A Visit to Beijing

I was talking to David Wolf in Beijing about working in business communications. Though normally resident in Berlin, I have been scouting out opportunities in China. David is an IABC member and head of Wolf Group Asia, a corporate advisory firm.

In talking about business communications in China, David used the analogy of a shoe company sending two sales reps to a developing tropical country. The first rep comes back with the report:  “No market in this country – nobody wears shoes here.” The second rep comes back and reports: “Tremendous market potential here: Nobody here wears shoes!”

In the realm of English-language business communications, China is that country. Companies in China – the factory to the world – naturally use marketing and other communications in English. Most of these companies however just don’t have a clue.
With much of Chinese communications written on the cheap by non-native speaking non-writers, the comic signs written in Chinglish that you can find on the internet are just the tip of the iceberg.

Part of the problem is Chinese corporate culture. The people at the top are usually out of the loop on such practical matters, and should the company’s poor communications be brought to their attention, they will simply fire the people who wrote the stuff and hire someone else exactly like them.

And many Chinese businesses as of yet don’t see the point of correcting this lack of professionalism, David added. As an example, he mentioned his attempt to convince a hotel exec to change his company website. The hotel itself was quite professional and upmarket, but the quality of the website suggested otherwise.

Apparently oblivious to that the fact that HOW something is said is just as important as what, the exec simply asked: “But the does website say what it is supposed to say?”

The good news is there are savvy businesspeople in China who want to compete internationally, and make the necessary changes to do so. That’s why big advertising firms and other smaller communications firms like David Wolf’s are in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere in China.  It is a developing market.

In the end David’s recommendations to would-be communications professionals in China included – for one – getting to know the landscape.

This can be done by working freelance for established communications companies. According to David, this is common enough. This will get your foot in the door and allow you to get to know Chinese companies and their needs.

To avoid the red-tape to work in China, it helps initially to be in country for other reasons. Studying Chinese was my practical choice.

And lastly, take a long-range perspective. Business communications in China is in its infancy. It may grow slowly but it definitely will grow.