UK and China forge a new relationship in advertising as both look to a global future

China and the UK are countries with a proud history of global trade and have business links that go back hundreds of years.

Nevertheless, China, with a population of 1.4bn and growing middle class, is a largely untapped market for UK companies building a presence. Likewise, Chinese companies are only just beginning to enter into the stable and wealthy 66m-strong UK market and establish a profile.

As both countries expand their international outlook they are aiming to build potential partnerships in and around the creative services sector. And few industries demonstrate this ambition more than advertising. That’s why we in the UK advertising industry are looking for UK creative businesses to join us at the upcoming Shanghai International Advertising Festival (SHIAF) in March, which will be an unmissable opportunity for UK advertising to demonstrate its strength and expertise to Chinese peers.

China’s Belt & Road initiative and the UK’s hopes for Brexit are both based on a wish to look beyond national and regional borders and economies to take advantage of growth right across the world. Chinese businesses recognise the heritage and prestige of UK advertising, based as it is on a strong set of values and traditions. Consequently, there is enormous potential for UK-based advertising agencies to spread their wings and begin trading with China in earnest. In fact, GroupM China published its Spring 2018 edition of This Year, Next Year: China Media Industry Forecast report earlier last year. It forecast total ad spending in the Chinese market 585.8 billion yuan in 2018 – a 5.2% growth rate. Two stand out sectors for market growth recognised by GroupM were out-of-home, and internet advertising.

To help support and lend UK expertise to this huge growth in China, the Advertising Association, IPA and DIT are mounting a mission to SHIAF and calling for representatives from the UK ad industry to join them. The mission is a further step in the Promote UK initiative between the Advertising Association and DIT in March 2018 in support of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, is a new industry group formed to position the UK as the top global hub and centre of excellence for advertising as the post-Brexit transition period approaches. The group’s objectives are to raise awareness of UK advertising at scale to drive reputation; target key influencers and decision-makers for in-depth engagement; and ensure marketing services are included in DIT Foreign Direct Investment pitch presentations across all sectors of the economy.

The presence in Shanghai comes following the signing of a MoU by Stephen Woodford of the Advertising Association and on behalf of the IPA in November 2018. The event was also attended by Baroness Fairhead (Minister of State for Trade and Export Promotion, DIT) demonstrated the UK Government’s support for the project. It also included several other agreements on cultural and business collaborations by other organisations from across the UK media and creative sectors such as BAFTA and the BBC.

Central to the agreement is a UK forum at SHIAF 2019 and the AA and IPA will partner with SHIAF to bring more UK advertising expertise to China in the future, including British judges, entries and speakers at the festival. The agreement will also see more agencies and production companies cooperating with a growing number of their Chinese agency peers and brands. The four-day festival offers endless opportunities to foster partnerships and professional growth in concert with like-minded Chinese agencies, entrepreneurs and investors. There is also the opportunity to visit Shenzen – known as China’s Silicon Valley – to gain a greater understanding of how best to do business with China’s companies and meet representatives of leading technology companies.

UK businesses participating in the mission will gain additional value from the ongoing work of the Promote UK and local DIT teams, including speaker opportunities at the main conference and at a one-day UK/China Global Brand Forum and visibility through Promote UK’s official British presence at the show. The visit is one of a series of Promote UK initiatives which the AA/IPA/DIT are producing over the coming months to help promote the UK’s work on the world stage.

In tandem with this growing UK advertising presence in China, Chinese businesses have been growing their presence in the UK. A good example of this involves Tencent. From combined social networks and e-commerce platforms like WeChat, to its holdings in Snapchat, Riot and more, the China-based tech giant is expanding beyond Asia. In May, its Senior Executive Vice President Seng Yee Lau signed an MoU with the British Secretary of State for International Trade Rt. Hon. Dr Liam Fox MP for cultural collaboration around the creative industries, noting that London’s history of blending technology with tradition makes the UK a natural fit for a partnership.

Mr. Lau explained: “London is a testament to the world that tradition and technology need not be opposed to one another. We have, to borrow a phrase, great expectations for our journey here because the mixture of technology and culture are at the heart of Tencent’s corporate ethos and strategy.”

The Chief Executive of the Advertising Association, Stephen Woodford, noted that the UK’s strong creative proposition can be seen in the success of its marketing and advertising industries, with the export of advertising services having grown 35% in the most recent set of figures. He noted that London in particular was a hub for technology companies, with 60% of the world’s top non-European countries having HQs in London, including Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

Clearly, the examples cited above demonstrate the growing and positive relationship between China and the UK in advertising and the creative industries. The UK remains a huge draw for companies looking for expertise and demonstrable history in creative services. Equally the increasingly powerful and wealthy Chinese market offers British creativity endless possibilities to exchange knowledge and expand on an international basis. I look forward to seeing this partnership flourish in the months and years ahead.

Janet Hull is Chair of Promote UK.

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