LEADER: Chinese economy takes pole position

A recent trip to China was something of an eye-opener. Not only did this writer observe the hitherto unstoppable McLaren’s nerve start to crack, at a race track near Shanghai, but also experienced China’s expanding power in the raw.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

Shanghai is already a city of 25 million souls and its high-rise blocks stretch for dozens of miles, as workers continue to flood there from their rural homes. In just a few years the average annual income of a Chinese urbanite has almost doubled.

It is a growth rate that makes Western economies’ three per cent rises in GDP – at best – seem paltry.

And, as WPP boss Martin Sorrell recently pointed out, currently only around 150 million Chinese, from a potential population of 1.5 billion, can afford the goods we are trying to market to them. This is about to change.

Shanghai differs enormously from Western cities, even from the nearby bustling metropolis of Hong Kong. It still has a harsh post-communist feel, with formidable concrete boulevards and a lack of service culture.

The Grand Prix track is a case in point. Allegedly constructed from plundered public pension funds, it is a coldly impressive monolith, with virtually no food and drink on sale. Yet the fans are eager to become fervent consumers, most already decked out in the merchandise of that global cult brand Ferrari.

Back in the city there are shopping malls springing up dedicated entirely to luxury goods. Many are noticeably empty of real shoppers, but one senses this won’t be the case for long.

It is still a tough place to do business for Western PR professionals, but it is one towards which many must now turn, in the hope of real decade-long growth.

As Sorrell rightly points out, we now live in a three-paced marketing world, with Western economies bringing up the rear. A stuttering US driver trails a pack of emerging economies, but it is the Chinese driver who is roaring towards the chequered flag.

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