Shanghai’s Best Advertising Event is Near

October 7, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

Eight years on from the APA’s first Shanghai London Advertising Forum, why are APA members are going back for more?

On October 20th and 21st influential figures from the UK advertising production community will converge in the world’s largest city for the Shanghai London Advertising Forum 2015. They will be joining the top Chinese advertising agencies and production companies to learn about each other, to learn about opportunities and challenges ahead of them and to find ways of working together that will benefit both them and the agencies’ clients.

The event is organised by the Advertising Producers Association, and is the latest in a series of visits to overseas attended by the trade body’s members. The first SLAF took place in 2007, with over 30 delegates from London’s production community visiting Shanghai to meet with China’s leading advertising agencies. This was followed up two years later with the Beijing London Advertising Forum.

The APA has been organising overseas events for its members for over ten years now, inspired by the interest its membership takes in exploring foreign markets. APA Chief Executive Steve Davies explains this interest as twofold: “First, the ultra competitive London market means there aren’t enough good scripts to go around. Secondly, good scripts and good work is originating from many countries that did not do so previously.”

While it may seem odd for competitors to attend such events together, it’s the best way for these companies to learn and build future business abroad. Steve explains that while APA members are “successful, entrepreneurial and admired around the world for the quality of their work,” they also run on tight business models, keeping their base as small as possible to manage through the peaks and troughs of project-based income. This means they struggle to explore new markets they are interested in alone. They often lack the budget, time or manpower to justify organising such an expedition.

Steve explains how the APA picks up the slack here: “A week long event, with the opportunity to meet and hear from every important agency in a new market, with everything set up for them and the only demand on them being a week out of the office, provides them with an opportunity to connect with new markets they are interested in.”

“It seemed to be a no-brainer,” says Tim Katz, Managing Partner of Knucklehead, speaking about the 2007 Shanghai forum. “To have access to an organised sales trip into an almost un-explored territory that had a growing economy and a booming advertising sector. What did we have to lose?” Knucklehead have since done significant work for the Chinese market and will be attending again this year.

The critical mass of delegates on such a trip is also a substantial advantage. With an array of some of the most successful APA members coming together in one delegation, the attraction for Chinese agencies was bigger. Managing Director of RSA Asia John Payne, who was in the process of setting up their new Asia office at the time of SLAF 2007, remembers the clout that the 33-strong group commanded. “It was a natural progression to building on those early meetings with the presence of other APA members,” he says, “as it would add weight to our collective and genuine interest of wanting to do business with Chinese agencies and their clients.”

It’s glaringly obvious now why British production companies would be interested in the Chinese market. As Steve points out, “we used to provide all the stats but that isn’t necessary now.” It is the second largest advertising market in the world, it has grown by 16.6% per year on average for the last five years and spending on advertising is circa US$80 billion per year.

The extent of this rapid growth is tangible to anyone who visits the world’s most populous country. Tim remembers one moment during the 2007 event that crystallised this idea. “I was standing in the bar of the Grand Hyatt hotel, a gazillion floors up, watching a 24-hour construction crew working on the skyscraper opposite. They were adding a floor a week. It seemed to sum up the economic explosion that was happening in China, and made being there feel very much like the right place to be at the time.”

Daniel Bergmann, Managing Partner of Stink, visited Shanghai with the APA in 2007. Stink have several offices around the world, including one in Shanghai, which they had launched around that time. “I decided to open in China and Brazil as part of a growth strategy for Stink. The basic reasons are few and quite obvious,” he lists them: “Firstly, more business opportunities – China is a huge and interesting market. Secondly, cultural and creative inspiration. Finally, coming to a growing market early on is incredible as we are part of a new era.”

The Chinese ad industry is not only a huge attraction to UK companies. The relationship is reciprocated, as the warm welcome the APA members received in both Shanghai in 2007 and Beijing in 2009 attests to. “Agencies in China are keen to engage with UK production,” stresses Steve, “and ambitious to increase their knowledge of which production companies have a real ability to deliver the very good quality of work they want for their clients.”

“You can see the objectives and results of both events from the reports,” says Steve. “Some of the ECDs we’ll be seeing this time – who remain as enthusiastic as ever to be able to access UK production expertise – remember our 2007 event as the best advertising event that has taken place in Shanghai.”

The advisory board for this year’s event is comprised of well-regarded British and Chinese business leaders alike:

Andy Chan – ECD FCB, Shanghai
Andy Orrick – Chief of Stuff, Rattling Stick London
Daniel Bergmann – Founder, Stink Shanghai and London
Graham Fink – Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy Shanghai
Jimmy Lam – Vice Chairman and CCO, DDB China
Johnny Tan – Chief Creative Officer, BBH Shanghai
Judy Hill – Executive Producer, Nexus London
Kevin Lee – ECD Leagas Delaney, Shanghai
Kitty Lun – Chairman and CEO, Lowe and Partners China
Michael McDermott – Executive Producer, Gung-Ho Films
Nils Andersson – President and Chief Creative Officer Greater China, TBWA\Shanghai Norman Tan – North Asia Chief Creative Officer, China Chairman, JWT
Sheena Jeng – Chair and Chief Creative Officer, Publicis China
Steve Davies – Chief Executive, APA (Chairman)
Tim Katz – Managing Partner, Knucklehead London
Yang Yeo – Executive Creative Director, W+K Shanghai

Their commitment to supporting SLAF 2015 shows that advertising professionals on both sides of the world are enthusiastic about building and maintaining these global business relationships.

It’s no surprise that the Chinese market is interested in accessing British talent. “As ever, the quality of the talent we can offer is the big draw,” says Tim. “Be it directors, production, technicians, VFX, music and sound, Chinese agencies acknowledge that we can add value to their productions and deliver great films.” Daniel notes that in his experience, overseas markets particularly respect the UK production industry its focus on quality and its dedication to nurturing talent.

The numbers back this feeling up. Delegates from the UK who took part in the 2007 forum generated £30 million in production turnover in the 15 months that followed the event.

It worked in 2007, but why go back? The answer is simple, according to Steve. “UK production companies and Chinese agencies have developed a lot of work. There are some obstacles though,” he says. “and it is good to explore these together as the potential quantity of work in China is huge and growing. Eight years is a long time in advertising, particularly in China, so it will be interesting to see those changes and learn from them and adjust our offering to Chinese agencies based on that learning.”


The Shanghai London Advertising Forum will be taking place at the Sigma Film Club, Shanghai on the 20th-21st October 2015. 

Entry to the event is free to Chinese agencies, production companies and advertisers – simply email to register.


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