The British Council invited four UK advertising people (Robert Campbell of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/YR, Marco Rimini of J. Walter Thompson, Nick Philips of the IPA and myself) to form the basis of a conference on advertising, PR and the web in Shanghai recently.
It's an amazing place. You can feel the turbo-powered growth in the Pudong area of Shanghai, where the conference was held, with its crowds of shiny skyscrapers that were all, seemingly, built yesterday. The vastness of the market is brought home on an express train journey from the city, which speeds for four hours without ever leaving the built-up area.
It is the land of two mobiles per person and loud complaints that the growth of the advertising market has slowed to a mere 16 per cent - while a lot of the population still squeeze whole families into one room.
Advertising in any quantity has only been going on for seven or eight years. However, there are now around 3,000 TV stations in Shanghai and commercials can reach 95 per cent of the population.
The industry is suffering considerable strain with such rapid growth from a standing start. Clients are getting slower and slower at paying their agencies as so much money is spent in anticipation of future growth.
Meanwhile, skill shortages are acute. There are a few ex-pats, but the rest have to be trained from scratch and - surprise, surprise - once trained they are valuable and get poached away. Salary levels, taking cost of living differences into account, are already at London levels.
The British Council timed this conference well. The ad industry is on the cusp of change. There is a realisation that there is more to be had than commercials composed of shouting heads making exaggerated claims of difference. The audience, made up of clients, media owners and agency people, was keen to know the UK experience in creating valuable brands though advertising.
The speakers pitched the content right. The discussion was lively, but the social bits were difficult - it's hard to dive into a crowd of Chinese clients and start a conversation when few speak any English and your Chinese doesn't go beyond 'hello' and 'thank you'.
Business in China still depends on relationships to a large extent. You only do business with those you know and trust. For this reason, this was an excellent initiative by the British Council, starting the crucial process of building a relationship between British communication skills and the booming Chinese economy. Followed through, it should put British creative industries in a good position in the battle with the Americans for recognition and contracts.
There is a tremendous energy to Shanghai. Advertising people who want to build businesses quickly should think of working where growth is rampant, Western skills in demand and pay competitive.
I'm keen to work there, but that's partly because my name translated into Chinese means 'pleasurable philosopher', when I've had to put up with it meaning 'Welsh thug' all these years.