Shops look to mainland China and Hong Kong for skills and global perspective.
Jia Zheng, a 25-year-old advertising grad from China, was an intern at DDB, New York, in December when she was surprised to be invited to a client meeting. The client executives, it turned out, were Chinese, and the New York staffers wanted her to help them avoid any cultural faux pas.
“I was glad they cared about being polite,” she says now. “But I couldn’t believe that in a company that size, the only one they could find to advise them was me - this Chinese girl who was an intern.”
That situation is changing, as marketing agencies strapped for digital-minded talent look to mainland China and Hong Kong for the skills and global perspective they need. In mid-June, for instance, AKQA San Francisco hired Zheng as an associate strategist after she completed graduate work at the University of Texas. At the senior level, this summer McCann Erickson New York tapped digital star Natalie Lam (pictured) to be its new ECD. A native of Hong Kong, Lam most recently had been OgilvyOne’s regional CD of Asia and ECD of its Shanghai office. Her duties will include boosting McCann’s digital capabilities in the U.S.
How do Chinese employees differ? “We are very familiar with transformational change,” says Lam. "Until the mid-90s my family in mainland China shared one phone with all their neighbors. Now 300 million Chinese are online. It makes us flexible, nonjudgmental and convinced that nothing is impossible. It also teaches us how artificial it is to divide traditional and digital,” she says.
At the forefront of the wave of Chinese talent coming to U.S. agencies is the advertising graduate program at the University of Texas in Austin. Professor Neal Burns, director of the ad department’s account planning program, estimates there are 30-40 percent more Chinese students in his classes than five years ago. “Their training is superior. They are digitally oriented, can do calculus and they are serious students, ” he says. Most are going after U.S. jobs at R/GA, DDB, AKQA and BBH. “Those are considered the hot places to work right now,” he says.
Besides Zheng, AKQA execs say they’ve hired a number of Chinese students from U.S. ad schools and recently transferred staff from their Shanghai office to San Francisco and New York. “China is a very important market for our clients,” says CEO Tom Bedecarre. “We hope to bring an understanding of the Chinese consumer to our global campaigns and we're lucky to have staff who can help educate us and lend their perspective to our work."
McCann’s Lam also points out that the new Chinese generation is particularly adept at social media, which can help American agencies. “For them it is second nature, an essential part of their lives. They love to express their opinions by chat, texting, blogging non-stop.”
For her part, Zheng cares more about what she doesn’t know. Marketing in China is “chaos” right now and “we want to learn from the U.S.” at agencies where digital and non-digital communications are merged, she says. Sure, cultural differences and the feeling of being an outsider can be tough. But on the plus side, she notes that she and her peers are products of China’s one-child policy. “That means each one of us has the powerful support of two parents and four grandparents, which makes us “super-confident.” And proud.
“Brands can’t ignore the Chinese marketplace. Any brand that wants to be global will have to understand China,” she says. “That’s what [Chinese talent] brings to the table.”
On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!
Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!
Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.
Hong Kong, May 5-6, 2015
Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.
Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.
May 6, 2015
12:00pm ET/9:00am PT