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Advertising visionary focuses on China

Updated: 2012-04-12 11:13
By Gao Yuan ( China Daily)

Advertising visionary focuses on China

An international advertising exhibition in Guangzhou. China's advertising market grew by 14.5 percent last year. Advertisers spent more than 680 billion yuan ($108 billion) on print, TV and Web advertising. [Photo / China Daily]

Saatchi & Saatchi head eyeing fastest growing market in ad business

Kevin Roberts once made headlines machine-gunning a Coca-Cola

Advertising visionary focuses on China

vending machine at a black-tie event hosted by the prime minister of Canada.

Another time, he brought a live lion to a company meeting.

Such eye-catching ideas and tactics have earned Roberts, the 63-year-old CEO worldwide of the global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, fame as an advertising visionary.

Roberts is now eyeing business with Chinese clients who wish to expand overseas.

"China is the fastest growing country in my business, close to 20 percent over the last year," he said during a recent interview at the company's Beijing office.

"Our first target is Chinese companies who want to go abroad," he added.

China market

Saatchi & Saatchi entered China 23 years ago with Procter and Gamble (P&G). The company has more than 50 clients in China. Some half dozen are Chinese enterprises, including industry giants China Telecom Ltd and Lenovo Group Ltd.

According to Justin Billingsley, head of Saatchi & Saatchi Greater China, the company's China strategy followed three stages of development.

The first stage was to help successful multinational corporations, such as P&G, build business in China. The second stage is to help Chinese companies establish their brand. Stage three is to help Chinese companies explore overseas markets, Billingsley said.

Saatchi & Saatchi sees Chinese companies going abroad as the "biggest opportunity", Roberts said.

At the same time, he is looking at China as a source of talent.

"Young kids in China are not defensive, they play offense," the rugby enthusiast said.

Because companies in China have relatively small advertising budgets, there is a greater need for strong and innovative ideas, he said.

"You can't just hire David Beckham or Victoria Beckham, you have to have good ideas," he added.

Roberts looks to the younger generation for creative ideas because the young are more connected to the outside world, and "less fearful", he said.

'Less fearful'

Creativity and being "less fearful" were what gained Kevin Roberts advertising fame.

Roberts machine-gunned a Coca-Cola vending machine some 20 years ago to highlight a free-trade agreement issue between the United States and Canada.

Roberts was then head of Pepsi Canada, which unlike Coca-Cola, employed local bottlers. Pepsi had just surpassed Coca-Cola in Canada, so Roberts was invited to give a speech at an event hosted by the Canadian prime minister.

"I decided to make it a big TV moment," he recalled.

After finishing his speech, Robert donned a pair of safety glasses, bent down and picked up a machine gun. The audience was quiet until he started to shoot the Coca-Cola vending machine.

"We had people diving under tables and heading for the doors," Roberts wrote in his best-selling book Lovemarks.

The next day, the media was full of reports about this.

Roberts said he is looking for someone capable of such creative marketing skills globally, and especially in China.

The average age at Saatchi & Saatchi is 27, and most come with little experience, but, Roberts said, "We pick talent."

The biggest problem the agency faced was keeping talent, as competitors were likely to offer 30-percent higher salaries.

"We hired them, we trained them, and the other companies stole them," Roberts said.

That was five years ago. Now, more and more people choose to stay because working for Saatchi & Saatchi is "more fun and more exciting", he claimed.

Asked whether he worries about Chinese competitors doing a better job, Roberts said: "I never think about that. I only think about Saatchi & Saatchi. I support Manchester City football team, but I can't worry about Manchester United," he said.

However, Roberts said he has focused more on the company's China business.

Q+A: Kevin Roberts

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