Depending on how you choose to look at it, China is either an ancient civilization or a 30 year-old economy. If you’re in the international PR industry here, the country’s more recent history dominates your workload more than the Han Dynasty or Confucianism but history and tradition do make occasional appearances.
30 years is as long as contemporary China has been working towards fully paid-up membership of the global economy. Over that time, it has embraced state controlled capitalism and made remarkable progress in looking outwards. Yet despite events such as the recent high profile flotation of Alibaba on the New York Stock exchange, or Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s PC and server business units, the number of businesses founded in China going global remains relatively low. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of mutual appreciation of the similarities and differences between China and the western world.
I’m pretty sure that my PR colleagues in China would forgive me for describing the international PR industry here as less developed than London, New York or Silicon Valley. While western corporations have enjoyed a longer run at building global businesses and PR industries, the international aspects of the industry in China only began to develop over the last decade. The lack of experience shows.The United States and China are the world’s top economic superpowers today. They appear divided by ambition and a shared interest in globalisation and growth. Each is emboldened by self-confidence and inhibited by an astonishing naivety of the other.
When Chinese officials returned to Beijing after agreeing to bail out the US economy in 2008, they would have been well advised to return to their offices to file their expenses. Instead, they called a press conference to let Chinese citizens know just how far the global economic pendulum had swung in Beijing’s favour. Similarly, the United States’ efforts to effectively block Chinese commercial interests from competing openly in western markets has led to what can only be described as a series of tit-for-tat reprisals. Ultimately, no one wins that game.
China needs more experienced western PR skills with both the knowledge and confidence to provide informed advice to help Chinese institutions embrace the global economy. Chinese business executives need senior western PR advisors to let them know how their actions and reactions will be interpreted in the west. At the same time, western institutions could do worse than take advice from those PRs with a working knowledge and a cultural appreciation of China and Chinese ways.
As an international exchange programme, it could help create opportunity and purpose, and support the development of the next phase of the global economy, as well as valuable future careers for global communicators.
It has proven challenging to encourage experienced PR people from western markets to live and work in China. This despite roles that come with attractive expatriate benefits with a global market leader and interesting issues to manage. For some, children’s schooling or partner’s careers means it’s just not practical; for others, there’s fear of the unfamiliar and discomfort with the difference.
Maybe I over-estimated the inherent sense of adventure that experienced comms folk possess.
Come on in. The water’s lovely.