10 questions for IPG Mediabrands Thailand boss Wannee Ruttanaphon

Wannee RuttanaphonMumbrella was in Bangkok today to meet one of Thailand’s most highly respected media executives, Wannee Ruttanaphon, chairman of IPG Mediabrands Thailand.

In this Q&A, Ruttanaphon tells Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks about her media habits, how to make it to the top as a woman in media and how to distinguish between the seven different types of Thai smile.

Who is the most powerful person in media in Thailand?

Pravit Maleenont, the owner of Channel 3. For a long time, Channel 3 was the number two station in Thailand, behind Channel 7. But over the years, a clever marketing and scheduling strategy has enabled CH3 to catch up. They started with their late-night programming with variety shows, then moved on to day time, then news. It’s a formula that has worked.

What is the biggest story in media in Thailand at the moment?

Of course, it’s digital TV and the bidding process for public digital terrestrial licenses. Forty-eight channels are up for grabs, and half are commercial stations. There’re still many loose ends for the regulator to tie up. But everyone is excited – particularly program producers.

Many people have been asking me how airtime will be sold and whether the channels can command the same rates as Channel 3 and Channel 7. Which, of course, very much depends on the viewers the stations can attract. A big factor is how competitive their pricing is.

What are your media consumption habits?

Since I’m in media, I consume pretty much all there is to consume. I like English-language newspapers, radio and True Visions [Thailand’s leading cable satellite TV network]. But if I had to pick a favourite, it would be magazines, particularly those on homes, gardens and interior decoration.

Which media agency do you fear the most in pitches?

I wouldn’t use the word ‘fear’. But I would say that we’d be a little bit more cautious if Carat or MEC were on the pitch list. Carat are the more competitive on price and MEC are the more creative among our rivals.

If you could hire one person, who would it be?

It would not be a person from a media agency. It would be from the client side –  Chanit Suwanparin. He has been our client for a long time. He used to work at Cerebos, Unilever and Vitamilk, and he’s now with a local company. He’s very creative in terms of the ideas he generates and has great marketing sense. If he moved into the advertising world, he’d put up a terrific show. He’s one of the industry’s great characters.

What is your favourite ad?

It’s not new, but it’s my all-time favourite: Coca-Cola ‘For everyone’. The ad features different sorts of Coke bottles. It appeals to people of all shapes and sizes, to Thais from the north and from the south. It’s such a great, feel-good spot.

View the Thai language ad here:

View a version targeted at a younger audience here:

Click here to watch an English-language version.

If you weren’t in media, what would you be doing?

I’d either be an artist or an architect. I studied additional mathematics at school, but did not want to become an accountant. So I took an advertising degree. I had opportunities to develop a career in account management, in media and marketing. But I ended up in media. In account management, I felt that you’re too dependent on other people, particularly on the creative side. But in media I saw that there was more scope to present and sell your own ideas to the client. I felt more in control. The business I started in was heavy with facts and figures, but nowadays you have to be creative too and come up with talk-of-the-town ideas.

Twenty-five years later, I’m still very happy in media.

What the best piece of advice you could give young people looking for a job in media?

To work on the most difficult brands as early as possible. If you can master that, you can do anything.

Do you feel that it is hard to make to the top of the media industry in Thailand as a woman? If so, what’s the secret to being a successful woman in this industry?

No, I don’t think it’s hard. There are many female leaders in our business. Perhaps not at group level seniority, but certainly at MD level. I would say that overall there are more women than men in media in Thailand.

Women tend to be more enduring and approach client situations in a softer way.

Leadership is about being prepared. When we lost Unilever in 2004, we lost 60 per cent of our revenue. But we were ready for what was coming before it hit us, and we had a sense that it could happen for a few years before it did. Of course, we had to take care of our people in the right way, and were careful not to sack anyone. And we had our story straight with clients and media owners, and how we would present our story to the press.

It is said that there are seven different kinds of smile in Thailand. How do you tell which one is positive in a business situation?

It’s not really that difficult. You can tell if you look closely at people’s facial expressions and eyes. In a business situation after making a presentation, you need to look for an interested, genuine smile of approval.


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