Interview with JJ – founder of Delta Bridges
You always wanted to know what journalism in China is like?
Check out our Interview with Jean-Jacques Verdun (JJ) who established in 2008 the now very successful Media and PR agency Delta Bridges. The simpatico/ likable French Business man speaks about his background, his business philosophy “Long-term” as well as of the chances and challenges this working environment implies.
In addition to that he explains the importance of English and flexibility in China. His company provides a real internship opportunities with a lot of responsibility. An experience which one cannot take for granted. The so called “editors” have to evolve a new set of skills in China in order to do their research and to not cross a line in terms of media sensitivity in the country.
We are in the heart of Guangdong, we are in the Pearl River Delta, which is much more dynamic than the rest of the Guangdong province, which is also much more dynamic than the rest of China!
According to JJ, doing business in China is very rewarding and in 99% of his cases he has only had good experiences.
Have a look at this short Video to meet a man who also is known for his positive attitude and good sense of humour: “I might be wrong, but then I’m French, I’m allowed to exaggerate”. You can find the full interview below the video. Enjoy!
- Tell us a little about yourself and your company
I’m a French citizen. In fact half French, half American, because my mother is from America. But still, more French than American.
I came to China in 2001 as a French teacher. I was very quickly involved in social activities and we created the first expat club in Zhuhai in 2013. There were such few foreigners here that we really had to support each other.
China was of course not the country it is today. There were no bars, no bar street. It was thus very difficult to meet. And hence the need for such social activities and clubs for us to be able to connect with each other. The Chinese were not as easy to communicate with as today because their English level was not as good as today and also because they had travelled less abroad at that time. So you have to understand that 99% of the Chinese people we met in 2001-2003 never left China. Their parents never left China, their grandparents never left China… so the cultural gab was huge.
Then I created Delta Bridges in 2008 first as a Media Company based in Macau. We had a website providing useful information to the people living in the Pearl River Delta area. Hence the name Delta Bridges. It was hard to set up (the company) in the beginning. We launched (it) in October 2008, at the same time as the big financial crisis worldwide. So the first 2 years were pretty hard because of the financial crisis and no one wanted to pay for advertisement on a new media platform.
But since 2010, we’ve been growing step-by-step and in 2013 we realized that most of our customers were giving us money to buy advertisement on our media platform but they were also giving us money to PR related services such as events, marketing campaigns, business matchmaking, etc.
So last year, in 2014, we decided to officially open a PR agency that is working hand in hand with the media platform.
Some people said: “wow, you’re doing more and more.” So we had to make sure to tell people that we are staying focused while doing business in China. I believe we still keep that focus – I don’t forget that it is important. We just respond to the customer needs. If the customer wants PR services as well as advertisement on our media platform, we should be able to offer these customer services. And in fact, it goes hand-in-hand.
- What is your business philosophy?
Long-term! Step-by-step and long-term.
By the time I started my company I was not a teenager anymore, not even in my 20s. I was 35 so I knew a little bit what I want and what I don’t want. Also what I care about and what I don’t care about. Become incredibly rich and being hated by everyone was no option for me. Of course I want to make money and I want to be successful, I want my company to grow and I want to improve my lifestyle, but not at any cost. So step-by-step and long-term, meaning the relationship with the customers, the relationship with the employees at Delta Bridges.
I want to be able to smile every day when I come to my office. Obviously the working hours in China are longer than in France, and therefore work is a huge part of life here. In fact, there is no division for Chinese people between the working-life and the personal-life that we may have in Europe and especially in France. So it is important for me to enjoy my work, to be happy, to be in a good mood. If it takes 60-70% of my time, I don’t want it to be miserable.
That being said, of course we need to work hard, and sometimes we’re in a bad mood and sometimes we are angry, but overall we work in a happy environment. That matches with what we are doing as PR and Media company – it is about meeting people, about seducing people, about connecting people. So the happier our mood is, the more convincing we can be! So it again goes hand-in-hand.
- What’s the main language spoken at your company?
English is the main language spoken at our company. I’m glad you mention that because a few year ago when InternChina started they thought I wanted French speaking interns, and I don’t mind having French speaking interns, but they need to have an excellent English if they want to work with us as we produce English media. I like my fellow French citizens, I like people from Quebec, I like people from any French speaking country, but to do an internship at my company, they need to have a very good English level. In addition, for anyone who wants to do an internship in Asia, English is really a strong requirement. You need to master English pretty well.
- Tell us about your internship positions
The job title of position number one is “editor”.
We give a lot of responsibility to our interns. It’s a real internship, not a fake internship. They don’t have to brew the coffee or make photocopies – they will go out, meet real people and we expect them to write stories about bars, restaurants, hotels etc. in English. Obviously not in Chinese. That’s one part of the job.
The second part of the job is to prove-read the writings and reviews of their Chinese colleagues. Even though their English level is very high, it’s not high enough to publish their work directly in English. What the interns do is, they write in Chinese and hand over an English version, which sometimes is pretty accurate but it still needs to be prove-read.
The other position comes along with the first one. When we write a review about people and places, it’s not that we just go there and come back. We try to meet the decision-maker of the place. If it is a bar, we try to meet the bar-owner. If it’s a restaurant, we try to meet the General Manager, if not the GM, the director of marketing and sales etc. So there is a lot of PR involved in that job.
I don’t want the people to just go and come back because then the work could also be done in the office. So if you have to go somewhere, you have to build a relationship with the people. That’s important. Also, and that is for the entire team, everyone is expected to find one sales-lead a week. They must try, if they don’t, nothing bad happens to them, but they must try to pass on one lead for the sales people.
So I want my interns, even though they go and write a review about a bar, to keep their eyes open to see what is happening around them on the way to the bar, on the way back and in the bar itself. Bars are just an example here.
We write a review about the bar we don’t charge money for, but maybe these people are also interested to buy advertisement. If they ask questions about it I want my interns to be smart and pass that lead to the sales team. I don’t expect my interns to do sales directly because we are in China and it also depends on how long they are doing their internship. So it all depends on the specific case, whether they want to and how long they stay, for short internships rather not.
- What are the benefits for an intern coming to your company? What do you offer the interns?
Like I mentioned, it’s a real internship, so they are faced with real tasks and real duties. It’s not a puppet internship. If someone wants to come to party and relax, we are not the right company because I assign tasks and I expect the work to be done.
Here is another example: if I take someone young who hasn’t a lot of experience and this someone helps our company by producing some work, I make sure as a counterpart that the produced work is real. The people they meet are real decision-makers and I think that’s a great working experience here in China. We are probably one of the companies who expose their interns the most to the real working-life.
- What challenges does a journalist face in China?
First of all, we don’t call them journalist, we call them editors for the purpose that journalism and journalism media is so sensitive in China. And this applies for all companies: journalists are not referred to as journalists but editors. An editor is like a softer version of a journalist. Writing in a Chinese style for a westerner, someone with a journalism background for example, who comes to do an internship it is quite different. Here it is sensitive. The Chinese are cool, they are welcoming, but you have to be careful with what you expose to the public, that you don’t publish the wrong thing. So if someone publishes something on the website, on the blog or on WeChat, and it’s controversial, you may end up having problems. That’s something to pay attention to for someone with a journalism background. Here they are editors and they have to tone down a little bit with what they want to say.
Second challenge is the evolving in a new environment. Journalists are normally really good in discovering new things and doing research, but they have to set the skills back to nearly zero here. Most of the information is in Chinese, so you have to develop other skills to do your research, which is again a great experience.
- 3 Facts about Business Culture in China
Business culture is very varied. If I talk to my fellow business friends in Zhuhai, their experience and my experience is totally different. Some people still behave in an old-school way to do business, which means long meetings, drinking tea, and sometimes even drinking alcohol, having long dinners, etc. In our particular field, because of the customers we have in PR, we work a lot with faster hotels, local governments, and the kind of people I’d describe as the new China. There is less difference with the west. We talk, we have meetings, we exchange, we send proposals, counter proposals… we are pretty lucky in that sense. The old China can be very eccentric so it can be attractive for some, but I personally prefer the new way.
Fact 2, it’s very fast and dynamic. China has slowed down a little bit the last couple of years, the average economic growth of China is 7.2% this year. We are in the heart of Guangdong, we are in the Pearl River Delta, which is much more dynamic than the rest of the Guangdong province, which is also much more dynamic than the rest of China. My estimate here would be at least 20% economic growth, if the rest of China is 7.2%. I might be wrong, but then I’m French, I’m allowed to exaggerate. Especially European interns that come from a country with 1 or 2% economic growth will feel that difference. So you need to be flexible.
China achieves such an economic growth by working hard. I don’t ask interns to work on the weekend, but sometimes we have unexpected meetings on Saturday or Sunday and like I mentioned, I don’t ask interns to attend, but my regular staff and I go. This means we are pretty much on go 24 hours a day 7 days a week. As this can be tense, you have to find out how to resource yourself.
And now I’m going to say something that may be controversial to what people say in the media, even to business people in China: I find Chinese people are pretty good business people. You don’t reach such a growth if you’re not a correct, smart business person. There are prejudices such as that the Chinese cheat, are never on time, and sure their way of doing business is different than ours, and I’m not saying it is easy, it is tough, but in the end, if all of that was true, the Chinese being late, unreliable, even amongst themselves, they wouldn’t work. Business in china works. It’s the country where business has worked the best the last 30 years.
I also wish people would have a different perspective when they do business here. It might be hard and painful to adapt to it, but it works in their way. In 99% of my cases I’ve had a pretty good experience with businesses in China. It has never happened that someone didn’t pay me, as an example.
If you want to get to now JJ and experience the exciting life of an editor in China, apply now!