Mike Golden, MBA 02

Founder, Adsmith China

Facing a weak US job market when he graduated from Haas, Mike Golden, MBA 02, decided to try his luck in Shanghai.

Since then, he has successfully built a China-based public relations firm, Adsmith China, from an initial crew of four to a staff of 20.

Golden, who spent more than four years working in software marketing in Japan before business school, devoted his first year in China to studying Mandarin and investigating business opportunities.

After deciding he wanted to found a marketing communications company, he also invested lots of time looking for the right Chinese partner. The time was well spent: Golden says the woman with whom he eventually teamed up has proved an invaluable aid in handling the operations side of the business, where an understanding of local culture is essential.

Those cultural differences are especially apparent in human resources. The marketing industry in China suffers from notoriously high turnover, and Golden, like many foreign managers, was initially taken aback by job-hopping among local staff. “In Shanghai, people will quit with no notice. They’ll just send you a text message and not show up any more,” Golden says. “That was a huge surprise.”

To improve retention, he’s focused on developing a creative working environment and expanding employee training programs.

Adsmith now claims a diverse client list, ranging from French bank BNP Paribas to the Peruvian tourism board to Adobe Systems. Currently, about half of Adsmith’s clients are foreign and half are local Chinese companies.

“One of the fun things about China is that people will hire you even though you don’t have an industry background,” explains Golden.

In some aspects, PR in China does differ from the US. Media outlets have a vast reach; local newspapers often claim circulations of 1 million to 2 million. Reporting ethics are loose by Western standards, with journalists occasionally trying to solicit kickbacks in exchange for writing favorable articles. “We don’t do that game,” says Golden.

Still, he says, the marketing fundamentals he learned at Haas apply in China. “Having really good content or ads targeted to the right people with a compelling message works just as well in China as anywhere else,” Golden says.

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