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Corinna Gleich, Junior Digital Media Planner at Plan.Net Media, has travelled to China to work for three months as part of an internal company exchange programme. She’s been at the House of Communication in Beijing for four weeks now, and is starting to feel at home in China’s capital city. We asked her to write about all about the surprises that living there has brought so far. This report is based on her experiences during the first four weeks.

When I arrived in China, the first thing I had to come to terms with was that my phone was as good as useless – Google, Facebook and Instagram were all blocked and WhatsApp didn’t work. I could get around this with a VPN, though. Speaking English wasn’t an option, hardly anyone here can speak it and that meant me having to work hard to learn Chinese. At first, I could only pay for things with cash (German bank cards aren’t usually accepted and there are only a few ATMs that work with Visa, for example), so I had to open a Chinese bank account as soon as possible to be able to pay using WeChat Pay. I needed to have a local mobile number before I could get a bank card. Luckily, this was quick and cheap to set up. I could set up WeChat with my new number and get a bank card (I was lucky in this respect, too, as the rules for bank cards were recently changed and foreign nationals now have to have lived in the country for at least a year to be able to request one). Getting money into the account from back home was the next challenge, but WeChat had that covered. WeChat makes it easy for another user to transfer money; this money doesn’t go into the account, but rather into the WeChat Wallet. Everything’s done on your mobile here – which is why there are a few more handy apps to help you go about your day, such as Alipay (WeChat’s biggest competitor and which has more users in some cities), Didi (Uber), Ofo (for cycle hire), Air Matters (an air pollution analyser), Dianping (Yelp), E (for ordering food) and translation apps.

The office in Beijing is located right inside a shopping mall. The work day in China is almost exactly the same as in Germany. The only thing is you have a much later start. Turning up between 10 and 12 is normal; you just work longer in the evening to make up for it. It’s also not unheard of to just take a power nap while at work. There are lots of cushions and cuddly toys dotted about to make the place comfortable. They drink coffee here too. You can order food and drinks round the clock. Generally speaking, the food is much cheaper than in Germany – three euros gets you a decent meal. You can also have bubble tea and other drinks delivered. Delivery people race on their scooters at breakneck speed, up and down streets and even steps!

Shopping mall right next to the office with big screens on the ceilings

The way people interact with and consume media here is completely different. Everyone wants to stand out from the crowd without really worrying about data protection. Live streaming is the big thing over here; you can watch a person eat their dinner, for example, and send them virtual gifts that you have to buy. This is how live streamers make their money. There’s a parallel for everything – WeChat is like Facebook, Sina Weibo like Twitter, Youku like YouTube and Nice like Instagram. There’s shops on every corner (I’ve never seen so many shopping centres in such close proximity), and great importance is attached to brands; Western brands are particularly fashionable. German brands (some that I didn’t even know existed) are seen as must-haves in electronics. Owning an iPhone is the norm here.

Work and everyday life aside, sightseeing in Beijing is amazing for a tourist! There’s so much to discover and ticket prices are only around two to three euros. Public transport is cheap, too (the subway and bus are around 50 cents a journey). You can also travel to nearby big cities (e.g. Shanghai, Hangzhou) in no time with the high-speed train. A highlight for me so far was the Summer Palace, which is just outside of Beijing on a small hill surrounded by a lake. I was actually quite disappointed by the Forbidden City; the architecture was very impressive, but there wasn’t much to see in any of the buildings and some were closed altogether. Hangzhou is definitely the place to visit for nature lovers (around five hours from Beijing by high-speed train); it’s rare to see so much green in a city, even in Germany.

Corinna at the Summer Palace

 

Another tourist attraction: The (crowded) Great Wall

My main takeaway from this experience so far is that Beijing is so much more than just a big city; you have to get used to the crowds and fast pace of life here. To me, China and Beijing are like a completely different world. If you want to discover something totally new like I did, you’d really love it over here.

New York

The House of Communication in New York has been open since the beginning of May and, with 65 colleagues and exciting customers, it is already “fully operational”. It also has a roof terrace with a spectacular view of Midtown Manhattan.

“If you can make it there… ”

The Serviceplan success story feels a bit back-to-front: first the world, then America… Following our achievements in Germany, we had set our sights on a targeted programme of international expansion across the three major economic areas. We would have started helping to shape the American communications scene earlier if we could, but from a business point of view, it made more sense to go to Asia first. In 2018, the moment finally arrived: we made it anywhere, so we will make it there, too.

When it became clear that our next step would take us across the pond, we immediately decided upon New York, and specifically Manhattan, as the location for our office. It hasn’t lost any of its appeal and it’s still “the place to be” for the creative industry (and it isn’t used for the opening titles of all those blockbusters for nothing). “It’s not that everything is better here, but it does make you improve a little each day,” said Stefan Schütte, Head of our New York office, to me recently. For me personally, the roof terrace with its view over Midtown Manhattan is still a dream come true, along with the jogging route in Central Park, an unbeatable part of New York.

The right team makes “ÜberCreativity” happen

The complete range of services for customers and our integrated communication approach are reflected in our new House of Communication’s management team. Serviceplan New York is led by Nick Johnson, along with creative director Jay Benjamin and strategist Nick Chapman. Stefan Schütte is overseeing integration within the House and in relation to Germany, while Suzanne Reeves-Lau is responsible for accounts as Group Director and Sarah Samshidi is responsible for Serviceplan Solutions in her role as Account Director. Ben Gaddis, President of T3, has already moved in with his team, while Ellie Bamford and Erik Dochterman are in the swing of things in their roles as managing partners for Modco/Mediaplus. Together, this management team is already operating successfully in almost every American industry and customer segment. Most of our 65 colleagues are either American or have many years of prior experience in the American market. But there’s always room for transatlantic exchange.

Bringing our independence, integration, innovation and internationalism to the land of opportunity

The mindset of our House of Communication in New York is built on the same values that have ensured success for every other Serviceplan office and division: independence, integration, innovation and internationalism. This creates the ideal environment for ÜberCreativity and minimises the barriers between communicative disciplines, cultures and markets. We can then implement ideas that only become possible when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I get goosebumps whenever that happens – even after 30 years in the communications industry – because that’s how Best Brands come about, just as they do at every Serviceplan location.

Serviceplan is heading to the Big Apple and taking with it everything that has already made the agency group a success in Europe and Asia: innovation, integration and internationalism. Our success is built on this combination and on ensuring the measures we adopt work well together. We’re not fixated on being “Number One”, but on being the best for our customers. I don’t know what the global communications market will look like in the future. One thing’s for sure: we’re prepared for anything.

Creative and stable

Serviceplan creates these conditions across the business in order to favour external expansion and ensure internal stability. Externally, this means ensuring we continue to grow steadily and organically in the years to come, including in America too now. While internally, every employee must have the opportunity to express their creativity and develop themselves further, across countries and the individual divisions. In all honesty, that was another reason for our terrace in Manhattan. And by the way, the next New York Marathon is on 4 November. By this time, Serviceplan New York will have been up and running at its location near Central Park for a little while. So who knows? We may find one or two European Serviceplan employees looking forward to a welcome drink at the Tavern on the Green – as they drag themselves round the last couple of miles of the marathon course.

Germany meets America – a recipe for success

Serviceplan is the only independent German agency group to have established a foothold in the USA. For this very reason, we will bring traditional German virtues to New York and mix them with the spirit of America. And the customers love this blend of American zaniness with German tenacity and drive. Even in New York, where “anything goes”, this combination is out of the ordinary.

When we Europeans think of American brands, the names of tech giants and convenience brands, such as Coca-Cola and American Express, spring straight to mind. But there are many archetypically American brands that lots of Europeans have never even heard of. We find these brands especially exciting and are looking forward to seeing what kind of business the Manhattan crew might attract. Our portfolio has already gained one such customer in Brighthouse Financials.

I’m filled with nervous excitement about this new opening and the fact that something we’ve prepared for so carefully is actually finally happening. Our ambition to make it happen right here in the birthplace of advertising, amongst the inventors of PR and the pioneers of digitalisation, continues to drive us all. Shall we, Big Apple?