Born in 1973 in Shanghai, Jiang Nanchun got an early taste for advertising, working part time at an agency while at East China Normal University. In 1994 he set up his own company, Everease Communications, whose clients were mostly tech firms.
Business was booming by 2000, but his firm barely survived the dotcom crash. He tried to switch tack, with a failed investment in the online gaming industry. Recognising that his true talent was in advertising, he vowed never again to try something he was unfamiliar with.
Many of Jiang’s clients were calling for more targeted advertising efforts. They were less interested in mass campaigns than reaching the affluent and middle class.
While waiting for an elevator in a Shanghai office building, Jiang had the moment of revelation he compares to the apple falling on Newton’s head. He saw a poster in the elevator lobby, and realised that if he replaced it with an LCD screen it would be a potent advertising tool in reaching white collar workers as they waited for the lift to arrive.
By the end of 2002 he had put his screens in the lift lobbies of 50 Shanghai office buildings and named the company Focus Media. Research by Nokia showed the approach was highly effective versus normal TV ad campaigns.
War and peace
Three months after Jiang installed his screens, another entrepreneur decided to do the same thing in Beijing. Yu Feng’s Target Media and Focus were soon competing in the same cities. Jiang eventually won the battle – an investment from Softbank and a $172 million Nasdaq listing helped him to ‘outscreen’ his opponent.
At the end of 2005, he then bought Target for $325 million. His firm had expanded to 70 Chinese cities with 70,000 LCD screen displays. 30,000 advertisers were signed up with Focus, which claimed an estimated 100 million viewers.
More recently Jiang has faced setbacks. An attempted merger with internet firm Sina fell apart, and his Focus Wireless business hit problems when CCTV accused it of spamming. He is now working to return the core business to profitability after the financial crisis led to a slowdown in advertising spending. In the fourth quarter Focus made a loss of $52.5 million, which was less than analysts’ forecasts.
Jiang ranked 250 in the 2009 Hurun rich list with assets of Rmb250 million.
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