Since the outbreak became public in late January, COVID-19 virus has affected every aspect of life in China, on both personal and professional levels. The commercial industry is no exception. With consumers housebound and many fearful of spending amid the economic uncertainty, the lifeblood that flows down throughout each layer of production has been affected. Meanwhile, the near total ban on shooting within Mainland China places limitations on possibilities open to creatives and production companies, and has clear knock-on effects for the post houses. But beyond the obvious disruption and challenges, are there opportunities to be found?
In this three-part series we talk to top figures of companies from each part of the production process – agencies, production houses and post houses – to see how this situation is affecting their businesses and how they are handling these exceptional circumstances.
In the last part in this series, we approached the owners of two prominent Chinese creative agencies and an ECD of a renowned international agency in Shanghai.
During these challenging times, the industry needs constant communication to overcome the difficulties. We are very grateful for their sincere answers and insights.
Q：How many people in your agency? How many of you currently working at the office/home? 公司总共有多少人？目前有多少人在公司/家办公？
Kama Zhang, KARMA: Our company has maintained a team size of 30 people since its establishment. All employees now work from home. The renovation of the new office is about to be finished and the company is making arrangements to move. We will move into KARMA’s new home when the outbreak is over.
Sanshui Li, W：33 people, all working from home.
Terence Leong, R/GA: We’re a company of 27. All of us are working from home.
Q：What is the current situation with your agency? Are you receiving new briefs from clients? 目前的工作状态是如何？有没收到代理商的简报？
Terence Leong, R/GA：The outbreak has affected all of our clients and their businesses, but it hasn’t stopped any of them from planning their epic comebacks, so the briefs are coming in. But the briefs that we’re getting now have a different gravity to them. It’s obvious there’s a pressure to make up for the losses. We can empathize with that. In the coming months, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, planning, collaboration and improvisation to achieve the results our clients are hoping to achieve. At times like these, we’re glad to have clients who trust our process.
Sanshui Li, W：Currently the working situation is normal. It seems clients have been able to adapt quickly. In fact, new business is expanding more than ever because W is specialised in providing innovative business model services beyond the conventional, as well as new integrated marketing services with “hypermedia” as the matrix.
目前工作状态算正常，感觉客户和 W 团队好像都能比较快的适应变化，新业务拓展反而比以前更多了，因为 W 本身就擅长提供超越常规的商业模式创新服务，和以「超媒体」为矩阵的全新整合营销服务。
Kama Zhang, KARMA：Everything has been normal at work. The immediate comments in the group discussion made me slightly wonder about the necessity of the physical offices. As for impact on projects, there are two cases of projects being delayed, one of which is because it cannot be filmed in China. The outbreak has had a relatively large impact on most brands but, on the other hand, demand from Internet customers has increased.
Q：How do you cope with present situation ? What solutions are you offering to clients ? 针对（疫情）现状您有何期许，如何应付目前的情况? 对客户有何解决方案？
Sanshui Li, W：With Bilibili, music partners, rock publications, and many other parties, we created a public welfare music video, “Back To Wuhan”. It was all created from our team’s own homes. Through network communication, all the staff can efficiently divide the work and cooperate with each other on creativity, design, lyrics, arrangement, editing and all commercial resources. So far, it’s been widely shared and discussed on the Internet. We hope it can be helpful and enlightening to clients, industries and society, in terms of social communication during a special historical period, or for public benefit value.
Back to wuhan《回武汉》
Kama Zhang, KARMA：The outbreak gave me more time to think deeply, and honestly address some of the questions I had avoided for a long time. Everything I’ve seen and heard these days about the epidemic is something I can’t digest right now. But one thing is for sure: these days will change a lot of people, including me. For clients, I hope brands can participate more in the communication of social values, whether on the social level, or the brand level. Keep your integrity, don’t hide your true intentions, don’t take advantage of the occasion to sell products. Hypocrisy, in the end, is suicidal. Do something that truly helps the epidemic. Take responsibility, don’t pursue plaudits.
Terence Leong, R/GA： It’s business as usual. R/GA Shanghai is coping with the situation efficiently from our own homes. We’re letting our clients plug into our work system and we’re sharing our collaborative tools like ZOOM and GOOGLE SLIDES so they feel like they’re in our workspace.
Sanshui Li, W : The outbreak forced us to work with our client (Watson’s) in a way we had never envisioned before. This weekend, for example, a campaign to film commercials for rallies in and outside China was canceled, so we decided to create a long-distance, remote, multi-party cooperation to shoot a TVC. The W team and the director are in Shanghai, the client is in Guangzhou, and the production team is in Vancouver. I believe that both the creation process and the finished films will bring positive value and influence to brands and the wider Chinese advertising industry during the epidemic.
Q：What is your overall feeling about the present situation? How long do you think your agency can sustain this situation? 现状的总体感受如何？您认为您的公司能维持这种情况多久?
Kama Zhang, KARMA： I’m already planning on working from home for much longer, maybe even months. There has been little tangible impact on earnings so far, but we will certainly face new challenges as the epidemic grows. But I think, no matter how great the external impact, good corporate brands need a capable advertising agency – it is the iron law to empower marketing communications. All we have to do is respect every opportunity to create excellent work and become a leading company.
Terence Leong, R/GA：I’m a triathlete and I believe in living in the moment. It may suck now but we need to embrace whatever life throws at us. We need to be confident in what we can offer to our clients and most of all, we need to believe in each other. Every single company in our industry is doing whatever they can to turn this corner. I know in my gut we’ll be fine. In fact, I am pumped. This is going to be the best and most meaningful year of my career because I’m going to witness how unstoppable our industry can be in the face of adversity. Fortunately, R/GA Shanghai can continue to offer our expertise and services to our current clients and in the past weeks, we even received several new business calls. We will make it through this and we’re confident our clients’ businesses will do too.
Sanshui Li, W : The current epidemic has no negative impact on the economic operation of W, which follows the “wild dog culture (pool the wisdom and efforts of everyone)”. We believe the government will continue to make efforts to restore normal operations after March basically.
目前疫情对于奉行「野狗文化」的 W，在经济运营上没有带来负面影响，并且基本 3月以后，我们相信政府也会持续发力维持社会各方面的尽快恢复正常运营。
Q：How long do you think the situation will last? Will the industry be different when things return to ‘normal’？ 您认为这种形情会持续多久？当一切回归“正常”时，这个行业会有所不同吗?
Sanshui Li, W : The complete control and elimination of the outbreak is expected by June. The impact will be limited.
Kama Zhang, KARMA：After the resumption of work, KARMA will redouble our efforts seek excellence, whether in work or talent, putting quality before quantity.
Terence Leong, R/GA：I can feel it’s getting normal again now. The nature of our business will remain the same, but in the past few weeks, the way we operate has already evolved. We all had to improvise and find creative and more efficient ways to get our jobs done. These new ways of working are going to help future-proof our processes.