Life as an expat can be rewarding, but both cultural differences and new
working practices can take their toll. David Reed finds out how Brits
have fared in the East
Pamela Dunn Managing Director CIA Pacific (hong kong)
When Pamela Dunn left the UK in 1991, the move ‘was not driven by the
developing marketplace, it was emotionally driven.’ Marrying a Hong Kong
resident she met at Henley, her five years as worldwide media co-
ordinator for Guinness left her unable to resist the lure of the
‘I decided I would go to an agency here and see what it was like. I went
to one of the US agencies thinking it would be big. I found out it was
totally different from my expectations,’ she says. Creative quality was
‘very questionable, media people were responsible for providing
mechanical details to creatives, and creatives were responsible for
getting artwork to the printers. There was no traffic department,’ she
Leaving after two months, she was employed as a consultant by Cathay
Pacific to help it find an advertising agency. The process revealed a
major area of weakness. ‘Media buying was like being in the UK 20 years
ago,’ she says.
Resolving in 1993 to set up a media shop, she went to the UK for advice
and was asked by Chris Ingram to establish CIA Pacific. Initially a
joint venture, she sold her share in the fast-growing agency last year,
retaining her position as its head.
‘The style of management is different. Everything you learned in
management schools you have to set to one side,’ she says. Staff are
committed and frequently work 12-hour days. Material rewards are high,
but so are living costs. An important compensation is the low crime
level and good public order, however. ‘I have 14- and 16-year-old
children and they have complete freedom to go out at night and travel on
their own. I don’t think they would have that in the UK,’ Dunn says.
Jim cavanagh Vice-president of ad sales Star TV (hong kong)
In 1994, over-familiar with the commercial TV marketplace in the UK, Jim
Cavanagh resigned his position as deputy sales director at Carlton.
While considering his options, a colleague, now based in Hong Kong,
suggested he contact Star TV. The company offered him his current
position which Cavanagh accepted as ‘it was quite lucrative and a breath
of fresh air’.
His partner, Miranda Bury, then media group head at Lowe Howard-Spink,
decided that it sounded like an adventure and resigned to go with him.
‘We came out and she secured a fairly demanding job setting up Zenith in
Hong Kong,’ he says. Cavanagh found coping with the rapid expansion of
Star equally challenging.
‘They would say, ‘next week we are launching the satellite into the
Philippines with a new hybrid sports channel, can you write the ratecard
and go and present it?’ Back in the UK, things just don’t move that fast
- here you get on and do it,’ he says.
His job has taken him to India, Thailand, Indonesia and China. ‘The
reception you get can be quite different. While Chinese media people
will sit impassively through any presentation, Indians are fairly
vociferous, to put it mildly,’ he notes.
Then Bury became pregnant, and gave birth to a baby boy last Christmas.
‘She decided she wanted to return to England, because Hong Kong is not
the ideal place to bring up a kid,’ Cavanagh says. The couple leave the
colony in July. He believes the experience there will stand him in good
stead. ‘As far as I can see, the UK is only just getting into a very
competitive TV market. Out here, 50 or more channels is commonplace. You
have got to be much more of a salesman, not a negotiator.’
David mayo Regional account director Bates Asia (singapore)
It was a friend’s wedding in Hong Kong in 1994 that ultimately led to
David Mayo’s current job in Singapore. ‘It seemed like a very energetic
place, so I spoke to a few agencies and came back with two job offers,’
he says. The one he accepted was as an account director at Bates China,
where he became a group account director before being promoted to
regional account management.
Now 31, the move was ‘a bold lifestyle leap - leaving friends and London
life behind and sailing into the blue’, but Mayo says he has no regrets.
‘It takes time to adjust, but people have so much to give and when you
get here, you find you are blending everything you know with Asian ‘can
do’, which is truly exciting.’
Although previously happily employed as an account director at Burkitt
Weinrich Bryant, the visit to Hong Kong coincided with a period of
window-gazing reflection about what to do next. Now he finds himself
responsible for 14 countries as one of five regional account directors.
The pace of business life is fast, and its structure puts him much
closer to the action. According to Mayo, he may spend Saturday evening
socialising with a client, then ‘locking horns’ with them on Monday
If the business culture in Singapore is open and friendly, Mayo says the
lifestyle may take some adjusting to - drinking deer penis wine and
eating seahorse soup is a possibility. But he concludes: ‘If you’ve got
the balls to do it, get a job here. The opportunities are huge. I’m
scared to say it, because there will be a huge influx from London.’
David Thomlinson, Roy McAloney; Roy McAloney Art Director, David
Thomlinson copywriter Young and rubicam (hong kong)
Two months into a three-month initial trial contract, the creative duo
has already decided that it ‘loves the place’, according to Roy
McAloney, and is hoping for a longer contract. ‘It’s been really hard
work - ten times harder than London. We’re constantly working,’ he says,
but adds that producing ads for an entirely new cultural environment
‘challenges you more in terms of thinking in different ways. We have
come out with more wild ideas.’
His writing partner, David Thomlinson, adds that ‘you can do good ads
anywhere’. The difference he identifies is that Hong Kong is more ‘full
on - people are into it. They just do things here.’ This is not the
first time the duo has worked abroad since moving from DMB&B. For the
last year and a half, they were working at Saatchi and Saatchi in Saudi
Arabia for ‘financial reasons’, according to Thomlinson.
Returning to London for a brief spell of freelancing, they contacted a
head-hunter with a view to heading towards Australia or the Far East.
When the Young and Rubicam job offer came up, ‘we flew straight out,’
‘Everybody we talk to wants to do something like this themselves,’
Thomlinson says. Having begun by visiting the usual expat haunts, they
are now immersing themselves more in local life. The only limitation is
the cost of living. ‘It is very expensive - more than I had imagined,’
McAloney says. ‘But hopefully, if everything goes right, we will be
David Parker account director Bates (vietnam)
For someone who has travelled as extensively as David Parker, it is
perhaps no surprise that he is on the point of returning to the UK. A
previous below-the-line career with UK agencies ended when he set off
across Africa on a truck for seven months in 1992. Further travel via
the Sudan to Egypt, then through Jordan to Iran, Pakistan and Nepal, saw
him emerge in Hong Kong in the summer of 1993.
‘Every agency in Asia is preaching integration, but very few people have
the experience. No-one has seen sophisticated sales promotion work,’
Parker says. This allowed him to secure a job with McCann Communications
where, following its merger with the main agency, he became a
After two years, however, he suffered from ‘Hong Kong burn-out, which
happens to a lot of ‘gweilos’ [Westerners],’ he recalls. Being employed
on local terms, with few of the extras received by many senior Western
agency managers, made it hard to make money. Parker moved to Bates
Vietnam last year, which has been described as the most difficult market
to work in.
‘It is cheaper than Hong Kong, but harder,’ Parker says. ‘Here you are
just told to get on with it and only go to the boss when you have a
problem.’ Small details can build up a feeling of homesickness - Parker
says he has to go to Singapore to get a Kit Kat.
With a June wedding as the most positive outcome, Parker is returning to
the UK in the hope that the greater depth of experience he has gained in
the region will stand him in good stead.
Cathy Lennox Senior Director J. Walter Thompson (japan)
Moving abroad as a couple is hard if both partners in a marriage have
high-profile jobs. So when J. Walter Thompson found posts in Japan for
Cathy Lennox and her husband, Richard, it was a sign that multinational
agency networks really can co-ordinate more than just advertising.
‘Surprisingly, these things do work - JWT is very good at moving people
around,’ Lennox says.
From a graduate traineeship on Kellogg’s and De Beers in 1989, she
worked her way up to worldwide director for Unilever personal products
at JWT Europe. When a post came up in Tokyo to run the Nippon Lever hair
business, she was keen to go. At the same time, JWT found her husband a
position running Warner-Lambert and Rothman. That clinched the deal.
‘The thing that is so exciting about the office here is that everything
is always a new experience. A lot of people say you can live in Japan
for a lifetime and never understand it,’ Lennox says. Foreigners can
feel excluded, although Lennox notes that the Japanese who choose to
work in a Western ad agency want cultural exchange.
Women also have a different role in the East. ‘It would be much harder
coming into a more junior position as a woman. My position dictates that
people do have to listen to a degree,’ she says. Having got through the
six-month barrier, Lennox says she is finding the experience extremely
positive. ‘The Japanese create very innovative advertising that is
funny, crazy and very enjoyable. Finding my UK knowledge is directly
applicable on the other side of the world is something I want to build
on,’ she concludes.
Liz Kaminska Partner, Clark Kaminska (head-hunter)
Within the South-east Asia region, expat advertising types face two
insults. The first is ‘gweilo’, Chinese for ‘white ghost’, which is
generically applied to all Westerners. The second is ‘Filth - Failed in
London, Trying Hong Kong’.
Liz Kaminska does not see the latter as fair, but says that ‘only a
certain sort of person will be successful. You get two stages - people
who are so young that a spell abroad is not going to bother their
career, or where a London agency doesn’t have the number of jobs they
used to.’ Barriers to career progression, or problems getting rehired
after redundancy, may turn eyes eastwards.
A spell in Asia could be just the right fillip for a career, and also
financially. ‘There are some very good tax levels - in Singapore it is
only 10 to 15 per cent. You also put a large chunk into a common fund
which, when you leave, you can take away,’ Kaminska says.
There are obstacles. The only real entry points are Hong Kong and
Singapore, where most multinationals have their regional headquarters.
Increasingly, agencies are looking to hire local talent, or at least
people with local language skills. ‘And we do get requests for single
people,’ Kaminska says, because companies want to avoid the relocation
expenses of a whole family.
But for the right kind of person there are real opportunities,
especially for creatives.
‘Those markets are a bit behind. You have got to be someone who can
teach, talk to clients, who can move the peanut forward slowly. If you
fit in, you may stay a long time,’ she says.