In Bad Times, Everyone’s Looking East

By Matt Van Hoven 

When holding companies mention something in the press about how they’re looking to India and China for growth opportunities, it’s easy to let your eyes glaze over. The subject is boring, reminds you that someone can do your job for a lot less over there, and makes you feel like an even-smaller cog in the vast advertising machine. Increasingly, holding companies are buying and building digital ventures overseas.

Publicis’ Maurice Levy, for example, told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to expand in China “faster than the market” (which seems risky), but noting to the scale of Razorfish. “China will become the second- or third-largest advertising market in the world soon, hence we should strengthen our position there,” said Levy.

And India, too, shows some promise. Not only will Publicis focus there, but WPP’s got its fingers on the surface, too. Scangroup, an East African marketing services group, just launched a digital outfit called Squad Digital. It’s Scangroup’s third venture in the region with WPP &#151 through communications consultancy Hill & Knowlton &#151 which is an investor.

Beyond the business of advertising, talent agency William Morris Endeavor is also looking East &#151 but not by building business infrastructures there. In what seems to be a much simpler approach to developing business there, the company has developed an internal group consisting of market analysts whose job it is to watch international business trends. The goal is to pinpoint successful new companies and pair them, for example, with culturally relevant celebrities. Need a writer for the :30 spot? WMEE’s got one. How about a production company, directors, legal team, scouts and someone to deliver the celebrity’s coffee?

WMEE does it all in house, and calls the deals surrounding these market-primed ventures “packages.” Meanwhile, WPP, IPG, Omnicom et al are buying shops? The margins lost alone are enough to make one scoff. But the bottom line remains the same: the big dogs are looking east.

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