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Former Starcom APAC boss challenges China doubters wary of censorship and corruption

D. Sriram

D. Sriram

D. Sriram, the boss of the Chinese operations of ad deliver tech firm IMD, has said that marketers should be wary of ‘experts’ who say that business opportunities in China are limited by censorship, government interference and corruption.

In an opinion piece on Mumbrella, the former APAC CEO of media agency Starcom and China COO of Aegis Media, recounted experiences of people telling him that digital advertising delivery for state-run broadcasters was a “great idea” but wouldn’t work in China.

Recalling a recent pitch to a “major” Chinese broadcaster, Sriram said that someone watching his presentation told him afterwards that Chinese TV stations were too “security conscious” to allow anything to enter their system from the outside.

On another occasion, he was told by an advertising agency executive handling an FMCG client: “This will never work in China because they’re too paranoid about censorship to let a system deliver advertising into a TV station.”

He added that other China ‘experts’, referring to consultants he has worked with, have told him that digital ad delivery would never work unless IMD paid a lobbyist to ensure that China’s regulatory bodies would switch to digital delivery.

They told him that he’d have to change the business model and pay the stations to accept digital delivery “or do other things to make this work,” he said.

Since launching last year, Sriram says that 120 broadcasters have been converted to a digital delivery system, in his estimation 50 per cent of the market. He predicts that 90-95 per cent of broadcasters will have converted to digital delivery “in the next few months.”

He said: “There will be a small number of hold outs, but once we cross 90 per cent we can manage the rest using traditional methods – for all intents and purposes, at that stage we would have converted the industry to digital delivery.”

“Our business model is exactly the same as it is anywhere else, and before you ask, we’ve never offered or even been asked to offer anyone a personal incentive to get things done.”

On how to do business in China, he said that the details are “a bit different”, but “not fundamentally a different set of dynamics, or a different business model, or even a different set of motivations for getting people to accept a new way of doing things.”

In the piece, he cited Starbucks as an example of a brand that has confounded the doubters.

“Time and time again I find that business ideas, frameworks for thinking about strategy and ways of organizing businesses that work in most other countries around the world do work in China – you can’t apply them blindly, but coming in with a concept that works and looking for nuances in adaptation does work more often than not,” he said.

Sriram’s comments come a week after a rival ad delivery firm, Adstream, launched an office in Shenzhen.

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