8 Step Refuse-To-Lose PR Program With Chinese Characteristics


Another summer passes and this year it’s with some melancholy that we say goodbye to the best batch of interns we’ve ever had. What a stellar group! Every year they seem to be getting better and every year they’re teaching us something new about a business that we thought we had mastered.

In return – in homage – we humbly present to all of you summer warriors, you intern army, you necktie novices, our guide to going from good-to-great in PR:

1.      Get addicted #tigerblood

The PR game (like hip-hop) is played out in the media. Read everything you can get your hands on so that you’ll know your facts and your audience. Perception often triumphs over fact. Remember that. Think critically about what you read so you can dice, chop and mince up an article like a Slap Chop. Don’t get into the habit of only reading the leading outlets like the WSJ, NYT or chinaSMACK. Read what you wouldn’t read; what you shouldn’t read. There’s a famous Ogilvy story about inspiration drawn from a Korean dry cleaning magazine leading to an award winning campaign. Where’s your comfort zone and are you limiting yourself to its confines?

2.      Stinkin’ write it down

PR people are writers. They’re good writers. This makes them stubborn, arrogant, controlling, willfully comment-ignoring and comma-rage inducing when it comes to writing. If you don’t write often, and write well, you may never dominate like you do now on campus. Learn to communicate in prose. Then learn it again in iambic pentameter. Be soft and soak it all in like a sponge until those lessons crystallize in you and you become a dried out loofah of writing ticks and torments that you can rub against the calluses of your set-in-their-ways colleagues in the future.

3.      Show and tell ain’t over

At the end of the day, marketers are storytellers. Act the part, be the part. As a PR man, you’ll be asked to show and tell your clients’ story, so get to know the skills. Join toastmasters, speech masters or the Communist Party – if you can’t tell a story that moves your audience, nobody will listen. But start with yourself first. Nothing is worse than a wannabe PR consultant that can’t sit in an interview and convince you that this is where they want to be.

4.      Game time homey, ready, here it comes

Marketing is dead. Long live marketing! Facebook, Weibo, Douban, Pinterest…there’s a revolution happening and another on the way. The barriers between traditional marketing, PR, activation, and advertising are all coming down, and you’re part of the generation that’s chipping at the foundations. Grab hold of it. Look for opportunities where none exist. Be qualitative – connect values, experiences and emotions to your brand. Be quantitative – research, measure, add up, test and re-test.

5.      Make your parents happy

Wait, what? Seriously. Work for a large multinational company when you graduate. The corporate exposure is great. Cut your teeth in a company with great marketing leaders and a budget to match. You’ll learn all the skills you need, coming out well-rounded, and with specific industry expertise to boot! The high-level view of the industry will also help you give advice if you ever move agency-side. Knowing the stakeholders, including investors, analysts, journalists, trade groups and associations will boost your PR game.

6.      Eat local

Join a local company. It’ll be more challenging to pay the bills because you won’t make squat, but at least you’ll have a roof over your head. You’ll also have invaluable exposure to the way the local market works. At turns you may be confused, frustrated, or stumbling along blindly, but putting in time with a Chinese firm can be a tremendous learning experience. Use this time to make friends with your colleagues and learn from your bosses as much as you can. Build trust and gain insight. If nothing else, it will give your language and culture skills a lift. After all, you’re in China. Take a lesson from the Manchu and conquer it by becoming it.

7.      Ni hao. Wo shi mei guo ren

You’ve just graduated and you’re likely saddled with debt, so heading back to the classroom can be challenging and worrisome, but to succeed in China, you must learn Chinese. Any foreigner that tells you they’re fluent is lying – there are only different levels of getting by. The longer you’re in the workforce, the higher the opportunity cost in quitting your job to study, so start now. Be purposeful and disciplined. It’s incredibly difficult to learn, but tremendously rewarding. Put yourself in an environment where you are forced to speak the language. You won’t regret it.

8.      Hold up, wait a minute

Remix! Don’t move to China. Here’s the contrarian view – China is at a unique juncture in its history. It’s both maturing and slowing, making it a tough market to break into as a fresh grad. You can’t just move here and find a job because you speak English anymore. There’s plenty of local talent, and pros from around the world that have moves like Jagger. If you’re looking for free-wheeling and fast-moving adventure, consider markets like Mongolia and Myanmar, but for a solid foundation in the business, it’s hard to beat starting your career in an established market, gaining real expertise, and then moving to China as a mid-level or higher associate. We’re just sayin’.

We hope this helps. Thank you again for an incredible summer. You guys and girls were great. Keep on keeping on until next year. If all else fails, remember these words from Justin Bieber, “There’s gonna be times in your life when people say you can’t do something. And there’s gonna be times in your life when people say that you can’t live your dreams. This is what I tell them: Never say never!”

Written by:

Justin Knapp, Director, China Outbound Practice, Ogilvy Public Relations/Beijing

MacLean Brodie, Senior Consultant, Ogilvy Public Relations/Beijing

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