Irfan Ramli: Building a Brand with a Strategy

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MANY people believe that creative work in Indonesia’s advertising world only ever gains domestic recognition. Indeed, very few such works have passed the test internationally.

That’s why the news that three Nissan X-Trail print ads, which are the work of Hakuhudo Indonesia, have been nominated in Cannes 2006 global advertising competition has spread rapidly.

Hakuhodo? Any relation with the famous Hoka Hoka Bento, a restaurant offering Japanese fast-food?

Indeed, Hakuhodo does not quite ring a bell in the advertising world in Indonesia. Irfan Ramli, the president director of Hakuhodo, said the company has been in operation in Indonesia for three years. “In fact, in Japan, the principal’s country, Hakuhodo is one of the companies that was established well over a century ago,” he said.

Initially Irfan hoped that with well over a century of experience in the advertising business, Hakuhodo would find it easier to expand its business in Indonesia. Unfortunately, business expansion is not as easy as a wave of the hand. “I really started from scratch,” he said.

It is true marketing and advertising activities have enjoyed rapid development but to enter a tough market, hard and smart work is needed. With its 12 employees, Hakuhodo is actively engaged in pitching activities to obtain a project. As the company bears the name Hakuhodo, it can easily gain access to Japanese companies. “This access, however, will be useless unless we offer a creative and unique concept,” said Irfan, a father of two.

A period of three years is relatively brief and Irfan believes that to get a good result, substantial time and effort will be required. “There are no instant results. Good things always take time,” he said.

Irfan, who left Polyama Advertising as its vice director, can finally thank God that Hakuhodo, now employing some 50 people, has gained about 12 clients such as Nissan X-Trail, Panasonic (dry cell batteries), Yakult, Suzuki Spin 125 and Kopi ABC.

The current advertising industry landscape is indeed changing. While before a client would simply trust one advertising agency for creative, placement and execution matters, today it will usually hire two specialized agencies: a brand agency and a media agency. Hakuhodo, while also accepting orders for advertisement placement, focuses itself more as a brand agency. “Building a brand so that it gains strength gives you a special sense of satisfaction,” Irfan noted. “Of course, the success of a brand is not attributable to our own efforts alone but the fact is that we have successfully strengthened the positioning of Nissan X-Trail as No. 1 sports utility vehicle in Indonesia,” he said by way of an example.

Admittedly, advertising not only builds and creates brand awareness but also boosts the market share. Once he was deeply obsessed by the desire to build a brand. He even considered abandoning the advertising world to focus on being a marketing consultant for just a number of companies.

However, the offer made by Hakuhodo, which was then looking for a partner in Indonesia, made him think twice. “To build something from scratch is really difficult and not so attractive but as I am partnering with Hakuhodo, at least I have an initial capital outlay,” said Irfan, the eldest of five siblings.

Born in Surabaya, Irfan has interesting parentage. His mother, is of Gorontalo’s Sangir Talaud and Chinese blood, and his father is Arab-Indonesian with the surname Basalamah. Irfan began his career in the advertising world when he decided to join Polyama. “In fact, I was then close to joining a TV broadcasting station,” said Irfan, who graduated from Avalon Studio, New Zealand, in 1992.

In Polyama, he joined the client service department and the first clients he was entrusted to handle were Bank BNI and ITC Mangga Dua. “When you deal with a client, you learn a lot. You can combine the concept offered by an advertising agency and your client’s wishes,” said Irfan, who quickly climbed the career ladder and was made vice director in 1998.

To win the market, Irfan said, there are two main keys, namely the concept offered and the strategy. Although these two elements are standard, they should not simply be a discourse offered to a client while budgeting is given a less important role. “What matters more is that before a strategy is formulated, a research must first be made, be it a serious research involving a research institute or an informal one, to ensure that only the right decision is made,” said Irfan, who is currently the secretary-general of the Association of Indonesian Advertising Companies (P31).

Irfan realizes people in the advertising world must be more observant in their work and adopt a better strategy, given market complexities, media fragmentation and the clutter of advertisements. In such conditions, the availability of data and information, a good understanding of industrial trends and development and anticipation of changes are important elements to consider before a business decision is made.

In leading Hakuhodo, Irfan does not set his goals very high. He will be satisfied if the company can get into the group of medium-class advertising companies with annual billing totaling between Rp 100 billion and Rp 150 billion. At present, Hakuhodo’s billing stands at some Rp 80 billion with a gross profit ranging between 15 percent and 19 percent. With this achievement, he is close to reaching his goal, which he envisions will be reached in the fifth year.

According to data compiled by Nielsen Media Research, advertising spending throughout 2005 was worth a total of Rp 23 trillion. Irfan, however, believes that the real figure is less than half of this amount because Nielsen’s survey did not take unusually large bonuses and discounts into account.

The year 2006, Irfan said, is actually the most difficult year for all types of industries because it is only now that the impact of fuel hikes is being felt. This is especially felt by the advertising industry. When introducing efficiency measures, nearly all companies will, first of all, cut their advertising budget. “There is a natural selection of sorts. Whoever can survive this year may experience plain sailing in future. However, no matter what the conditions, we must always hold on to our optimism,” he noted. (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, September 13, 2006

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