A week in the life of a China flack

Imagethief has recently had several e-mails from young foreigners in China who are interested in embarking upon a career in PR here. Why these students should choose such a career as opposed to, say, enlisting in the Navy as a boiler technician or applying for a research internship to the Congo is a mystery. But there is no arguing with the idealism and energy of youth.

As a service to these eager youngsters, and anyone else with an interest, I thought I would diary a week (six days actually) in the life of a China flack. I hope the following chronology of glamour and high society will lure more talented young people (or burned out journalists) into the industry.

Wednesday
6:00 AM: Up early for the 8:40AM flight to Shanghai to work on new business proposal with a Shanghai colleague. Flight is uneventful. Get to Shanghai office at noon. Picked up by company driver and taken to office. Fishball noodles for lunch.

1:00 PM: Before working on proposal, make RSVP calls to foreign media invited to attend a Shanghai roundtable event with a client’s senior global executive the following Monday. A Chiense media event is also planned. I am due back in Shanghai on Sunday for exec briefing and will stay through Monday for the event.

2:00 PM: Within moments of finishing media calls and confirming foreign media, client’s China PR manager informs me that global office is considering canceling foreign media event. Don’t wish to do group media event for various reasons.

Also learn that Publication That Shall Not Be Named has called client to complain they weren’t invited to event. In fact, they have been invited and one of their journalists is supposed to attend.

While pondering how to rescue foreign media event I continue working on proposal with colleagues. Draft due following morning. Work until 2 AM with break for noodles for dinner.

2:00 AM: Go to hotel and check in. Must fly to Guangzhou next morning. Have following dialogue with dimwit night reception clerk at hotel:

Me: What time do I need to leave to get to Hongqiao Airport by 9:45 AM?
Dimwit: It takes about a half hour to get there with no traffic.
Me: How will the traffic be at that time?
Dimwit: I think you should leave at 7 AM.
Me: 7 AM? That seems early. I don’t have to be there until 9: 45AM. My flight is at 10:45.
Dimwit: Oh. Then you don’t need to leave so early.
Me: Ok. So what time do I need to leave to arrive at the airport at 9: 45AM?
Dimwit: (Exasperated) I just told you it takes a half hour to get there.
Me (in my head): Lissen, dickweed, I will come over this counter and smack the spikes right off your head. You said half an hour with no traffic. There’s gonna be traffic at 9 AM. You have rush hour in Shanghai, don’t you, pinhead? So what time should I fucking leave?
Me (actually): Ok. Gimme my key.

Clerk also informs me breakfast not included with my room. Will be 145 RMB. I go to room and crash.

Thursday
7:00 AM: Up early to catch 10:45AM flight to Guangzhou to conduct training for colleagues in Guangzhou office. In absence of information from hotel pinhead decide to leave at 8:45 AM.

8:00 AM: check out and go to hotel café for breakfast. Line of thirty people waiting for tables stretches from entrance. Abandon breakfast. Get taxi to airport. During the ride, observe the following rules posted in the taxi:

  • Don’t defile the taxi inside and any signs of the taxi.
  • Schizophrenics or drunkards without a guardian are prohibited to take taxi
  • Don’t instigate the drive to violate the regulation of the passenger transport and traffic management
  • No spitting and dumping inside the taxi.
  • If making a complaint, offer concerned evidence.

Seems reasonable.

Ride takes exactly half an hour, just as advised by night clerk.  I think dark thoughts about strangling him.

8:30 AM: Get surprisingly serviceable Western breakfast at Hongqiao Airport for 40 RMB.

10:45 AM: Flight is uneventful. Short on sleep. Doze.

1 PM: Arrive in Guangzhou. Picked up by company driver and taken to office building. Have never been to Guangzhou office.

1:45 PM: Arrive at 70+ floor CITIC tower. Ask driver what floor it is on. “Never been,” he says. Realize he is not the company driver, just some guy they hired to pick me up.

Stupidly, don’t have Guangzhou office phone number with me. Scan directory and spot every other PR and marketing firm in the country. Not mine. Begin to wonder if I am at correct building.

1:55 PM: Call Beijing office and ask coordinator what floor our Guangzhou office is on. “Six,” she says. Also gives me Guangzhou office phone number. Scan directory again. No sixth floor listed. Check elevators. No elevator goes to sixth floor. Really begin to suspect I am at wrong building.

2:00 PM: Call Guangzhou office and ask which floor they are on. “Sixty-eight,” they say. Ten minutes later, figure out CITIC tower elevator system and arrive on 68th floor. Find office.

Receptionist orders Illy cappuccino for me. I kiss her feet and set up in spare office.

2:15 PM: Check e-mail. Client has decided to cancel foreign media event in Shanghai. After some discussion with Client’s PR manager, decide to pitch exclusive to one publication instead of group event. Approach should allay global office’s concerns.

2:30 PM: Make phone calls to two journalists considered appropriate for exclusive. One can’t make time. Another interested. Will check with editor next morning.

3:00 PM: Conduct English writing training for Guangzhou office. Can’t say enough about team. Bright, enthusiastic and fun.

Training over at 5PM.

6:00 PM: Increasingly bad feelings about canceling on journalists already invited to client’s Shanghai media event and offering exclusive to another publication. Am giving foreign media relations training to Guangzhou team the next morning. Seems like classic media relations blunder case study in making. Don’t need that kind of irony.

6:30 PM: Call client and recommend we treat all foreign media fairly and cancel foreign media activities completely. We will only do Chinese media event. Client agrees. Informs me that, as Chinese media only, my presence no longer required in Shanghai for Sunday executive briefing session or Monday event.

I continue working.

8:30 PM: Go to cheap Cantonese dinner with a colleague. Eat spicy Cantonese beef dish.

9:30 PM
: After dinner, catch taxi to Tian Lun hotel. Taxi takes me to Tian Long hotel. After correcting driver he tells me that Tian Lun is “100 meters” from CITIC building and berates me for duration of return drive. Makes me get out of taxi one block from Tian Lun hotel, presumably to prove point. God bless Guangzhou taxi drivers. Tian Lun actually about 500 meters from CITIC building. Have to admit, not far.

9:50 PM: Check into Tian Lun. Get upgraded to palatial business-suite room. Collapse on bed and wallow in unspeakable luxury of largest hotel room I have ever occupied. Watch Spiderman II on HBO. Catch up on e-mails. Happy. Have good night’s sleep.

Friday
8:00 AM: Nice breakfast at hotel.

9:30 AM: Client changes mind, requests my presence in Shanghai for Chinese media event after all. So much for Sunday.

9:35 AM: Spicy Cantonese beef dish aggravates intestines. I run for bathroom at regular intervals.

9:45 AM: Call and e-mail all journalists originally invited to foreign media event, including one still considering exclusive, and inform of cancellation. Grovel mightily in superb demonstration of foreign media relations skills.

10:00 AM: Conduct foreign media relations training for Guangzhou colleagues. Still can’t say enough good about team there. Bright, enthusiastic and fun. And ask several very acute questions about media industry.

12:30 PM: Intelligent questions delay end of training for half an hour. Running late. Gotta go to airport and catch flight back to Beijing. But Guangzhou director has already ordered dim sum for lunch at restaurant downstairs.

12:45 PM: Go to lunch with director and set all-time dim-sum speed eating record. Also run for bathroom at regular intervals. Feel very rude. Seafood in tanks looks fresh and vigorous. Reminder of moribund state of Beijing seafood.

1:30 PM: Late, late late! Catch taxi to airport. Driver mysteriously takes surface roads rather than expressway for half of journey, presumably in order to show me best of Guangzhou. Blood pressure soars. At far end driver palms road toll receipt.

2:15 PM: Forty-five minutes to my flight. Long line. Sign at check in says, “If less than fifty minutes until your flight, check in at counter D8.” Go to counter D8. No one there. Go back to regular counter. Line has doubled in two minutes. Blood pressure soars again.

2:30 PM: Successfully check in. Guangzhou airport is size of planet and my airplane parked on its furthest moon. Actually, second furthest. But, as there are 116 moons, not a big difference.

2:45 PM: Reach airplane. To make Guangzhou residents on flight as comfortable as possible, climate controls are set for Guanghzhou conditions: hot and humid. Will be this way for entire flight.

3:00 PM to 6:00 PM: On flight work on new business presentation to accompany proposal we did on Wednesday.

6:00 PM: Arrive in Beijing on time. Home at 7PM. Have dinner with Mrs. Imagethief.

8:30 PM: Publication That Shall Not Be Named (the one that called client before to complain about not being invited) calls client again to ask if event is still on. Client calls me to ask if I have informed all journalists that event is cancelled. I have.

10:00 PM: Write blog post for CNET until midnight.

Saturday
Long, slow breakfast at home. Write two pieces for That’s Beijing. Take Mrs. Imagethief out on date.

Sunday
7:00 AM: Up early to catch 9:40 AM flight to Shanghai with Client. Flight leaves on time. Four-for-four with on-time flights. Not bad for China!

10:00 AM: Check into Shanghai Salvo Hotel. Definitely not Tian Lun. Room is so small I have to step outside to change my mind. But aircon, Internet and CNN work, so it’s all good.

12:00 PM: Note the following on a poster in the Salvo’s lobby:

Fu Bar of the 31st floor has advanced projection and rounding sound equipments and professional mixologist. With finely arranging atmosphere you can enjoy the enthusiasm and galliardise in the football sport. Let night of world’s cup bubbles up along with air bubble of goblet.

Contemplate accidental humor of a bar named “Fu Bar” (福吧).

12:30 PM: Lunch with Client. Curry beef and lotus root.

1:30 PM: Return to Salvo Hotel. Write posts for CNET and Shanghaiist.

5:30 PM: Have briefing session for client’s visiting executive. Goes smoothly, although executive oddly reluctant to make eye contact.

7:30 PM: An evening out in Shanghai:

  • A hamburger, quiche and two beers at Three on the Bund with a view of Pudong: 360 RMB.
  • An ice cream stick from a xiaomaibu a block off of Nanjing Rd: 2 RMB.
  • Two hours of Asiapundit’s company: Priceless.

10:00 PM: Back to hotel. Crash.

Monday
7:00 AM: Up early for event.

7:45 AM: Escort Chinese journalists from down-market Salvo to opulent fice star hotel for event. Contrast is startling. Wish I’d stayed at opulent hotel.

8:30 AM: Publication That Shall Not Be Named calls me to ask if foreign media event is still on. With regrets, I inform them that it’s really cancelled.

Presentations in morning go smoothly. Event room is small and simultaneous translation booth is insufficiently soundproof. Everyone in room can hear translator as well as speaker, even if not wearing headsets.

During Q&A the wireless microphone goes out so translator can’t hear questions. Nobody wants to be the one to take one of the other mics from the panelists.

One of my colleagues in charge of Chinese media relations doesn’t greet Chinese journalists coming in late and ensure that they have translation headsets etc. I have to prod.

9:00 AM: After presentations we move to small room for roundtable Q&A with media. Client spokesperson gets head of steam in introductions. Translation is now consecutive. Have to gently remind spokesperson to stop every now and then so translator can keep up.

Five-star hotel is opulent, but has shitty maintenance staff. They are repairing air ducts. Every two minutes noise like kettle drums rattles through our conference room. I tell my Chinese colleague to tell hotel staff we won’t pay for room. Banging subsides. But think it was actually for lunch break.

Q&A goes well.

10:30 AM: After event wrap, take taxi back to my company’s Shanghai office for meeting with Shanghai colleagues to rehearse for presentation to potential client that afternoon.

12:00 PM: Lunch of sandwiches in conference room.

2:00 PM: After rehearsal go to Pudong for presentation to potential client at St. Regis. Presentation goes well.

4:20 PM: We have post-mortem discussion until 5:00 PM. I have 7:00 PM flight from Hongqiao. Gotta go. Don’t want to miss flight. Wife and I trying to have baby and today is “the” day for this month, according to sophisticated charts and graphs.

5:00 PM: Colleagues and I pile into company car and head for Puxi. Colleagues want to be dropped at Nanjing Rd. West on way through town. Detour through traffic stretches drive interminably. Other thing stretching is bladder. Feeling effects of cappuccino, bottle of water and Diet Coke at presentation. No choice. Have to hold out until airport.

5:45 PM: Drop off colleagues. Traffic continues to crawl. Bladder continues to stretch. Start having fantasies of relieving myself into water bottle, glove box, wherever. Kidneys begin to hurt. Begin to fear nephritis.

5:55 PM: Finally get on Yan’an Elevated Road. Traffic improves dramatically. Bladder continues to expand. Imminent threat of catastrophic uro-nova.

6:05 PM: On Yan’an road, spy a calico cat. It has wandered onto elevated road and is now trapped, a kilometer from the nearest exit. The cat is up on the concrete rail, wedged against the fiberglass that separates roads from nearby buildings, as far away from traffic as possible. How long has the cat been trapped there? It is probably hungry and thirsty. It has the shocked, shrunken-into itself look of an animal that has been scared for a long period of time. It is doomed. Only a matter of time before it breaks onto road and goes under the wheels of a vehicle. Saddened, due to fondness for cats. Personal troubles suddenly diminished by comparison.

6:15 PM: Surprisingly, get to airport with forty-five minutes to spare. Fast check in (for those without baggage) is closed for first time in my experience. I ignore screaming bladder and go to normal check-in. Line moves fast. Get window seat, which I prefer.

6:25 PM: Sprint for bathroom. Piss for centuries. I will never piss again.

6:35 PM: Piss again.

6:40 PM: Board airplane.

9:00 PM: Taken off airplane due to delays caused by bad weather in Beijing.

9:00 PM to 1:00 AM: Find power outlet in waiting room. Edit Xinjiang video on laptop. Watch Dave Chappel videos on laptop. Give thanks for laptop and habit of always keeping one or videos that I want to see on it. At 10:30 PM airport serves us a compensation meal. Could be worst meal I have ever eaten.

Flights begin to be cancelled. No departures left on departure board. Begin to worry that I may be sleeping in airport.

1:00 AM: Our flight is re-boarded.

1:45 AM: Wheels-up.

3:30 AM: Arrive Beijing. Sun starts to come up during taxi ride home.

5:00 AM: Off to bed. Oh, magical sleep, bestow thy sweet kiss upon me.

Tuesday
9:00 AM: Up for conference call.

And so on. As for getting pregnant, well, there’s always next month.

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