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One schmoozer’s passport to China

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The success story of Dan Mintz’s advertising agency in China is one of patience and persistence. But above all, it’s about guanxi (gwan-she), or building relationships.

With 5,000 years of history, the Chinese admire a strong power base. If you buckle under pressure, they feel that they’ve wasted their time. So, they require two things: that you build relationships the Chinese way, and that you stand the test of time.

Mintz’s breakthrough: In 2004, when China became Volkswagen’s second-biggest market, the automaker gave Mintz a chance to compete for a full-scale branding campaign. For Mintz’s small firm, this was a long shot.

But Mintz’s deep immersion in Chinese culture paid off. Instead of merely translating VW’s slogan, he mined for authentic Chinese ideas. He based his pitch on the traditional pictograph for “heart,” which also forms the basis of words such as “loyalty,” “wisdom” and “ambition.”

One hitch remained: Chinese pictographs are fraught with political baggage.

“They shoot you for [stuff] like that out here,” Mintz says. So, he and his well-placed allies swung into action, fanning out to convince officials in the Politburo, military and propaganda ministry that the character was only “art.”

It worked. Mintz won the account and the ad became a huge hit.

By 2020, when China is projected to become the world’s second-biggest economy, Mintz expects to be an old hand at this.

—Adapted from “The Mintz Dynasty: How One Man Cracked the Chinese Market (By Really, Really Trying),” Jamie Bryan, Fast Company.

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