The popular image of the advertising industry is probably of a group of creative individuals brainstorming in a conference room as they come up with a succession of imaginative ideas to win another major account. That may touch on reality but, in fact, any advertising business is made up of many parts. Artists, designers, copywriters and accountants all play a major role in providing what clients expect while market analysts and media planners must decide how to get the desired message across to the target audience in the most cost efficient way.
Creativity may lie at the core of the business but success is measured by how effectively a great idea is translated into tangible results. These can be measured in terms of increased sales, higher revenues, market penetration or better brand awareness but, whichever the case, professionals with diverse skills all make a contribution.
With the economic downturn now fading from memory, the advertising scene is getting ever more active as companies start to loosen the purse strings and launch new marketing campaigns. "It is an exciting time and, with the surge of interest in the China market, there is a renewed demand for talent on the mainland," says Mike Wong, chairman of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of Hong Kong (HK4As).
Mr Wong does not see the China market as a threat but feels that it offers a chance for talent to mobilise and find new opportunities. He believes that the merging of the two markets will bring improvements and act as a spur to quality.
It is estimated that, within the Asia-Pacific region, 80 to 90 percent of advertising companies are based in Hong Kong and this gives local professionals great international exposure and a definite competitive edge. To maintain this, however, advertising companies must respond to the changing market and make sure their basic business skills are finely tuned.
Advertising is all about being distinctive
For this reason, customer relationship management (CRM) practices are being adopted to improve the rates of client retention. All the best business books explain the golden rule that 20 percent of a company's customers generate 80 percent of the business, so sustaining profitable relationships with this 20 percent is being given extra emphasis.
"Longstanding customers are an invaluable asset for any company," says Mr Wong. "Keeping them is just as important as finding new clients and that is equally true in our industry." Taking this a step further, many companies have also developed strategies to understand their customer types and needs better. Techniques such as data mining are being applied to tap into company backgrounds and assess their potential in a more systematic way.
The advertising field is all about making something or someone stand out from the crowd. Success, therefore, depends on originality and, in Mr Wong's opinion, that comes from the ability to feel. "You have to be able to feel life in order to be creative," he says. "You must be extremely curious about things, people and the world around you. It is also about communication, the ability to express what you feel to others and to tell a story effectively."
Because the advertising business involves so much cooperation, being able to work well in a team is also crucial. Strong opinions and different views are valued, but a good team leader should be able to draw together contrasting ideas and facilitate the arrival at one agreed concept or end product.
To get a start in the advertising business, Mr Wong states there is no fixed route. A diversity of expertise, which combines people of various backgrounds and experience, is needed. One common denominator that seems to emerge, though, is intuition. Those who do better in advertising tend to see things differently and have an ability to find unique solutions.
When considering the prospects for university graduates, Mr Wong feels that, compared to a few years ago when the economy was good and things were taken more for granted, students are now more realistic and serious about their future. International exchange programmes and the chance to travel have also given many students a broader outlook. Those interested in going into advertising are advised to keep an open mind, develop an awareness of what is around them and be observant.
"We encourage our team to do real-life research," Mr Wong adds. "If, for example, we need to develop a teen product, we ask the team to hang out in Mongkok, to observe what teenagers are really like. We notice what they wear and what they do, so as to get a feel for real people."
Having been in the business for 17 years, Mr Wong continues to get great enjoyment from his daily work. "Cooperating together as part of a team and arriving at the best solutions we can find is still a source of great satisfaction," he says. It is also a thrill to know that the end result of your ideas and hard work is seen by thousands, if not millions, of people every day!