What it’s like working in China. Guest blog by Rob Campbell.

Another guest blog on the subject of working overseas. This time we’re heading way out East with our guest blogger Rob Campbell who holds the en…

Another guest blog on the subject of working overseas. This time we’re heading way out East with our guest blogger Rob Campbell who holds the enviable title of Head of Planning  at Wieden & Kennedy, Shanghai.

The series of these ‘Working Overseas’ guest blogs have been put together to give candidates first hand information of what to take into consideration before making the move from these sun drenched shores.

Here’s Rob’s very intriguing story:

So how has a man from Nottingham ended up as a planner in China?

As much as I’d love to say it was down to a series of carefully crafted career choices enabling me to work in the most financially influential country on Earth, it was actually down to a bunch of happy – & not so happy – accidents.

After a few years of working in planning, I left England in 1995 to chase an Australian woman I thought I couldn’t live without.

Unfortunately, within weeks, it became apparent she could live ridiculously well without me so instead of going home to face the smirks of my friends, I decided to try & get another job in planning & see what happened.

That was 18 years ago and since then I’ve lived & worked in Australia, America, Singapore, Hong Kong & China.

Oh China.

Wonderful, mad, vibrant, crazy, brilliant, weird China.

A country of extremes & paradoxes where tradition & ambition struggle to live side-by-side.

It is, without doubt, one of the most magical & frustrating times of my career.

Magical because I really feel I’m learning, growing & developing.

I’ve ‘relearnt’ what ‘normal’ is … what ‘common sense’ is … what people’s frame of reference for pretty much everything – from food to shoes – is.

But it’s frustrating because things don’t always go as you want, plan or expect.

There’s the barrier of language & culture … the lack of trustable data … the general disbelief regarding the commercial value of creativity … the attitude that whatever the client wants to see, they get & a planning discipline that’s still relatively young.

But you know what, there’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Apart from being an amazing country that’s kindly giving me an amazing experience, I feel you can create something here … something big, exciting & meaningful.

Of course I know it’s not going to be easy, but in terms of potential, I honestly believe it stands more chance here than anywhere else, which is why I’d like to finish with the 10 things I’ve learnt to navigate working in advertising in China.

1. Do your homework: Don’t think you can learn everything in the first few months … you can’t, you’ll be spending too much time trying to work out how to open a bank account.

2. Never pretend you know everything, you don’t & you won’t & you’ll look a fool if you try.

3. Don’t relate everything back to your own frame of reference. Those little things you think are small differences, aren’t that little.

4. Listen and learn from people who know what’s really going on in societies heads. Remember few will be from adland & even fewer will be from your homeland.

5. Never say “you’re only going to be there for 2 years”. Apart from not sounding very nice to colleagues and clients, it means you’re not truly committing yourself to the country or the experience.

6. Respect the culture. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with all of it, but respect it.

7. Be inclusive, not exclusive but always lead by example.

8. Be open to change but not where your standards are concerned.

9. Explore, experiment & enjoy.

10. Have a very understanding wife.


Rob Campbell

My name is Robert … I am short sighted, bald, have the dress sense of a 14 year old [from 1978] and like the sort of music your mother warned you about.

I like to describe myself as a Positive Pessimist but if you were to ask other people, they’d say there’s a whole host of other names they’d rather use to define me.


I currently live in Shanghai though I originally come from Nottingham – famous for Robin Hood, Nottingham Forest Football Club and being the most violent city in Europe.

I appreciate these are not good reasons to read this site, but it’s not my fault I’m such a victim of life, ha!

Somehow in my career I have been able to work with some amazing people, agencies and clients – doing the odd bit of nice work for brands that include Virgin, Tango, Apple, Mini, SONY, Coca-Cola, Discovery Channel, VB, Supernoodle and IKEA – whilst also doing some mad stuff like designing Jumbo Jet interiors, developing non-lethal military hardware, creating a range of mopeds [built around a countries needs rather than a riders] and positioning uber-space Gods, NASA [“Earth’s Envoy”] to name but a few.

Oh, I’m also [till they come to their senses] the North/S.E. Asia regional head of planning for Wieden + Kennedy.

I know this all seems incredibly unfair, but maybe it’s karma’s way of making up for the fact I’ve had to live with an incredibly ugly face!  Hey, I’d still rather be pretty …


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