Some people may struggle to see a link between dining clubs, loyalty programmes, children's educational materials and equestrian resorts. However, Florence Cheung, senior marketing manager, MI Asia Ltd, sees them all as golden marketing opportunities to enhance the company's core magazine subscriptions business.
Ms Cheung's entry into the sales and marketing field in the publishing industry was by chance. Figuring that she could use the excellent communication skills she developed during her time as a disc jockey for a local radio station, she joined MI Asia eight years ago as a telesales agent. At the time, she did not imagine herself in a creative-driven role.
"By pure coincidence I got the chance to move to the marketing department two years after I started working for the company," Ms Cheung says. Now, her role in the marketing department requires her to sell creative ideas to an array of business counterparts.
MI Asia Ltd is established as Hong Kong's sole agent for a wide variety of international magazines, but Hong Kongers are increasingly turning to local magazines or translated versions of overseas publications for information, Ms Cheung says.
"We were aware of this change. When we looked at our existing customer base, we found that most of them had been subscribers for more than a decade and that 40 per cent of them now have children."
Using the company's group of loyal customers to strategic advantage, Ms Cheung proposed a business makeover to enable the company to grow with its long-term customers who are mainly settled, young professionals in their 30s or 40s.
"That's the story behind our new business lines MI Club Ltd, MI Kids and Camelot Riding Resort and Country Club," she explains, adding that the most satisfying aspect of her job has been witnessing the birth and growth of these business lines.
"We're always multi-tasking in a race against time to grab every possible marketing opportunity"
Between the lines
Of all the new business initiatives, MI Club is a membership loyalty programme offering a number of merchandising options and dining discounts, as well as healthcare services; while MI Kids, established in 2006, provides early childhood educational materials to parents.
With the same target customers in mind, the company's latest initiative is the Camelot Riding Resort and Country Club. Its aim is to provide MI Kids customers and MI Club members with a resort setting for family activities and learning.
Considering the broad range of local and foreign children books and educational materials available in Hong Kong, creative product design and marketing is vital for MI Kids' success, Ms Cheung stresses.
"In view of the constant changes in the local education system, Hong Kong parents tend to seek 'instant' educational materials to accelerate their children's learning," she explains. "My role is to see how we can modify the content of the educational materials we purchase from overseas to complement the local education system and satisfy parents' expectations."
A creative marketing plan without timely execution is a dead end in publishing, Ms Cheung stresses. "Since our competitors may have similar ideas and products, we must move fast. We're always multi-tasking in a race against time to grab every possible marketing opportunity, including trade shows and book fairs."
Creativity, good marketing sense and time management have helped to smooth Ms Cheung's career path so far, but she points out that people management has been the biggest challenge.
"When taking on projects, we make an effort to match the right team members to the right roles — it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle," she notes.
Although she entered the industry without formal marketing qualifications, Ms Cheung has since completed a number of part-time courses to supplement her experience with a solid theoretical foundation.
As Ms Cheung's rapid rise up the ranks has shown, the industry offers young recruits a promising and exciting career. She cautions however that it is crucial for successful marketing professionals to remain up-to-date with market trends, continuously expand their knowledge and embrace change.
Ms Cheung notes that mainland China, with its large population and growing demand for education, offers great opportunities for the marketing of children's educational materials. Apart from cultural differences and the difference between traditional and simplified Chinese characters, mainland parents also expects different products from publishers, Ms Cheung points out. Marketing executives must therefore employ different strategies on the other side of the border. "In Hong Kong our aim is simply to sell our products, but in China parents expect classes to supplement the educational materials they purchase. So, while we need a stronger sales force in Hong Kong, we need to hire teachers to run the supplementary classes on the mainland," she remarks