Designs on the Thai economy

The Thai economy may be experiencing problems but every cloud has a silver lining. Western companies are restructuring to take advantage of business opportunities. By David Kilburn.

Thailand’s economic problems are creating remarkable business opportunities. Companies are rushing to restructure, downsize and create new, modern identities to show they have shed their old, insufficient ways.

“We are on the threshold of a boom in design and corporate-identity business to help Thai companies streamline or change direction,” says Philip Goodstein, Ogilvy & Mather’s business development director for Indo-China.

WPP’s London-based Enterprise Identity Group is the latest Far East entrant. “There is great potential in Thailand to serve not only private-sector companies but the public sector as well,” says chairman Terry Tyrrell, who plans to develop a presence in Thailand with the help of fellow WPP subsidiaries that are already out there, notably O&M and Artistree Co, a design and creative consultancy.

Enterprise’s Thai operation should be launched by the beginning of 1998. “Entering the market during a boom period means facing a lot of competition,” says Tyrrell. “So we decided to enter the market during an economic slowdown. It’s much easier when many companies are examining their weak points and trying to improve them.”

Potential clients include companies struggling to preserve their reputation and stay in business. There are also public-sector opportunities, where many bloat-ed government bureaucracies are keen to develop into streamlined commercial-style organisations.

Instead of being content simply to provide low-cost manufacturing facilities for Western and Japanese companies, some Thai exporters are waking up to the idea of developing their own brands to launch onto world markets.

“Thai exporters need to promote their goods and services more aggressively overseas, both for the sake of their own companies and the Thai economy,” says Goodstein. “There’s a real need now for global expertise in the development and use of design within the marketing communications mix.”

Although economic problems are taking their toll on the advertising industry, which is shedding staff, the standard of creative work remains high. This is one reason that Pearson’s Television Register made Bangkok its Asian headquarters just over a year ago. “Costs are low compared with other Asian capitals,” says Patrizia Magni, regional director. “Travel connections and communications are good, and Thai- land has a creative advertising industry.” The Television Register com- piles collections of creative work from major advertising markets for its clients worldwide.

Thailand may now be recog-nised as the creative centre of the Asian advertis ing industry, but its economy may need stronger medicines than design or advertising alone can provide.

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