Agency Profile: Kang and Lee
Go to your favorite search engine right now and enter the name “Saul Gitlin.” You will see a list of publications and articles bearing his byline about marketing to Asian-Americans. In fact, Gitlin, EVP of strategic services at Kang and Lee Advertising, is one of the leading experts on marketing to Asians. He’s been part of the reason his agency consistently wins awards, such as this year’s Advertising Age award for the best Asian-American agency.
“Within what I would call the active categories, we have to go create new business,” Gitlin says. “We have to convince companies to actually do it. We have to create budgets, not try to get a share of them. We’re in an evangelical position. And in the marketplace, I like to think Kang and Lee is the leading evangelizer.”
Now, after you know a bit about Gitlin, you have to wonder how a guy with that name landed this gig. Though his name would fool you, Gitlin spent seven years working the marketing side for several international companies in mainland China before joining K&L in 1998. The agency itself started as an independent agency, servicing a small client base in 1985. It grew by leaps and bounds until Young & Rubicam took notice and bought it in 1998.
Over the past five years, Kang and Lee, with Gitlin, has taken its evangelical approach to hundreds of brands. Some of its biggest wins are still clients, such as The New York Times, Pernod-Ricard, AT&T, Bank of America, and Sears. Gitlin is most proud of the work they have done for the U.S. government’s 2000 census. That also happens to be the foundation for showing clients how vast the Asian-American population has become.
That U.S. census reports that the Asian-American population exceeds 10 million and is the fastest-growing group in the country, at 5.2% versus 3% for Hispanics, 1.6% for African-Americans, and 0.6% for non-Hispanic whites. According to the New America Market Basket Index, a study by New America Strategies Group and Demographics, average Asian spending increased by 17.7%, edging out African-Americans at 17.6% growth and Caucasians at 3.7%. Gitlin spins those numbers to show clients that Asian-American marketing is cost-effective and essential to a complete ad campaign. “Some clients will still look at a population below 6% of total and [think] they don’t need to address it,” he says. “But let’s look at California. Asians make up 20% of the population in California and more than that in San Francisco. If I start a meeting by asking a potential client if California is important to them, it shows them how profound this audience segment really is.”
Kang and Lee has many competitors now in a field it used to own. Gitlin says its differentiation point is in its complete knowledge and presentation of all the data and experience it has acquired over the years of serving the Asian category. That knowledge is essential because Asian-American media has not reached the size yet where it is ABC-audited or Nielsen-rated. Still, he is comfortable recommending the rapidly growing Asian media properties.
“I think planners and buyers need to know that this is a very rich media environment,” he says. “They may not be aware of them personally, but the media is there. AT&T knows it. And a lot of other brands that have been successful with us know it too.”