From the issue of FORTUNE
If Hong Huang has her way, Chinese youth will
identify more with Prada than with Mao. And as China's trendiest magazine
publisher, she helps them point their feet in the right direction. Her
office is a slice of downtown Manhattan in Beijing: an old factory stripped
to floorboards and bare walls and full of beautiful people. From there Hong,
43, publishes Time Out Beijing (she's launching a Shanghai edition too), a
Chinese-language Seventeen, and her flagship women's glossy, ILook, through
which she introduces her readers to Louis Vuitton handbags, Armani suits,
and Gucci shoes. Hong may not have known designer labels growing up, but she
did know privilege—her mother was a diplomat who taught English to the
late Chairman Mao, and her stepfather was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Partly educated in the U.S., Hong met her first husband in the States but
soon left him—and later two other husbands. She's certainly not shy about
asserting her views on men, marriage, and sex, and her autobiography, A
Wayward Girl From an Aristocratic Family, was a national bestseller. Today
Hong believes that a dose of selfishness and materialism can be
healthy—and change the thinking of future Chinese generations.
Media maven Hung Huang
Introducing luxury brands to Chinese consumers
BEIJING--When Hung Huang relocated from New York to her native Beijing in
1991, just as China began to shake off the slumber of the past half century,
she had no idea a budding career in investment consulting would lead her to
the helm of one of China’s most innovative media companies.
As CEO of China Interactive Media Group (CIMG), Ms. Hung, 44, now connects
advertisers, particularly luxury marketers like Bulgari and Tiffany, with
local consumers through TV, print, online and mobile content. At the same
time, she’s helping thousands of newly-affluent Chinese find their footing
with unfamiliar designer fashion brands, five-star hotels and vintage wines.
China's last frontier
The company’s transformation into a full-fledged media outfit happened
almost by accident, when Ms. Hung, then a partner at Standard International,
and her colleagues were approached by the owner of Look,
a struggling high-end fashion magazine, in 1996. They took over the title
and relaunched it as iLook. By
carefully balancing the integrity of its editorial content with
advertisers’ desire to reach consumers in sophisticated, compelling ways, iLook
has become one of the most successful fashion magazines in China with an
audited circulation of 50,000.
It caters to China’s most affluent consumers with average monthly incomes
of RMB 20,000 ($2,500) per month--more than most Chinese earn per year--in
all major top tier cities, “basically anywhere that has a Louis Vuitton
store,” said Ms. Hung, who exudes both American confidence and Asian
“We were a bit early, but we thought media would be a huge business in
China. We knew the government would eventually open up the market for
collaboration with non-state companies, so this is a good place to sow some
seeds,” she said. “Media entertainment was the last frontier in China.
As you look at the country’s development, first the government opened up
on agricultural policies, then land ownership, industry, service and
commerce. The last was media.”
older, more unisex
The gamble has paid off, CIMG grows about 75% annually with 100 employees in
Beijing and Shanghai, a dozen of whom are non-Chinese, such as an Austrian
creative director. Even though the company “was still really very raw”
in the early days, iLook’s resurrection earned the respect of Primedia,
which approached CIMG about publishing a Chinese version of Seventeen
(now owned by Hearst Corp.), in 2001. It was launched the following year and
now has a circulation of 100,000 with a mixture of local and foreign
The title’s readership in China is surprisingly different from its
American teen base. The Chinese edition is aimed at 15-22 year-olds,
particularly university students, and about 40%of its readers are male, a
fact reflected in the significant content devoted to male grooming.
“Young Chinese don’t grow up as fast as American kids and they usually
become interested in lifestyle issues when they become independent of their
parents after high school,” explained Ms. Hung. Also, “most Chinese kids
do get an allowance, but parents want to go shopping and spend that money
with their kids” on consumer goods like sportswear, not magazines.
CIMG also publishes the city guide Time Out
in Shanghai in Chinese and both in Chinese and English in Beijing. The
company, which is privately held by Ms. Hung and a handful of private
investors, is considering launching an English version in Shanghai as well,
and Chinese editions in Hangzhou and Chengdu.
Desire for stories behind brands
The company has also expanded into television, with iLook Cafe, a weekly
luxury lifestyle program airing on China’s Travel Satellite TV network in
62 Chinese cities. Its the channel’s second-highest rated program, with
regular viewership of just over one million.
“Because of the rapid but sizable wealth that’s been created in China,
there is tremendous demand for luxury goods, but along with that demand came
a large demand for information,” said Ms. Hung, particularly about the
branding and history of top labels. “People here want to know why they
should buy certain brands of clothing, wine or watches. The stories behind
the brands are very important to these consumers.”
They also want to know how to use and enjoy luxury brands, like what kind of
glass to use when drinking Champagne or should women wear heels or flats to
a cocktail party.
“If you send out an invitation that says dress is ‘elegant casual’ in
China, some people will still come in jeans. Those who can afford luxury
crave information, because they don’t want to do the wrong thing or appear
gauche after having spent the money. Our content provides the cultural
context about why these are such wonderful brands and also how to use
them,” said Ms. Hung.
CIMG expanded a four-page ad spread for Estee Lauder, for example, into a
ten-page editorial section about the American skin care company’s history,
at no extra charge to the company. Estee Lauder later revamped it into into
a glossy pamphlet distributed at sales counters.
Christian Dior used iLook to promote
the color pink, a prominent color in a collection earlier this year, even
though many Chinese women shy away from it as too girly. CIMG created pink-colored
pages in iLook as well as several
segments for iLook Cafe talking about femininity, the color pink, such as
inviting celebrity guests to talk about pink experiences.
“We do challenge them, our clients are picky, but we keep going back to [CIMG],
iLook is one of the few local
fashion titles we use, because they are very innovative and open-minded,”
said Charley Kan, managing director, Beijing and national creative director,
China at WPP Group’s Mediaedge:cia in Beijing. The media agency took over
all the ad space in iLook’s August
issue last year, for example, to launch Chanel’s Fall/Winter collection,
including a 40 page branded content insert that told the fashion house’s
“It was quite a smart way to engage consumers and introduce Chanel to a
Chinese audience with genuine content, not through advertorial or a typical
promotion,” said Mr. Kan, who has created similar branded content deals
with Time Out for non-luxury clients
like Sony Ericsson and United Airlines.
Who? Hung Huang, CEO of China
Interactive Media Group (CIMG), based in Beijing
Her Challenge? Develop innovative
cross-media platforms for luxury advertisers in print, TV, Internet and
Biggest obstacle? Finding and
training staff, clients and partners to produce stylish, Western-level
Top tip for foreigners in China?
Trust your gut
Which CIMG advertiser is the most
innovative? Louis Vuitton, "they are always searching for new
What type of programming would you like to
see more of on Chinese TV? Late night comedy
Favorite designer? He Yan, Cotton
Talk in Beijing
Favorite restaurant in Beijing?
"My humble house, for the care it puts into choosing its ingredience"
Favorite hangout in Beijing? My
- by Normandy Madden