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Agency Profile: Ogilvy Shanghai

Posted on June 14, 2012 and read 5,668 times

Agency Profile: Ogilvy Shanghai thumbnail

brianna Agency Profile: Ogilvy ShanghaiBrianna Graves

The second the plane touched down in Shanghai, it was clear that, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.” While for the most part it is hard to tell one airport from another anywhere in the world (aside from knowing that certain international hubs might have a better lounge or superior food court), and while almost every airport worldwide provides some level of direction in English, even the presence of Chinese characters reminded me that I was in a very foreign land. While the calligraphy of written Chinese is incredibly beautiful, as is the meaning behind the way words are written, it is visually both fascinating and foreign to a Western eye.

I was in Shanghai to help host Portfolio Night 10 and to wrap up the sixth and final (for now) destination of The Saturn Return Project. I meant, with all of my best intentions, to learn a respectable amount of Chinese before I left. While I know it’s not easy to learn, I thought that nailing some basics would show respect for the country and the people hosting me. Yet suddenly, I found myself on a plane bound for Shanghai, knowing only how to say hello (Ni hao!) and thank you (xie xie, pronounced along the lines of sh-yay-sh-yay).

Nevertheless, I was welcomed with open arms by the teams at Ogilvy Shanghai, who ran Portfolio Night like a well-oiled, enthusiastic and professional machine. You’d think they’d done this a million times before, when in fact for most of them – and me – it was our first time. It went brilliantly.

I spent a week immersed with Ogilvy Shanghai’s creative and PR teams, and explored the both city and other participating Portfolio Night agencies around Shanghai (i.e. those whose creative directors gave their time to mentor and review junior portfolios) in my spare time. With each passing day, I fell more in love with the country and as always happens as you learn more about a culture: it became less foreign and frightening, more familiar and endearing and by the end of my trip, I did not want to leave.

The advertising community in Shanghai looks up to Ogilvy & Mather both literally and figuratively.

Literally, because Ogilvy stands tall within “The Center,” a massive structure that houses all of the WPP-owned agencies in Shanghai, in the beautiful French Concession part of the city. From their perches on the upper floors of the Center, the Ogilvy teams look out over inspiring Shanghai vistas.

IMG 1086 Agency Profile: Ogilvy Shanghai

IMG 1087 Agency Profile: Ogilvy Shanghai

The advertising community looks up to Ogilvy figuratively because the agency has a certain powerhouse aura to it that was acknowledged by nearly every other agency I visited around town. Ogilvy was the first multinational agency to enter China and they remain the largest agency network, with more than 2500 employees nationwide.

They also have Chief Creative Officer Graham Fink.

Fink, an established top creative talent in London, was recruited and hired in 2011 to elevate the creative product coming out of Ogilvy’s 17 offices across China, as he had done to an impressive extent during his time at M&C Saatchi.

In early 2012, Fink hired Francis Wee, one of the most awarded Creative Directors in Asia (including a coveted D&AD Black Pencil), as Ogilvy & Mather Advertising Shanghai’s Executive Creative Director.

Ogilvy & Mather is reputed in Shanghai as being a shop full of ex-pats. To some extent, for their many global accounts, this is necessary. But I did not have that experience at all during my visit – there was a balance that erred on the side of more locals than ex-pats – and either way it’s a reputation Fink intends to shake. Creative and managerial leadership, including Managing Director Martin Murphy, want to celebrate, hire and promote local Chinese talent.

Together, Fink, Wee and SC Johnson Executive Creative Director Sean Sim are on a mission to attract the best and hungriest creative talent in China, even if that means finding and elevating perhaps as-of-yet undiscovered creative wonders.

Fink and company already did this once in a big way, delivering on a brief for Coca-Cola that has begun to put the work coming out of Ogilvy China on the global creative map. The best part is that Fink tapped in to a local, young Chinese design student based out of Hong Kong named Jonathan Mak. Mak, who enjoyed fifteen minutes of fame and caught Fink’s eye when his commemorative Steve Jobs design went viral in the fall of 2011, was tracked down by Fink’s assistants and eventually invited to participate in a Coca-Cola “Share a Coke” brief. What he came back with was so arresting to Fink and Wee, they had to use it. Now a poster featured in outdoor executions across Shanghai, as well as in industry publications worldwide, the universal #Cokehands design will soon be used by Coca-Cola in other parts of the world.

CokeHands imagery Agency Profile: Ogilvy Shanghai

The main workspace floors at Ogilvy Shanghai are undoubtedly huge. Decorated in bright reds—from chandeliers to couches, tables, bookshelves and lamps—the space has a very positive energy in spite of its expansive size. A funky staircase in the reception area and a digital room to display forward-thinking work add a flair that cuts down on the “big agency” feel. Smaller breakout rooms were always full of groups of three of four people brainstorming and posting ideas on the walls to review together, and around the perimeter, floor-to-ceiling windows provide views of Shanghai on a clear day would remind anyone within the office that they are lucky to be within those walls.

For Fink, setting a creative culture in an office like Ogilvy Shanghai, Ogilvy Beijing, or in any of the other Ogilvy offices across China requires that he first learn the nuances of Chinese culture. And for a Westerner, the nuances are many.

First of all, advertising is not quite the glamorous career it is in the West. In fact, it has only been a career option for around 15-20 years. So for most, it’s just a job, interchangeable with any other. That is not to say that those working in advertising are not hardworking or passionate about their careers. In fact, the Chinese workforce is perhaps one of the most hardworking in the world.  But the celebrity-like caché of earning a job in the advertising industry is not what it is in North America, South America or Europe. Whereas an aspiring creative in New York might work for peanuts and the mere opportunity to be in the same building as a famous creative director, employees in China are motivated first and foremost by a prestigious title and handsome salary. The country produces around six to seven million college graduates per year, all of whom are entering the workforce and competing for jobs. But rather than being a motivating loyalty factor to retain a creative position at a top shop, most are unaffected and confident they could quickly find another job with ease.

Which makes solidifying a consistent staff difficult, let alone an internal culture. Yet Wee asserted that great progress has been made in the past year since Fink arrived to bridge, accommodate and be respectful of cultural nuances, and to elevate and empower local talent to succeed in the Ogilvy network and advertising industry.

Secondly, because of the respectful nature of the Chinese people and a desire never to lose face or be disrespectful, opinions are not offered unless the right questions are asked and flags are not raised until it is too late. Asking a question can be interpreted as questioning oneself. So a creative review, for example, might not be a cutthroat clamor to push one’s ideas to the top, and a potential production calamity in the works might indeed explode if not noted by a creative director in time. It requires careful hands-on management, without seemingly disrespectful micromanagement. A fine balance that Wee and Fink and their teams seem to be accomplishing well.

It also requires a lot of training about what advertising is, both as an industry and as a profession. Fink spends a lot of time showing his teams work from around the world, sharing annuals and encouraging a competitive nature to raise the creative standards in-house and expand Ogilvy creatives’ horizons. In a culture where people tend to err on the side of extreme humility, Fink is working to build confidence levels amongst all of his teams and encourage the desire to create amazing work that wins international awards.

The traditional creative team of copywriter and art director is also counter-intuitive in China, as the more individuals that are involved in a project, the less chance there is that one or two people will be singled out. However, implementing a more traditional team is one of the changes that Fink has put into place, shifting people into teams of two – who can, of course, still collaborate in larger groups of peers, but who primarily work within, and experience the collaboration of a traditional team.

Fink aims to continue the collaboration beyond the creative teams, to work more closely with account people and strategists as well. Together, he wants Ogilvy China to break through the clutter of the Chinese advertising market to bring refreshing simplicity to the work, the messaging and the engagement. He wants his teams to do things that are very different and— aware of how much influence advertising has on the culture of any country— ultimately change the culture for the better.

The results for the future of Ogilvy China, while promising, are yet to be seen. But I, for one, will have two eyes glued to the East.




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