Welcome to Mumbrella Asia

Robin HicksWell, it’s good to be back in Hong Kong.

Six months in Melbourne, a year and half in Sydney and before that five years in Singapore, and I’m back in the place where I got my first taste of the region eleven years ago, as a bewildered junior reporter researching a piece on China’s media scene. It was just before the SARS epidemic shook Hong Kong and sent the entire region into a tailspin.

What has struck me about Hong Kong in the short while I’ve had to look around and get a measure of things is that, besides the relentless construction that continues to puncture the skyline and the pervasiveness of surgical masks, little seems to have changed since SARS. And for all the talk that it is a dying market, with the power in advertising and media shifting to Singapore or the mainland, Hong Kong strikes me as a place with staying power. A project I heard about last week that will try to bridge the gap between the local art scene and brands – never an easy thing to do – suggests that creativity is not lost here amid the bankers, skyscrapers and neon.

I’m here to launch the Asian edition of Mumbrella, a media and marketing website that began life in Australia at the end of 2008 as a personal blog. The man whose idea it was, Tim Burrowes, won’t mind me saying that in just four years Mumbrella – which as its rather odd name suggests covers everything under the media and marketing umbrella – has completely disrupted how the industry is reported on, in what is probably the most competitive trade media sector in the world.

What has made Mumbrella work is that it has a point of view. The stories we love to cover have a point of contention – a starting point for debate. Our best pieces touch on the issues that matter and get people talking. And this is what we want to achieve in Asia.

Now, I’ve been told that the Mumbrella approach won’t work in this part of the world. That we’re too controversial (WPP boss Martin Sorrell has called us “aggressive”). That unlike in Australia, readers will be less willing to jump in and join the discussion. But from what I gather from the people I’ve met since I’ve been back, I’m fairly confident the doubters will be proved wrong.

We will cover stories from across the region, and we’ve made a start with a few bits of news coming out over the last week, such as a restructure coming up at Turner and the exit of TBWA Hong Kong’s ECD James Procter – but no, we won’t just be writing about Hong Kong and Australians!

What we’re really looking for are stories and points of view that touch the issues that make people really think about the state of the creative industries in Asia, and the jobs you work so hard to do well.

We will cover stuff that will not please everyone. An opinion piece we ran on why there are still so many foreigners running agency networks in this region certainly did not please Martin Sorrell, who when I put this question to him in Singapore a few weeks back, answered, “You’re launching in Asia. Why aren’t you Asian?” I had no answer, and could only think that Sir Martin would fit in well in the rough and tumble of a Mumbrella comment thread.

Opinion pieces and video interviews with people who get off the fence and speak their minds have helped make Mumbrella a lively, rambunctious community in Australia. A few spring to mind. Leo Bajzert, creative director at G2, wrote one of the most commented upon guest posts ever on Mumbrella when he argued that the plain packaging of cigarettes equated to ‘brand theft’. And McCann boss Ben Lilley, who defended himself against accusations of ageism after declaring that his agency only wanted to hire young talent.

If you have a point of view you want to share, get in touch (+852 5596 2090; robin.hicks@mumbrella.asia). I’d love to hear your ideas. And we’re still working on a name for the Asian incarnation of Dr Mumbo, the persona behind our diary page, so any suggestions are welcome.

This is going to be tough. We are up against some strong, established competition. But in a big, complex region like Asia, there’s plenty of room for another player with a different way of looking at things.

Robin Hicks


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