Saturday, January 9, 2010

Want A Job In China?

I wrote this for Ad Age China which appeared on January 6, 2010

SHANGHAI ( -- Like many agency directors, I've recently been inundated with resumes from wannabe expatriates who are either unemployed back home or want to come out and experience the adventure. Looking for a job in China? Here are some useful tips to keep in mind.

1. Come with a specialty.
Regardless of your industry experience, you will have better chances of landing a job quickly if you're specialized in something. If you don't have a specialty, market yourself as being interested in one. According to several advertising industry search firms, the hot jobs are in digital marketing, CRM and shopper marketing.

2. Apply to as many agencies as possible.
Many China job hunters make the mistake of applying to the big networks that they know, and avoid smaller, less familiar international or independent ones.

Even local agencies may be looking for an expatriate who can help them service an international client. Remember that the whole point is getting your foot in the China door, and nothing is permanent.

If you eventually land a gig but it doesn't work out after a year, you can move to something else, but now you've got experience and you're better connected, too.

3. Connect directly with the decision makers.
Most agencies here do not use Human Resources managers to sift through prospects, so it's better to connect with the head of the agency or department. They don't mind connecting with someone with talent and passion.

4. Think Shanghai, but don't forget Beijing or Guangzhou.
Shanghai is the capital of the China advertising industry, but there are also many agencies spread out throughout the country, especially in Beijing and Guangzhou.

5. Don't ask for a flight over here.
Expect to come to China for a round of interviews on your own tab. If you're applying from outside China, you should pick a week for interviews two months before your arrival and start arranging interviews for that week. Nothing impresses an agency boss more than someone who has pro-actively arranged interviews prior to their arrival, and you'll need the interview to convince the agency to hire you over a local. The agency also will not have a budget for your airfare or lodging, unless you're coming out for a senior position.

6. Think of your job as an internship and expect a local salary.
Long gone are the days when there was a huge gap between local and expatriate salaries because of different skills. The industry now boasts a good army of talented and well-paid locals, many of whom still live rent free with their parents. Salaries are still lower in China for entry-level positions when compared to places like the U.S., and living as an expatriate can be expensive. If you frequent the expat hangouts, you'll soon discover your salary barely covers your expenses. It may be tough your first year, but you'll find your financial package grows quickly with experience.

7. Knowing Chinese helps, but it isn't everything.
Ethnic Chinese with Mandarin-speaking skills will definitely have an advantage over non-Chinese speakers, but it's a combination of China experience and language skills that will get you the desired job.

8. If you don't know Chinese, start learning now!
Get the basics down before you arrive because once you start working you won't have the time or energy to really dive into learning Mandarin. Don't fall into the trap of being one of the many foreigners who live here that never bothered to learn the language. Believe me, they all regret it.

9. Be passionate and hungry.
An agency lives and thrives on passion, and if you don't have it, you shouldn't be in the business. One of the pitfalls of Chinese employees is that many have become used to a booming, full employment economy, and have subsequently lost a bit of the hunger that fuels our industry. If you have it, it will certainly rub off on the other employees.

10. Prepare to work your ass off.
Within a few days of working at an agency, you'll suddenly find yourself in hyper mode performing a million different tasks – planner, creative, finance, etc, that you probably never did back home. Seven-day work weeks are the norm here, not the exception. It's just a price to pay for the China adventure.

Getting overseas experience is now key for career development, and there's probably no better place to get it than China. Spending a couple of years here will be both rewarding and challenging, and if you're like me, you might get so addicted to the buzz of the place that you may not want to leave.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Micro Strategies Bring An End To 360 Campaign Planning

Here's the article I wrote for Adage China on June 3, 2009.

If you've ever worked in non-traditional advertising for a big agency in China, you can probably relate to this scene: You're in a conference room 24 hours before a client presentation with department heads from every discipline, each of whom has prepared creative strategies based upon a "big idea" for a mobile phone client, centered around a television ad based upon a big celebrity endorsement. When your turn to present to the room arrives, the exec creative director looks shocked and asks, "Where's the Big Idea in this retail work?"

Here comes the hard part, trying to explain that Chinese consumers don't take in media at a store the way they do on television. Shoppers are looking to buy and are therefore making more tactical product decisions.

The differences don't stop there. Chinese shoppers in lower-tier cities are more price-driven, while their upper-tier counterparts in sophisticated markets like Shanghai are looking for unique features, requiring different executions. In this environment, you argue, brand imagery filled with celebrities doesn't fit their mindset and is therefore not effective. Nearly every time such a debate comes up, the winner is the same--Jay Chou or another cool local pop star or actor in China, whose image is firmly (and expensively) planted in the center of the agency's 360 degree campaign circle. The retail slice of the pie sits in the lower left hand corner next to the public relations section, supporting his mugshot to be spread within thousands of retail outlets throughout the country.

This battle was lost for two fundamental reasons. First, the agency's blind belief that 360 degree advertising actually works in all situations and for all channels. Anyone who questions this belief will be quickly reminded of award-winning global campaigns such as Unilever's "Campaign For Real Beauty" for Dove, a prime example of a "big idea" successfully surrounding the consumer at every touch point. The second reason is execution issues. The right way of doing things is often lost to laziness. It's simply much easier to use the same message and image over and over in different channels then to target your campaigns based upon consumer interaction. And since the advertiser spent a fortune to get Jay's endorsement, it should be maximized whenever possible.

There is merit in those reasons--but times are changing as marketers start to shed the traditional 360 approach as a campaign planning concept, especially in China, where consumers are already actively involved in the process for some major brands through online communication channels. Also, word of mouth is spreading more rapidly than ever before in the mainland.

Shoppers can now converge on a store, armed with better information and stronger opinions faster than the marketers can influence them. To survive, advertisers and their agencies must get into the conversation quickly.

The best term for this I've seen so far was coined by the American new media blogger, David Armano, who used the term micro strategies to describe the evolution of the industry. According to Mr. Armano, campaigns based upon micro strategies are created through rapid planning iterations and quick launches, measurable insights and results, with further adjustments before being re-launched again. The process is constantly in motion, and several campaigns can be launched simultaneously depending upon the communication target and channel.

Because the process doesn't rely on big-production media budgets to survive, campaigns developed through micro strategies can be quickly discarded if they aren't effective. In China, the process is now possible because we have better consumer data than ever before. Tracking consumer behavior from the channels that influence them all the way to the shopping floor is now much easier.

A good example is "3 Steps Before Bed," an online campaign for Johnson's Baby brand in China. Johnson & Johnson's used peer influence to persuade mothers the program was the right approach for their baby. It engaged six "mom ambassadors" to blog about the special bathe-and-massage routine and act as forum administrators on the Johnson's Baby

Chinese web site.

New mothers were encouraged to register their details for product information and special promotions. The additions to J&J's Chinese database were double the expected target. Ideas will still continue to be the cornerstone of an agency's business, but the way agencies develop and execute these ideas needs to change, especially in a complex market like China.

The 360 campaign wheels surrounding big ideas served the multi-disciplinary agency well in the past, but now it's time to put them aside.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Most Popular China Social Networking Sites

I pulled this off of Litttle Red Book, an advertising industry blog that frankly I had never heard about until recently. There's certainly a lot more than these, but this is a good list of the big ones.

Retail / Shopping: (combined with

Social / Cultural:

Social / Entertainment:

Products / Reviews:


Microblogs / Blogs:

Searching Engines / Forums:

Video Sharing:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mobile Micropayments Coming To Shanghai In 2 Months!

According to China Retail News, micropayments from mobile phones will be available in Shanghai in 2 months. All you need to do move your phone near a scanner and it automatically reduces the cost of your Big Mac from your SIM account. To recharge, SMS your bank and you're back in business!

Imagine the possibilities: you walk by a Starbucks and you're asked to opt in to a bluetooth coupon that draws you into the store. You pull out your phone, make the order, use the coupon, scan the phone and you're in business. Can Starbucks collect your mobile phone number in the process? It could potentially be a fantastic database entry tool as well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What A Waste Of Money

Talk about a waste of money for advertising: I saw this ad on the metro this morning for Midea, a hot water machine that delivers instant boiled water. OK, it's a stupid ad execution but hey, no website, no retailer or even a toll free number listed anywhere. They pretty much decided to leave the consumer hanging here. Where would you buy this thing?

What makes it more tragic is the window screen includes a picture of Gong Li, their product spokesperson, which I'm sure was at least RMB 1M for her time.

When will local companies learn that it takes more common sense than just blind star power to sell a product nowadays?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How Chinese Share Online

I spotted this great article from Adam Schhokora's blog about how the number of ways Chinese share information online. It's a must read. Besides the Digg voting clones such as Leitie and Zkaoo, there are ranking RSS-oriented systems such as Zhuxia and Xianguo.

Besides sharing on social networking sites such as Xiaonei, I quite like how QQ has cleverly incorporated bookmarking into its massive IM database via Shuqian (书签).

With so many possibilities, the online organization business is seemingly disorganized..a bit of an oxymoron.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

团购恶梦 Group Purchase Is a Dealer Nightmare

Sam Flemming from CiC wrote an interesting piece on the rise in Group Purchase or better known as "Tuangou (团购)" in this month's Ad Age China.

While it's true that Group Purchase is becoming more popular for car buyers, it has also become a bit of a nightmare for the dealers. Several dealers have told me that, while they welcome tuangou, they also point out that consumers are still quite new to the whole process and expect huge discounts, despite the fact that cars are sold in China on very thin margins.

In addition, consumers might come and buy 20 of the same car en masse, but they often want different features and completely different engine sizes, making it virtually impossible for the dealer to provide discounts.

Sam is correct. Car companies need to pay greater attention to tuangou. The first step is education on what a Group Purchase really means. Avoiding explaining the rules will only create additional misunderstandings.