ICMYI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

China’s Guangzhou Tengshi secures further funding to expand automated convenience stores | South China Morning Post – interesting store concept that turns the retail space into a giant vending machine

Germany accuses China of using LinkedIn to recruit informants-Sino-US – not terribly surprising

brandchannel: Unboxing Boxed: 5 Questions With CMO Jackson Jeyanayagam  – good to see this write-up with fellow WE veteran Jackson

How brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company, and HuffPost stories | The Outline – this looks far more corrosive for the PR industry than Bell Pottinger

CryptoCurrency Screener – Yahoo Finance – it gives you an idea how mainstream cryptocurrency speculation has become

Qualcomm’s Anti-Competitive Conduct Could Be Exacerbated By Mergers | Disruptive Competition Project – interesting analysis

Twitter Users Like Long Tweets More Than Short Ones | Buzzfeed – impressive if true

California fires: Navigation apps like Waze sent commuters into flames, drivers say | USA Today – this will damage Waze in California.

3D printed Wi-Fi – still getting my head around this (PDF) via our Matt

Bill Brewster Recalls His NYC Stint Living (and Record Collecting) in the ’90s – via our Jed

Cathay Pacific reuses uniforms to create sustainable red envelopes for Chinese New Year | The Drum – I really like this idea, although it might jar with job and pay cuts at Cathay Pacific

China marketing agency landscape changes

Chinese poster

The Xi-era of China has seen the end of the go-go years in economic growth which was one of the factors picked up on Arun Sudhaman’s analysis of the market for PR services.

Arun also noted that the fortune of domestic and multi-national firms diverged.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Multi-national PR agencies often led with corporate communications and public affairs expertise. This meant that their businesses were led by leaders who paid lip-service to digital at best. My experience trying to sell digital internally was one of the most painful processes that I have ever done. It was one of almost insurmountable cultural differences: not Irish-Chinese, but analogue-digital.

To be fair many corporate and public affairs specialists in London are still trying to get to grip with what digital means. They know it’s important, but they don’t have a clue how it all comes together.

That mean’t that they didn’t really get social media beyond being a publishing platform. Chinese KOL (key opinion leader) work whilst effective, is paid media. PR agencies generally don’t have the depth of tools and analytics to provide comprehensive planning and execution for KOL projects. It is hard to get management teams to invest adequately in tools and talent.

Premier Xi has changed the landscape for public affairs practitioners. The government is less flexible, it feels that it no longer needs to be. China is on the ascendence in the face of western existential crises and America in rapid retreat from the world stage. Hence, new laws that discriminate against foreign technology companies as part of its wider approach to cyber sovereignty.  Public affairs still has a place in terms of research to provide understanding, but their foreign multinationals won’t like what the results will likely tell them.

Digital has hit the industry hard. It moved at an accelerated pace compared to other industries. Unlike the west were television isn’t in decline but has stopped growing, Chinese TV isn’t undergoing the golden age that we are seeing in the west. The government has made it less entertaining – which has only helped the acceleration of digital marketing channels in China. Government control of television content has meant less reality shows or remakes of Korean drama stories and more content extolling Chinese Communist Party values. Worthy content, but not particularly engaging.

May online marketing

In China, the major digital platform companies try and go direct to clients for social media advertising cutting out the media buying agencies. This gives media and digital agencies extra incentive to go and grab the paid engagements of key opinion leaders. These are often performance-related deals with directly attributable online sales or online-to-offline voucher redemption. Digital and media agencies are better equipped to handle influencer relations than their public relations peers. It is less about influence and more about performance.

Multinational PR agencies also have problems with their established client base of international brands. Under Premier Xi we have seen a more confident China. This confidence is manifested in Chinese board rooms. The way strategy and goal-setting works in Chinese companies illuminates this difference:

  • Big board meeting where outrageous unrealistic targets are set by the Chairman
  • Planning department turns the ridiculous goals into plans
  • Management goes to arrange funding

The business then goes to staff up and do whatever is needed. They will build massive conglomerates – what is known as building the eco-system – something that is frowned up in the West as being bad for shareholder value

Chinese entrepreneurs care about market share more than profitability. And sometimes they fail spectacularly like LeEco.

A lot of it reads like bubble-era corporate Japan. While it seems insane to outsiders, corporate China is much more closely knitted into the government than the keiretsus ever were. Corporate China may go pop in the future, but it won’t happen at the moment.

By comparison, multinationals are worried about activist shareholders and meeting their quarterly numbers can’t be as aggressive in comparison to their Chinese peers. This type of aggressive pursuit of growth would also be an anathema to the likes of WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and IPG who suffer from a similar risk of activist shareholder shenanigans as their multinational clients.

Which is why Chinese brands have been blowing up across sectors. 91 percent of smartphones now sold in China are from domestic brands. Apple has somewhere around 7 per cent share. Foreign FMCG brands are being slaughtered, even Amazon has only a few percentage points of market share.

Quite simply, multinational PR firms have generally bet on the wrong horse. China is the one market were American scale and capital actually diminishes in impact over time as the Chinese domestic market picks up. Multinationals in strategic business areas were always going to lose over time.

Where Chinese brands have wanted to expand globally, they have taken on foreign PR agencies. Part of this process was knowledge transfer. If one looked at an organisation like Huawei, you can see how they have learned and built internal capability with Chinese characteristics in their corporate communications function over time. It would be a similar process in other companies.

Even foreign luxury brands have struggled to be as agile as their Chinese customers. Between the crackdown on corruption and the rapid development of experienced luxury consumption – the only constant in the luxury market has been change. It is only a matter of time before China has its own answer to Michael Kors or Christian Dior. Western luxury brand problems will affect the agencies that work with them with massive fluctuation in marketing budgets.

A second transfer of capability from foreign to domestic is the move of multinational agency talent into local agencies. You combine that Chinese entrepreneurship and foreign agencies look vulnerable. Clauses that have kept western agency staff in check from plundering clients and talent don’t hold up as well in China.



Things that made my day this week

Things that made my day this week.

Rhythm of Love Wall – YouTube – I respect the craftsmanship but do find the concept a little creepy, this was for 7-Eleven in Taiwan.

Great interview with the founder and manager of Tokyo’s famous Robot Restaurant

LOUIS XIII Cognac presents « 100 Years » by Pharrell Williams (English) – YouTube – advertising does CSR

Sweating bullets: notes about the creation of PowerPoint by Robert Gaskins – (PDF)

Joanna Wiebe Old School Copywriting for New School Businesses

Most popular blog posts of 2017

I looked at my most trafficked articles from January to June 2017 here.

What did June to December look like?

1Is your PR plan good enough?A series of six posts and a work book on developing and assessing how thorough a communications plan is
2Thinking about MarcelReflections on the challenges and opportunities posed by Publicis Groupe’s bid to build machine learning into the core of the business
3My decade of the iPhoneReflecting on the impact that the iPhone had on my smartphone usage. Probably not as much as you would have thought
4Out and about: Blade Runner 20149Review of Gosling and Ford’s reboot of the Blade Runner story 30 years after the original
5That Trivago posterThe meme created by blanket out of home advertising throughout London in September
6The Bell Pottinger PostI was a bit surprised to see Bell Pottinger go into administration after I wrote this post. Even the London finances were bearing up, the key challenge seems to have been NO interested from any agency approached in acquiring the London office.
7Living with the Apple WatchA reflection live with the Apple Watch 2. My first Apple Watch went on eBay within 48 hours of its arrival and my initial trials with it. How will the Mk II version cope?
8Can too much design thinking be a bad thing?There is a lot of mediocre thinking shrouded in design methodologies out there. But this post wasn’t about that. Instead I wanted to consider the process itself. Was there be constraints on the process itself?
9Technology is way ahead of interface designsGood user experience, ergonomics and the latest technology don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand
10Three takeaways from Cannes and VidconBlind trust in influencers as a marketing tool. The unhealthy state of the online advertising eco-system and transfer of value from agencies and media to two platforms

What did 2017 look like overall?

1Living with the Casio GWF -D1000 Frogman watch


Casio took their Frogman watch and improved it even further. Some of the technology is interesting mainly because they’ve managed to run it all off a diminutive solar panel. The bigger changes for me was moving world time from the ‘home screen’ and reengineering how the strap is fastened to the case in a much more robust manner
2Louis Vuitton, Supreme and the tangled relationship between streetwear and luxury brandsLouis Vuitton has been dragged into the 21st century by its creative director. A collaboration with Supreme seems logical in retrospect for so many reasons


3Is your PR plan good enough?


A series of six posts and a work book on developing and assessing how thorough a communications plan is
4Thinking about Marcel


Reflections on the challenges and opportunities posed by Publicis Groupe’s bid to build machine learning into the core of the business
5Richard Edelman is wrong, PR isn’t at a crossroads…Richard Edelman commented on the trend for large marketing groups to consolidate PR agencies and integrate PR offerings into a larger marketing services stack. This mirrors changes that Edelman’s own company has gone through as multiple disciplines close in on a marketing singularity
6It’s time that we talk about micro-influencers


Looking past the hype of micro-influencers to work out how it fits with brand planning scenarios
7Oprah Time: Blood and Faith – the purging of muslim Spain (1492 – 1614) by Matthew Carr


I picked this book up on a trip to Madrid. Carr’s books looked at Spain’s history with the muslim world in an unsympathetic light. The issues of conservative populism and racism also feel very contemporary given political sentiment across Europe
8Magic Lantern Festival, Chiswick House Gardens


Chiswick hosted a lunar new year oriented lantern festival similar to what you’d seen in Hong Kong and across China
9Have we reached peak streetwear?


A follow-on post from my jog down memory lane about luxury and streetwear. I started thinking about it in terms of a market in its own right
10My decade of the iPhone


Reflecting on the impact that the iPhone had on my smartphone usage. Probably not as much as you would have thought




ICMYI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

Luxury Brands Win Right to Block Sale of Goods on Amazon in Europe – WSJ“The quality of luxury goods is not simply the result of their material characteristics, but also of the allure and prestigious image which bestows on them an aura of luxury,” the ECJ said. “That aura is an essential aspect of those goods in that it thus enables consumers to distinguish them from other similar goods.”

Ad Holding Companies to Rapidly Increase Spending With Amazon – WSJ – likely to hurt Google’s product search business hardest rather than Facebook brand advertising

2017 was the year digital ad spending finally beat TV – Recode – its about growth of digital rather than death of TV

China hopes cold war nuclear energy tech will power warships, drones | South China Morning Post – I’d much prefer a Thorium powered DeLorean to a lithium powered Tesla

Don’t Buy Anyone an Echo | Gizmodo – interesting to see this from a gadget blog