options are galore. The tough is Brand Building so the goood is to processing a Brand while giving more stress in visibility of products.The creative mixture comprise of different ball game of communicting to consumers and loading inputs on creative plateform.