Point of View (POV) Media Group, is one of the country’s largest suppliers of indoor advertising space with over 2,000 media placement locations. And the man behind it is John Stevens, an enterprising young Canadian who has made Thailand his home and business base for the past decade.

ImageWhat first brought John to this part of the world was a fascination built on his father’s tales of trips to Hong Kong and Tokyo in the 70s. His first taste came in 1996, when after graduating from the University of British Columbia, he made a three-month, seven-country tour through Asia, stopping in Thailand for ten days.

He returned to Canada facing a dilemma – to take an MBA or enroll in the Asia-Pacific Cooperative Management Program (APMCP) at Capilano College. After some soul searching, he chose the latter because he could combine his next educational experience with an opportunity to live overseas. The first year of the course is based on Asian business. The second year is a placement overseas. John originally had planned to go to China, but when an opportunity arose to work with the trade section in the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok, he jumped at it. He hadn’t planned to stay in Thailand for a long period of time, but he felt his posting with the Embassy was too short. So he decided to try and start his own business here.

Shortly after leaving the Embassy in April of 1998, John took a position with Nova Gas doing business development work and research writing. He used the money he made from this to help start The Best in Bangkok Book (BBB), a dining and entertainment coupon book, he launched at the Can-Am Invitational golf tourney in November 1998.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent,” says John. “I get satisfaction from something that I initiate on my own. The Best in Bangkok coupon concept was one that I thought that I could establish and start on my own without a lot of start-up money. I didn’t know if it would work or not but I had the opportunity to have some students at the Masters of International Marketing program at Thammasat University do some market research for me and seemed that the sentiment was positive that something like this would work out.”

In North America, coupon books are successful because the distribution is done mainly through high schools and charitable organizations, which promote them by saying “If you buy the book, you will be supporting your community.” As a result, millions are sold every year.

In Thailand, John sold the book through commercial channels like bookstores, corporate sales and one-on-one direct marketing. It took about five months to produce the book, but to get paid could take an equal number of months because of the credit terms the bookstores demanded. So from a cash flow perspective, it wasn’t a very sustainable project.

As a result John decided to change the business model and he started providing outsourcing programs to customers like UBC, Loxinfo, Thai Farmers Bank and the Bank of Ayudhaya. If people used their card they would receive certain discounts or special promotions, arranged by BBB.

Working with Nokia, he created what he now claims was the world’s first SMS-based discount program. After enlisting enlisted 300 venues, each with its own code, customers would type in the number on their phone upon entering the premises. A few seconds later, they received a SMS giving them a special discount or promotional offer, which could be shown to the restaurant staff to redeem.

While this was a successful campaign for Nokia to sell more phones, John felt there were bigger opportunities to his company to pursue. The Best in Bangkok then became Point of View, a media ownership and advertising business.

His biggest asset was the huge network of venues: restaurants, bars, clubs and theatres he had developed while assembling The Best in Bangkok. His initial idea was to put advertising in restrooms. Pitching the concept to his clients, he told them he needed their advertising support for at least a year. Among the first clients were Red Bull and Durex, whose eye-catching ads were put in stainless steel frames.

Today POV offers a range of of advertising networks: lifestyle, corporate and retail, displaying two types of advertising, static and digital. The former is non-moving media such as billboards, wraps, placards, front fascades, backlit boards (lightboxes) and coasters. The latter is a digital network, which uses liquid crystal display (LCD) and plasma screens located in office towers such as Abdulrahim, Bangkok City, Bubhajit, CMIC, Liberty Square, Maleenon, SCB Park, Shinawatra I & II, Sindhorn, Thai Summit and U-Chu Liang towers.

POV delivers a combination of advertisements and content to screens over a sophisticated broadcasting system over high-speed Internet lines. With the touch of a button the company can upload content to the entire system.

It also has ads in 17 branches of the Carrefour chain in Thailand, along with restaurants, pubs, theatres and sports centres enabling it to offer clients a choice of market segments.

John has learned a lot since he started The Best in Bangkok and he says the key to running a good business is to hire good people. “I have enough good people in different areas now that I can concentrate on new business lines, growing the business (POV has just expanded to Singapore) and financing the company. I just can’t stress how important it is to get good people. You may have to pay more, but the pay-off down the road is well worth it.”

How has he changed since he first started working in Bangkok? “I have become a measured optimist. Nowadays, when things look very bleak I realize they are probably not as bad as they seem and when things look great, I know that trouble may be right around the corner. I also don’t get as fazed when a big deal falls through; I’m immediately trying to think of ways to overcome it, or make the most of the situation. Over time I’ve become better able to deal with stressful situations.”

What about advice for someone starting out? “The best thing you can do is work for an established entrepreneur for a couple of years. They can prepare you in all kinds of ways for situations you would never have expected, and they will make you realize what’s important and what’s not. For instance, I didn’t realize the importance of a good accountant when I first started or how important it was to make sure your bookkeeping was in order.”

How does John keep sane? “I take an annual pilgrimage home which helps and I try to get away on the weekends as much as I can. This allows me to put a different perspective on things.” He’s also an avid golfer and member of the Thai Stix ball hockey team.

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