With a population of more than 1.3 billion, China is the King Kong of global markets—a fact not lost on the West's giant advertising agencies. But while it may be easy to hoist a company logo over an office suite in Shanghai or Beijing, it's a lot tougher to find capable staffers for those offices. "Finding good creative talent is the hardest problem," says Jim O'Mahony, head of Saatchi & Saatchi's Asian Pacific region.
Cue Joe Duffy. A soft-spoken Midwesterner partial to John Lennon glasses and the all-black uniform of the design elite, the founder of the Minneapolis design firm Duffy & Partners is best known for creating the look of products such as Diet Coke and Minute Maid orange juice, as well as Toyota trucks' muscular insignia. "Joe is the gold standard in the design business," says Brian Collins, executive creative director of Ogilvy & Mather's Brand Integration Group.
For the past five years, Duffy has been trekking to China with a small team from the One Club, the international organization of advertising professionals, to teach aspiring ad executives. The audience was small when the program debuted in 2000, but in 2005, more than 1,000 students from 26 provinces angled for the chance to attend, some traveling 30 hours by train for the privilege. The legacy of this program, Duffy says, goes beyond just teaching young Asians Western ad skills: "Over the next 10 years, these kids will help bridge the cultural gap between East and West."
Duffy has helped thousands of aspiring Chinese ad creatives find their muse. Here's what's at stake:
- Estimated 2005 billings in China's advertising industry: $10.4 billion, five times the amount a decade ago. Estimate for 2007: $14 billion. And by 2014, China is expected to be the second-largest media market in the world.
- The World Economic Forum predicts that China will become the second-largest global economy by 2020. By the same year, the Chinese government plans to quadruple the country's GDP to $4 trillion.
- China's middle class is nearly 110 million people, or roughly 19% of the population. That's expected to rise to 40% by 2020. More than 4.5 million Chinese already earn at least $30,000 per year.