Having spent eight of the last 15 years working in China, I can confidently say that Shanghai, China's economic capitol, makes New York look slow.
From the nearly 24/7 business cycles, to the constant networking for guanxi (relationships), Shanghai truly never sleeps. In keeping with this mindset, I have always assumed that PR professionals worldwide are some of the most aggressive, business-driven people on the planet. Much to my surprise, I recently experienced just the opposite from a handful of New York-based PR firms.
Last month, I reached out to a few firms for a friend in China who needed PR support in New York. I emailed a professional RFP, including objectives, background on the client, specifics for the submission, etc. I gave a deadline of three weeks from the date sent, and reinforced that I was not concerned with how long the proposal was; I just wanted smart thinking.
Agency A emailed me immediately and said it would send me a proposal in two days. After one week, I wrote a follow-up note in case the proposal got lost in an email black hole. The day before the deadline, I received an email saying we needed to discuss the objectives. I offered a time to speak and was told the agency is only available from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm New York time. This is 10:00 pm to 5:30 am Shanghai time! There was no other option given, no offer to try to find a time that works for both of us.
Agency B was referred by one of the leading recruiters in New York. The principal wrote me to say he was very excited about the opportunity. After receiving the RFP, he wrote to ask about the budget. I responded that we needed the firms to suggest a budget—not an unusual response for agency prospecting. That was the last I heard from him.
Agency C emailed to say they were very excited to pitch the project. Two days after the deadline, a full three weeks later, they wrote to say they would not be pitching it.
Finally, a friend connected me to a partner firm in a national network. She offered to send me the proposal two weeks ago. I am still waiting.
So what happened here? Where is the aggressiveness and basic drive for new business, especially given an anemic economy? (Let me reassure the reader, this was a real business opportunity with real fees. No small firm would be embarrassed to take it on.)
A friend suggested it was likely the firms were managed, owned, and staffed by so-called Gen Y people who just did not have the drive of previous generations. However, maybe they really did not want the business. But if that's true, why express a desire to pitch it?
In China, firms are all over every opportunity and exhibit a hunger that is intense, to say the least. In short, this never would have happened in China.
From my perspective, this small sample size is indicative of a larger US problem. Psychologically, many companies (and yes, even small PR firms) have become “fat and happy” when it comes to business. For some reason, they don't feel a need to work as hard as their foreign counterparts. It's as if the proverbial pot of gold is just around the corner. No wonder many look at the aggressiveness of Chinese businesses and wonder what happened to American competitiveness.
I am beginning to wonder, is New York really that slow?
Martin Alintuck was most recently president and CEO of the American presence at the Shanghai World Expo held in China, where more than 7.3 million people visited the USA Pavilion. Previously, he ran Edelman China, Burson Marsteller Tokyo, Burson Shanghai, and GCI San Francisco. He recently returned to Boston from China.