China is Thirsty for Creative Talent
“Shanghai is the city of the future you drew when you were a kid,” said Graham Fink last week, in front of an audience of agencies, production companies, interactive production and VFX companies from both the UK and China. On the first session of the first day of this conference, Ogilvy China’s Chief Creative Officer had nailed exactly what’s so exciting about the world’s most populous city. He went on to quote John Lennon, who once said, ‘If I’d lived in Roman times, I’d have lived in Rome. Today, America is the Roman Empire, and New York is Rome itself. New York is the centre of the earth.’ “Shanghai is the new New York,” Fink added. That’s why he, a British advertising creative of some repute, been here for the last four years.
The Shanghai London Advertising Forum 2015 took place last week for two days at the Sigma Film Club on the banks of the Huangpu River. Organised by the Advertising Producers Association (APA), it brought together the best of Chinese advertising agencies and British production, interactive and VFX expertise to learn from each other and build the foundations for more work between the two countries.
With over 20 speakers from the Chinese and UK ad industries, it’s hard to distil all their knowledge and insights into something coherent, but a few messages stood out.
Firstly, speakers from China were refreshingly honest about the challenges western production companies face working in the Chinese market. Speed is the priority, often at the expense of quality. Budgets are mostly tight. Clients are usually more demanding than westerners are used to, expecting rounds and rounds of meetings and edits. Internet bandwidth and connectivity isn’t great out there, causing problems for anyone sending large files around. Things often get lost in translation, causing confusion and chaos. Clients find it hard to trust foreigners, who they assume won’t understand Chinese culture enough to make effective advertising for Chinese people. It’s also a less regulated market, meaning, amongst other things, getting paid by Chinese clients can be a long and arduous process.
FCB Shanghai’s Andy Chan was particularly frank about these inadequacies, but he was confident that none are insurmountable. All people need to bear in mind when working in China, he said, was “flexibility” and “reactivity”. Everyone at the forum was keen to stress that the UK and Chinese markets can do great work together and if you look at the results of the first SLAF in 2007, it’s clear that this is possible. Delegates from the UK who took part in the 2007 forum generated £30 million in production turnover in the 15 months that followed the event. Since then China has grown even more, so the opportunities are obvious.
It was also clear that if UK companies are willing to work to overcome the challenges then the Chinese market is more than willing to meet them half way. Speakers demonstrated that in the past ten years the quality of creativity in China has come on in leaps and bounds, as can be seen in the international awards their agencies have been picking up recently. For the first time, a Chinese agency made it into the Gunn Report’s top ten agencies this year and they definitely won’t be the last.
The creativity is there, but speakers repeatedly mentioned the lack of craft that China suffers from as a nation obsessed by speed and productivity. Several Chinese speakers implored western production companies to bring their directors to China, emphasising the importance of changing the overall quality of filmmaking talent in the Chinese ad industry. Chinese agencies admire the film craft of the UK, which they recognise as world-class. Nils Andersson, Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Shanghai, said it is time for Chinese advertising to be world-class too, not just “China-class”.
One in five humans on Earth is Chinese. Everyone should be thinking about this market. Shanghai is so vast and vibrant, from the high-rise glass city of business to the grubby, bustling city of street food and haggling. Having spent time getting to know it, it’s easy to understand Fink’s views. Their relatively young advertising industry is rocketing towards global domination, already full of world-class talent and hungry for the best creativity on the planet. They recognise the UK as a source of great creativity and their ad industry is maturing at some speed to catch up. Ignore the red dragon at your peril. China won’t be stopping anytime soon.