We all know about China’s bad rep for plagiarism and “unoriginal” work, but the truth is Chinese people are just as creative as anyone else – you just have to know where to look.
For those of you unaware of this fantastic agency, NeochaEDGE brings together China’s leading creators (known as the EDGE Creative Collective), to produce inspiring and cutting-edge visual arts and music, for the most-forward thinking brands and agencies in the world.
Its offices are based in Shanghai, but it attracts the top talent from all over the Middle Kingdom. NeochaEDGE also doubles as a daily curated, bilingual web-magazine that showcases inspiring Chinese creative content.
chinaSMACK caught up with Adam last week to get to know the man behind the magic. So with no further delay may I introduce Mr Adam J Schokora:
We ask this to everyone, what was it that brought you to China?
I’m originally from Detroit. When I was 19, a random trip to Hong Kong spurred my fascination with China and Chinese language. From there, I graduated from The University of Michigan with degrees in Chinese / American political relations and Mandarin Chinese. During the summers while still in school, I came to China for internships, travel, and language practice.
After graduation I came to China on a whim to find work and maybe stick around for a few years…I’ve been here ever since. Shanghai is home now, and, to be honest, I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else in the world…its a fun place to build a business, and just all around stimulating and rewarding.
How did you get involved in China’s creative industry?
I’ve always been interested in the creative community / industry, regardless of where I was based. Art, music, design, fashion, etc are all passions of mine, as is understanding the commercial sides of these spaces.
Creativity in China
As China became more of a home for me, I began snooping around to find more and more creative content in local environs, etc. So, this passion, combined with another passion of mine (trying to make money) slowly, but surely, evolved into our current creative agency model – NeochaEDGE.
How did your agency come about? What gives it, its “EDGE”?
Our company started as Neocha.com, a social networking site for Chinese artists / designers, and musicians. This was early 2007. At the time, the team had been seeing all sorts of inspiring creative content from all over China, but, it was painfully difficult to find. It was fragmented online and off, mostly hidden from view, and not given much attention in local media. Neocha.com was engineered to be a solution to this problem.
We created the site as an online platform to allow local creatives to upload and promote their visual arts and music content, as well as share related creative culture events from throughout China. The site did quite well, but, as it was focused exclusively on what is still a very niche audience in China (the creative community), we had a difficult time executing a scalable advertising model. We just didn’t have the volume of users / traffic that advertisers in China want for online media buy.
Brands, agencies, media, etc. weren’t interested in placing ads on the site, however, they where very keen to tap the community for the creation of content, and also to get insights into what was “the next big thing” among this influential demographic. This was the beginnings of a proper business model for our company.
Neocha.com quickly evolved into the creative agency that we now call NeochaEDGE. We now focus 100% of our energy and resources on NeochaEDGE. In fact, about a year ago we closed our original social networking site. Although the format of our business has changed, our goals are still what it has always been:
- To help present the best creative talent in China
- To support the development of local Chinese creative industry
- And to create commercial (and sometimes non-commercial) opportunities for young local creatives
So what exactly do you and your team do?
In short, we are in the business of producing inspiring visual arts and music content with China’s leading creators. Many people think we are an advertising agency or some sort of marketing firm…this is not really accurate. We operate mainly as three things:
- A creative talent representation (for commercial projects)
- A production house; meaning, we work with the creative talent we represent to execute on our clients content needs. The content we create is often used to help support advertising / marketing efforts for brands, etc., however, it could just as easily be used by anyone for anything (as long as they are willing to pay for it)
- The third thing we are is a media. Our website is now starting to generate siginfigant revenue from adverts (events, jobs, etc.) and direct art sales.
Wow that’s quite a range, and what’s your role amongst all these things?
My role at NeochaEDGE is to work with our team to do whatever needs to be done to keep the company growing and our clients happy…in title, I’m a founder and the CEO, but we are tight-knit team, so everyone rolls up their sleeves and does a little bit of everything.
What is it that makes NeochaEDGE so different to any other creative agency?
There are a few main things:
Our “creative collective” model.
We don’t believe that traditional in-house creative departments are equipped to create the type of content we aspire to produce; the inspiring type of content that forward thinking brands demand and deserve. Our contribution to the fight against lowest common denominator creative is the EDGE Creative Collective (ECC).
ECC is an exclusive, hand-picked, “dream team” of the best creative talent in China…ECC is our creative department. With it, we have access to the best creators in China at our fingertips, already organized and ready to be mobilized for our client projects and content needs. Of course our core team has designers, producers, creative heads, etc., but we know that to create the best stuff, we need to engage and collaborate with others who are the best in their respective mediums.
For brands, there is immense value in creating truly compelling content; in our experience, getting this kind of content is rarely done successfully via the traditional agency model. Traditional agencies themselves know this and this is why many of them actually end up becoming our clients.
We are picky.
We don’t take on every project. If we don’t believe in a something creatively (or we think the client doesn’t believe in it), then we don’t do it. This helps keep us fresh and excited about the work that we do.
We are media.
We started as a media platform and haven’t lost touch of that. We believe that brands and agencies all need to be media in order to remain relevant in the post 2.0 world. The NeochaEDGE web-magazine is curated daily with the freshest stuff from artists we represent via the EDGE Creative Collective, and also from creators from all over China.
The web-magazine keeps us out of the trenches of client projects and deadlines, and in-touch with / on-top of everything thats going on in the Chinese creative community.
The site also provides us a powerful amplification channel for content we create with our clients, as well as the opportunity to turn to the community for crowd-sourced, user generated content exercises…something we’ve done for everyone from local indie band’s who need cover art for their new album, to mass-market apparel brands like Volcom and Vans looking for inspiring graphics for garments to be sold worldwide.
How do you actually find / keep up with the best creative talent in China?
Via our web presence. As our community website was initially set up as a platform to aggregate creative portfolios from all over China, we unknowingly (at the time) were compiling an immensely valuable asset for our current agency model. Neocha.com afforded our team easy access to and an intimate relationship with a robust database of creative talent in China.
Since the website transitioned to the web-magazine, we’ve had to work hard at curating the content in order to truly showcase the best of the best (and the latest) in China.
Now, almost 2 years into the web-magazine, we are again in the fortunate position of attracting talent to us. We get literally dozens of e-mails every single day from artists all over China who want to be featured on the site, considered for commercial client projects, and / or would like us to represent them.
Is it difficult for young people to express themselves artistically in China?
No. Not any more difficult than anywhere else in the world. But getting to the point where they are equipped with the skills and motivation (sometimes confidence too) to do so is a bit more challenging road than perhaps elsewhere in the world. This is because of some built-in cultural, societal, familial reasons, but certainly not because Chinese people are any less creative then their peers abroad. That’s simply a myth.
What do you think makes the Chinese Creative Industry so unique?
I guess timing makes it unique. It’s just now truly started to get traction and take off. The US, Europe, and other leading “creative” markets around the world have had 100 years or so to develop a proper, robust creative industry. China has really only had about 10 – 15 years, and, as always with China, the progress it has made is unprecedented.
Unique creative: Absolut Vodka & NeochaEDGE (Light-graffiti)
Are all the “creative” people in Shanghai and Beijing?
No, not all the creative people are in BJ and SH. While its true that these two cities are hubs for the creative industry, there are creatives in our network all over China. Back in the days of our social networking site, we had considerable user representation in every single province in China, who were actively creating content and uploading to their profiles. Now, as a creative agency, we have tapped visual artists and musicians from all over the country for different client projects.
I often hear people saying that different creative things happen in different cities in China…which may be true, but to be honest, I see a little bit of everything coming out of everywhere. Perhaps because its all coming at me from the firehouse that is the web, I haven’t cleanly filed it all by geography.
However, I will say, perhaps a surprise to some, a lot of the most interesting and worthwhile creative content in China is not only coming from the big cities like Beijing, or Shanghai, or Hong Kong, etc; it’s coming from some self-taught designer in Gansu, or a photographer in Sichuan, or an illustrator in Liaoning, or a street artist in Hunan, or a bedroom-bound electronic musician in Ningxia. There are so many of these types of creators scattered throughout China.
Photography from Chengdu based Muge
Beyond geographies, some interesting trends we are seeing among the Chinese creative community in general are neo-traditionalism, nostalgia / retro, and a yearning for childhood. As forward-looking as China is, a lot of the inspiration is still coming from its rich past and robust heritage.
How does the industry compare to creative hubs like London and New York?
I really have no idea as I have never worked locally in either of these markets. However, as we currently have clients in both of these cities, I have to imagine it rates on par for the type of content we create. But, in general, I think its important to note how irrelevant locale has become to the concept of “creative community / industry.”
Creatives all over the world get and share most of their inspiration via the internet, which of course transcends physical space / geography. To be honest, because much of the content we create is ultimately finalized and delivered in some sort of digital format, a good part of our business is conducted wholly virtually, allowing us to create with and art-direct artists we have developed strong relationships with just over email, instant messenger, Skype, etc. We also service many of our clients in the same way. Its the way things are and how they are going.
Do you think the influx of Western culture will dilute China’s creative industries particularly advertising?
No. I think people who think of culture in terms of “the West” and “the East” really don’t fully understand the modern world, especially in the context of the most basic technology and communication tools available to (almost) all of us. The creative space (particularly the part of it that overlaps with commercial art and the ad industry) lives mostly online, and the internet, again, doesn’t really follow geographical boundaries.
Artists from China are influencing artists in Russia, who are in turn are learning from artists in the US and South America, and vice versa, and so on and so on. Artists in these localities add local flavor and cultural elements that give them unique styles, but to think creatives around the world aren’t ripping each other off all the time is silly…it’s a wonderful thing that only drives more people to learn more from each other and together create more quality work.
What’s your opinion of the Government’s recent banning of luxury advertising in Beijing?
Who cares?! The advertising industry would get much more creative if all ads were banned. That would be a fun environment to operate. We’d all see real creativity and innovation at that point. Bring it.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges Chinese advertising agencies face?
I really have no idea. These kinds of questions usually only lead to heavy speculation. I think one thing we’re seeing a lot of (and in some ways are benefitting from) is the up-cropping of smaller, more nimble, sometimes “local,” and cost-effective agencies being able to create value for brands where typically only larger agencies where able to. This will change the balance a bit of who gets what work and will force larger agencies to change their approach, or find smart ways to work with smaller agencies.
Do you think Chinese brands can go global? Can China produce the next Nike?
Yes, unquestionably. It’s just a matter of time.
However, to be honest though, if I were a Chinese business owner, I’m not sure I would be so keen on focusing my resources on other markets just yet. China is the market to be in and will remain that way probably for the next 200 years or so, so why be in a rush to take risks in markets I dont fully understand and that, for the most part, have declining economies (and perhaps prejudices against Chinese products, etc.). Many Chinese companies and brands have become hugely profitable and successful just servicing the local Chinese market…there are too many to mention.
Before we finish, what future trends do you predict for the China’s advertising industry?
I’m not a trends forecaster. Predictions make me nervous.
Okay Okay, then how about telling us what’s next for NeochaEDGE?
For the time being, just practical stuff. We are focusing on building the agency in terms of our service offering to include more strategic planning, as well as adding members to both our core in-house team and to the EDGE Creative Collective. At the same time, we are looking to take our web-magazine to the next level with, perhaps a redesign, and of course, more, more, more content.
We currently publish 3 – 4 original articles a day, but we would like to be doing 10 or more. We are also working on an online “EDGE store“, that will help scale art sales. Finally, we are also starting to think about how we can possibly extend our model to other Asian markets with creatives from all over the region…but, thats more of a distant topic for us at this time. China is more than enough for us now!
Exciting times indeed, and last but not least, as with all interviewees, please tell us your favourite piece of Chinese creative work of late?
On my way into our studio today, I spotted these two pieces of street art on Changle Lu (below). They inspired me.
Thank you Adam and Xiè Xiè.
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