When Sony Pictures subsidiary Internet Media Services (IMS) acquired a majority stake in the digital advertising business Httpool last autumn, the deal marked another milestone in the blossoming entrepreneurial careers of Angie Chung, managing director of Httpool Asia, and Charlene Ree, the company’s managing partner.
The pair established the Asian arm of the business in 2009 and its clients now include Sun Hung Kai, AXA, Standard Chartered, Lenovo, the Hong Kong Tourism Board and Fortress. Among other services, Httpool helps its clients plan their spend across various marketing channels, analyses the results of campaigns to evaluate such metrics as the conversion rate of prospective customers, and helps to create online communities around brands.
The link-up with IMS creates a digital marketing and ad sales company that supports a total of more than 6,000 agencies and brands worldwide, and opens up an opportunity for the business to go global. “We’re very excited about having more resources to help in our expansion,” Chung says.
Ree sees a number of benefits in the new combination. “The two companies’ cultures, and their products, have a lot of similarities, but while Httpool is very strong in Europe, IMS is focused on South America. Content has become more important and it will become potentially even more expensive. The synergy
between Httpool and IMS can also provide us with more exclusive content to share.”
Chung and Ree will continue to run their successful Asia operation, which, in 2017, was ranked second within the Httpool group, both in terms of revenue and in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation
Complementary strengths, as well as a shared set of priorities, are two key factors behind the success of the Chung-Ree partnership. “I’m responsible for the sales, and Charlene takes care of account management, and educating and onboarding the clients,” Chung says.
Both had wanted to go into the PR field upon graduation, at a time when a career in digital media lacked the excitement and rewards it offers today. They first met in 2008 at the Yahoo-owned Right Media, which was enabling advertisers, publishers and ad networks to trade digital media via programmatic advertising.
Soon the pair were talking about working together on something of their own. Both could see the potential benefits advertisers would get from using programmatic advertising, as it would enable them to target audiences more effectively, obtain media space at a lower cost and, due to its inherent transparency, see what websites they were paying for.
However, at this time, in the midst of the global financial crisis, most marketers were wary of investing in something without a proven track record. “So instead of selling the tool we decided we would sell the solution, which was more easily understood and more focused on return on investment,” Ree says.
An opportunity to put their ideas into action arrived when, at an industry event in San Francisco, they met the CEO of Httpool and he asked Chung and Ree if they wanted to help expand the business from Europe into Asia.
Prior to 2009, online and offline advertising channels had been treated in much the same way. However, since then digital technology has transformed the industry.
Recently, the use of programmatic advertising has expanded greatly, Ree notes. “In the last three years we’ve seen most of the major agencies set up their own trading desks and operations teams.”
Initially, the greatest uptake of digital technology, regionally, seemed to be in mainland China, Japan, Australia and India. But other countries have caught up.
Httpool Asia employs around 20 staff and Chung says their business is run in very different way to the traditional Hong Kong management model. “We empower our staff to try things and learn that way.”
As validation of this strategy, she points to the fact that, in the last three years, in a very competitive labour market, their workforce has experienced zero turnover. Encouraging their staff to work independently and make their own decisions also enables Chung and Ree to strike a healthy balance between work and home. Each is mother to three young children and neither wants to miss out on family life.
The two entrepreneurs also, somehow, find time to give something back. Both are board members of the Women Entrepreneurs Network, and also of Women Helping Women Hong Kong. The latter works to fund and implement a wide range of programmes to help women who have experienced violence and abuse.
Ree says prioritisation is key to juggling their schedules, while Chung adds: “It’s definitely not easy but we’ve learned to be more efficient and avoid long meetings.”