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Letter from China – Innovate, or else…


We are in quite the conundrum – to innovate now or face extinction. How many of you are facing the same question? If you’re based in Shanghai and focused on the outdoor media business, you’d be hard pressed to not consider your alternatives – because the competition are dropping like flies.

In a country where the whole concept of storytelling (advertising) is still in its infancy, it’s a difficult decision to jump in and innovate when the basics are still being learnt. It’s like teaching a child to ride a bike when he has only just learnt to walk? But if they (the clients) stop spending on your product, well, it might be time to reconsider your proposition.

What is your ‘real’ value? What makes your product relevant today? In our industry you can become insignificant in the blink of an eye. Economic pressure has placed an incredible amount of importance on ‘relevance’. Everyone must matter. There is no room for passengers. I’m certain we are just witnessing the tip of the iceberg. So, to pre-empt any further carnage, we’re asking ourselves those exact questions and it’s having some profound results.

A recent biography titled ‘Call me Ted‘, by businessperson and occasional provocateur Ted Turner, contains one fundamental message that has since had a productive influence on my life. That lesson: ‘maximize your assets’, whatever they may be. What have you got that has value? IP? A network of friends? Industry knowledge? A great attitude? Whatever it is, consider how you can create value from it. You may not see it, but others will.

You could always keep going the way you have done the past five years. It worked then. It worked for GM 20 years ago, too. An option is to push forward and fight to the death. Who knows? You may be last one standing. But to what end? Is time moving so fast that we can’t stop and review our own product, listen to our clients’ concerns and consider if and how we can all take advantage of that?

To some, crises evoke panic, despair and more grey hairs. The Chinese word for “crisis” is often erroneously thought to be   composed of two characters: one representing danger and the other representing opportunity. Etymological nuance aside, how you see the ‘glass’ will ultimately determine how you perform through a crisis. The Chinese are very good at planning for such an event. After all, it’s all in Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War‘.

It’s a great time for perspective. Clarity follows, with great self-actualisation, hopefully leading to a moment of bliss where you see it so clearly you can’t work out why you didn’t see it earlier.

Perhaps the past many years have been a combination of luck? One would be a fool to expect the same amount of luck in a competitive market place. Those who move first will have the best advantage and will always be renowned for showing that initiative.

Take on the ‘crisis’ head on, with an attitude of optimism and aggression. Who knows? You may just become a new market leader.

Andrew Collins is CEO of Mailman China, a leading alternative media company.  An entrepreneur from the age of 10, Andrew has been involved responsible for various ventures, from trading marbles to establishing an M&A consulting company at the age of 25. He is living the dream in China, looking to expand his media network.

Photo: PDR (Flickr)