SHANGHAI: APCO Worldwide has bumped up James Robinson to MD of its Shanghai office, returning the agency veteran to the country where he started his career 17 years ago.
Most recently, he was SVP and senior director in APCO’s New York office, where he worked on accounts including PepsiCo, Microsoft, and the Clinton Global Initiative. He also led the global sustainability practice for the past three years. Robinson was named to PRWeek’s 40 Under 40 list in 2016.
During his first stint in China, most of his work focused on market entry, helping foreign multinationals establish themselves in the market.
"This market has really matured and the corporate affairs, government relations comms base has become more institutionalized," Robinson said. "The practice has gotten closer to how it’s done in the U.S. and Europe."
Demonstrating public benefit and showing how you "align your position with wider society and the priorities of your stakeholders" is trumping personal connections as the Chinese government cracks down on graft and corruption, Robinson added.
The country is strategically important for clients, with three main markets for communications: Shanghai, the home of multinational headquarters; Beijing, the center of government power; and Hong Kong, the gateway for foreign capital.
"What we’re increasingly seeing is the emergence of tier-two and tier-three cities as being important for our clients, dozens of cities with populations greater than 5 million," Robinson said.
Digital is also breaking down barriers in China as the market matures, and integration is a priority for clients, he added.
"What I’m keen to do is not allow our people be placed in narrow silos, but to think broadly," Robinson said, adding APCO has more than 80 people on the ground in the country, representing about 20% of its workforce. Robinson said the Shanghai office has won new business, but declined to name the account or accounts.