Chinese middle class growth

Chinese middle class growth – opportunity or threat?

In recent days some truly amazing data has been published, showing the inexorable rise of the Chinese middle class.  According to the study, their upper middle class, the group with greater access to disposable wealth, will make up over 54% of all the urban households in China by 2022 – that’s less than 10 years from now.  We are talking households here, so, taking the current average of three persons each, this will mean almost 600 million people.  With their consumption forecast to increase by 22%, this is no mean feat.

I can see lots of companies salivating, thinking about opportunities to export and generate business away from the decrepit Western economies to the dynamic Asian ones.  Indeed, according to the same study about ⅓ of all high end consumer products currently made in the west (your Louis Vuitton bags and Burberry’s wear, for example) will be gobbled up by the Chinese upper class in ten years or so.

But there is a problem.  This astonishing growth has no precedent in history.  Our global resources are already stretched.  Oil production has reached its peak and is already declining.  At the same time CO2 emissions are increasing exponentially and way over predictions.  Food production can also barely keep up.  Chinese urban areas are not known for being the most sustainable places on the planet and the strain on our depleting resources will therefore be enormous.  Conceivably, while the buying power of the Chinese middle classes may increase substantially, other parts of the world, including our mature economies, may suffer.

It would be churlish of people in the west to tell other nations to stop growing.  But we should at least be aware that we are still living on a planet made up of finite resources and until such a time that cleaner and cheaper energy sources are discovered we should probably be a little more thoughtful and slightly less bombastic about these issues.  Re-thinking growth in general may be an option, as well as continuing to question the sustainability of our life styles.  It goes without saying that, once natural resources are depleted and the air around us becomes unbreathable, all of us – whether in the west, or in the east, rich or poor – will be affected in the same way.


Welcome to the World of PR

(as published in the NUJ Oxford and District Blog – May 27, 2013)

Welcome to the World of PR

I currently work in agency PR, having transitioned from in-house PR and MarCom a couple of years ago. My specialism is also B2B PR, with a further focus on engineering, science and technology. This means that I seldom deal with urgent news (except in incidents or accidents) and also that most of the information I digest and process on behalf of my clients is highly factual. My clients are scientists or engineers and my journalists are also for the most part specialists in their own fields, so precision is of the essence. Nevertheless, the message needs to be engaging (and these days also highly visual) so one of our daily challenges is how we can extract true features and benefits in a concise and absorbing manner, bearing in mind that some of the stuff may also have to be condensed into microblogs (a form of blogging but based on short content like Twitter and Facebook updates).

Occasionally we have to deal with a situation familiar to most PRs in which we are asked to produce ‘non-news’ releases. This is often the case in companies where personalities, instead of good marketing, rule. In the vast majority of these cases we are able to persuade a client that it would be against their own interest to do so, or simply apply other tactics to stall and avoid issuing such releases. However, recently my company was fired by a newly acquired client for not pandering to the wishes of their MD to publish such froth. When a month later the newly appointed PR agency managed to get that company in Private Eye under the ‘Desperate Marketing’ section, we felt vindicated.

The most difficult situations are those involving multiple approval processes across several organisations. You can guarantee that every PR and divisional manager will want to have a say and use a different angle. We have had instances of case studies having been delayed for a year or so while they were ‘under review’. Yes, not exactly the sort of cutting edge stuff that hits a newsdesk… more like the gestation of your classic academic paper!

But aside from any misunderstanding between PR and journalism, we want to work to the best of our abilities to enlighten and instruct our audiences, providing them with good sources of useful and newsworthy information. There are of course rogues in any profession.

In the world of PR, just as in journalism, our main challenge these days is the advent of digital communication. With technical media being increasingly published online, backed up by social media presence and our own clients’ social media channels, there is an awful lot of noise out there. So our job is made a little more complex as we need to spend a lot longer listening, evaluating, pushing and of course reporting too. And these days reports go way beyond basic stuff like Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) as well as entailing other metrics like Audience Engagements and more. Not that all this huge amount of data replaces the old common sense approach and an innate instinct for news… but it just makes our job easier when we have to persuade financial director on how they should spend their money. Welcome to the world of PR.