How China and the UK are getting closer through creativity

The 2019 Shanghai International Advertising Festival from March 4-8 brought the Chinese and UK advertising industries closer together, creating a platform for growth and trade. In this piece, Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive, Advertising Association (AA) reflects on the week and the opportunities that exist for deepening business links between the UK and China in advertising.

Launched in 2018, SHIAF’s mission is to ‘Unite the world with ideas’ and provide a new creative, business and educational forum to connect the vibrant Shanghai advertising industry to the world. In that first year two speakers from the UK, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s (IPA) Janet Hull OBE and adam&eveDDB founder and AA Chairman James Murphy were on stage, presenting the UK’s story as the world’s pre-eminent advertising centre of excellence and international hub.

Last November, the AA and the IPA signed an agreement with SHIAF to develop a close collaboration and to bring a UK delegation to the 2019 Festival. From one slot for two speakers in 2018, to a whole day of presentations; a networking drinks reception and VIP dinner in 2019 with a 30-strong UK delegation – organised in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT) – showed how far and fast that collaboration has come.

The UK team came from 14 agencies and consultancies, plus colleagues from the IPA, AA and DIT people from the UK and the UK’s Shanghai Consulate. The UK Consul-General in Shanghai was one of the opening ceremony speakers, along with Janet Hull.

All the UK agencies attending either had existing business from Chinese clients, had Chinese offices or were looking to invest in setting up new businesses in China, so there were strong commercial ambitions motivating the delegation.

For the AA, DIT and the IPA, whose Promote UK collaboration marks its first anniversary in March, this was the biggest trade delegation so far, and kicked off the AA’s first-ever Export Month. As well as the SHIAF mission, AA and IPA members are heading for SXSW in Austin, Texas, to host a UK advertising day. A delegation of the UK’s leading production companies is heading to Japan on a trade mission organised by the APA (the Advertising Producers Association). On March 19, the AA and IPA are holding a Leadership Breakfast as part of Adweek Europe in London to launch the first annual report on the export performance of the UK industry, along with a survey on how the Brexit process is impacting on export growth.

Luckily in Shanghai, the twists and turns of the Brexit process felt a long way off. UK/China trade is booming and Chinese advertising has high regard for the UK’s creativity, effectiveness culture and global outlook. The presentations and meetings at SHIAF showed all these strengths and more. Inspiring creativity, powerful case histories and the factors that drive successful international campaigns, new technology and best practice in evaluating advertising effectiveness all featured, with a mix of UK practitioners and their Chinese colleagues sharing the stage.

It was definitely a two-way learning experience. Leading Chinese agency and media brands shared the SHIAF stage and the UK delegation were hugely impressed, particularly by the incredibly advanced e-commerce systems that are such a dominant driving force in the Chinese consumer economy, along with some great Chinese creativity being showcased.

The hunger to learn, to collaborate and develop business was shown not just in the conference meetings and at the VIP dinner, which 12 leading Chinese advertisers attended, but in the audience watching the live streaming of the event online. Over 2 million people watched over the first two days, along with extensive media coverage.

The UK delegation made valuable business contacts and impromptu follow-up meetings were held all week, both in Shanghai and others made quick trips to Beijing. For several businesses in the delegation, SHIAF was the catalyst to opening up new ventures in China and many of the Chinese companies present were looking to expand in and through the UK to other international markets.

Outside of the conference halls, the UK team also spent a day with a leading Shanghai start-up incubator for marketing tech companies and met agency and media businesses, all with UK presences or interests in the UK market. The ambitions of leading Chinese brands to compete with the best global brands was demonstrated by a visit to China’s leading car manufacturer SAIC Motor’s new consumer experience centre. This showcases their new autonomous and electric cars, some of which will be sold globally under the MG brand. The new SAIC Motor vehicles are the result of close collaboration with their 300-strong design team in London, as they seek to rival Tesla with their electric vehicle range – a perfect example of the close creative and economic ties between the UK and China.

The week concluded with the SHIAF creative awards presentation, which James Murphy had been Vice Chair of Judges at the judging in January. Some of the UK team were staying on in China for further business meetings, Janet Hull went on to Japan to join the APA team and DIT’s Advertising Sector Specialist David Moody went from Shanghai to Austin to join the UK delegation. The rest returned to the UK after a very full week.

We are looking forward to building on this success at SHIAF 2020 and growing the ever-increasing trading partnership between China and the UK as the month's progress. Read more on our Advertising Export Month on our website and look out for our UK Advertising Exports Report on March 19.

Stephen Woodford is chief executive of the Advertising Association (AA).

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