ADVERTISING agency Leo Burnett's international billings in 1992 exceeded its domestic revenue for the first time in the history of the company. Of the US$4.3 billion (about HK$33.54 billion) total, $2.2 billion was generated outside America. The significance of this result was not lost on company president and newly appointed worldwide chief executive officer, Mr William Lynch Jnr. ''It emphasises the truly global nature of our business and the powerful growth in the Asian region,'' he said, during a visit to Hongkong last week. Revenue from Thailand was rising at 40 per cent annually and between 30 and 40 per cent from Japan. Others in the 11-agency-strong Asian region were growing at around 20 per cent. Hongkong remained the exception, with a flat income pattern over the last two years. China, ''the last great untapped market'', according to Mr Lynch, is the next target. Leo Burnett has acted on the mainland since 1987 through the Hongkong office. In August last year, it opened a limited, representative office in Guangzhou, with a staff of 11, supported by 27 Hongkong-based staff who focus on China. In 1992, China billings totalled HK$135 million, and Leo Burnett's Hongkong managing director, Mr Vincent Swift, said: ''We have been seeing exponential growth up to the present, and China is clearly a strong long-term opportunity for our clients, and therefore for us.'' After taking what Mr Lynch described as ''a very measured approach to our entry'', a joint-venture proposal has been submitted for Chinese governmental approval to establish full-service offices in Guangzhou and Shanghai. A third mainland office, in Beijing, is provisionally scheduled for next year as clients' businesses stretch northward. ''We have taken three years to identify and select our joint-venture partner for China,'' said Mr Lynch. The pattern of Leo Burnett's 1992 revenues gives added point to the worldwide aspect of Mr Lynch's March 19 appointment as CEO. ''I will be a 'hands-on', very involved type of manager and I expect to make at least a dozen trips abroad during the year,'' he said. ''That's besides internal travel in the United States.'' Mr Lynch's major purpose in visiting Hongkong was to chair the annual Leo Burnett CREASIA conference - an ideas hothouse for the 11 regional managing and creative directors in Asia and for their Australian office. Four others from senior management in Chicago also attended. In addition to reviewing past performance, the three intensive days of seminars aimed ''to produce cutting-edge creativity in each office''. ''We are looking not just for the big new ideas, but for ways to refine, adapt and re-interpret what we already know,'' said Mr Lynch. ''Good ideas travel well, and can sometimes be used cross-culturally. ''But it's clear that each concept needs to be embedded seamlessly in each specific local culture.'' As an example of the lateral thinking, and the ''willingness to go the extra distance'' that Mr Lynch said he was seeking, Mr Swift outlined the evolution of the Reebok ''running man'' symbol for the recent Hongkong Sevens. ''Initially, we were asked for a poster design,'' said Mr Swift. ''But, when it was done, we saw how it could be extended across a range of products to become the unmistakeable symbol of the whole event. ''So, it also went on the programme cover, an inflight brochure, a direct mail shot, the T-shirts and the seat cushions.'' Leo Burnett has long-term relationships with clients. Mr Lynch cited, as examples, 45 years with Kellogg, 40 years with Procter and Gamble, 38 years with Philip Morris and 23 years with United Airlines. Thus, the decision not to make another pitch for the Cathay Pacific account after a 10-year association was a wrench, and Mr Lynch confirmed that it was taken in Chicago. He dismissed as nonsense suggestions that the decision not to bid for the HK$250 million-plus account smacked of strategy, and that Leo Burnett was seeking the prestigious British Airways account instead. ''There is no ace-in-the-hole here, and there is simply no way we could try for the BA account,'' he said. ''United Airlines, one of our oldest clients and with headquarters, like us, in Chicago, fly head-to-head with BA on far too many routes.'' Mr Swift said the loss to his office of the HK$65 million share of the total Cathay account would knock a 15 per cent hole in profits. But Leon Burnett would gain 15 per cent growth from other clients. ''We have replaced a third of the loss in just one month, and with Reebok and Goodyear enjoying their first full year with us in the Hongkong market, I remain confident of future growth,'' he said.