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Active on the Great Wall…China and the beauty of contradictions

Posted on May 20, 2014 by Active

Active in China

It does not come as a surprise that China will not appear as one of the top vacation destinations for most of the people I know. The Chinese is merely viewed as a giant market, a place to do business, invest, open up factories and hire cheap labour. Well, a trip to China can change all the perceptions that you may have and prove that not everything costs $1 in the Dragon country. Also, guess what! It is no longer strange to ask people in China if they have a brother/sister.

Upon arrival to Beijing, you can instantly feel the great discipline among the officers under the ruling Communist party. Their attention to detail when you are checking in is alarming and you can almost feel you are crossing from one world order to another. A ruling party in this country of more than 1.3 billion population cannot afford to lose control. Instead, the state closely monitors everything and everyone. The Chinese secret services are known to be one the most active worldwide. Keeping secessionist movements such as in the Xinjiang region is a top priority for this state (P.S. Xinjiang cuisine is one of the best). It is said that there is one informer on average for each officer. I witnessed one informant blowing his cover and calling out the military on a salesman in one of Beijing’s narrow streets. Funny enough, Chinese universities are among the few in the world where North Korean students may attend outside their country. Red flags and signs celebrating allegiance to Chairman Mao constantly rally the Chinese public behind the precepts of the communist party and the victory over centuries of imperial rules and a number of dynasties.

Nadine China

However, China is also a country of many contradictions that re-define the very meaning of the term contradiction. On one hand, it is a communist country since 1949 when Chairman Mao stood in Tiananmen Square and declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. On the other hand, China does capitalism better than the U.S. Actually, it is expected that with current market behaviour, China will exceed by far US’ GDP growth this year. Also, for these under communist rule, they are dream consumers for luxury brands especially fashion items. Most of luxury brands would confirm that their most valuable customers come from that side. As my Chinese friend explained to me, the middle class is expanding rapidly while the numbers of millionaires is just soaring. As for the employment policy, the country is putting more restrictions on work permits for expats to secure jobs for the youth population. Although investments are highly rewarded, you would not land a job in PR or start a lucrative PR business without deep understanding of the Chinese politics simply because media is owned and controlled by the state and because of language barriers. However, the new Communist party seems to be relaxing the grip and things may be changing in the coming years.

Another capitalist aspect is the presence of KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway and other international food chains literally everywhere and in the most remote areas such as the Water Town which is 2 hours away from the centre of Shanghai. I am indebted to all these places for saving my life in times from severe hunger. As one can imagine, Chinese food is not at all what you can order in P.F. Chang’s. However, if you dare to try out street food, you can try what is known as the Baodze and the Dondze. People actually line up in queues in famous street kiosks.

Nadine China 2

The various cities are not only different in nature and geography but also in their demography. Northern Chinese especially in Beijing are accused of not being friendly enough and one can definitely feel that around hotels, restaurants, etc. Shanghainese are used to foreigners as expats form a large share of the population. Germans and French are the biggest investors in the country and have the highest numbers of workers. Nevertheless, one cannot avoid being stared at in complete wonder and photographed in public places.

The places not to be missed when you are in China are namely, 1) in Beijing, the Great Wall which different sections were united in 221 B.C. – highly recommend the Mutyaniu section, the Forbidden City which was literally a prison for the last Chinese emperor (see the movie the Last Emperor), the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and the Silk Market, 2) In Xian, the Terracotta Warriors and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, 3) In Shanghai, the Bund, Xin Tian Di, Nanjing Road, Yuyuan Garden, and Hangzhou for a romantic Chinese touch on the West Lake.

When touring in China, you would notice that the number local Chinese tourists is the highest among the total number of tourists in China. In fact, domestic tourism contributed to 4% to the overall GDP growth and to some of the crowds you may encounter on the streets. For example, being in Shanghai on Labour Day is a totally different experience having a city of 26 million residents roaming the streets and lining up outside stores.

The Great Wall is indeed one the marvels of human history. So, would you really want to miss out on that?

7 Tips for Successful Interviews

Posted on May 12, 2014 by Mara Carpencu

Distribute press releases, pitch interviews, draft Q&As, edit by-lines, plan events, schedule roundtables, meet journalists…  When it comes to the daily tasks of a PR professional, the list seems endless. All these activities have a main goal: to raise our clients’ visibility in the media and position them as thought leaders in their industry. At Active, we go above and beyond to make sure our clients have the opportunity to shine. And to ensure they truly make the best of these opportunities, we have the responsibility to help the spokespeople – the voices of the organizations and brands they represent – be heard loud and clear.

As the front men or women of their organization, spokespeople are often in the spotlight and should be prepared to address the media’s enquiries with utmost professionalism. Therefore, previous preparation and media training are essential before exposing themselves to the press in order to successfully handle any type of interview and journalist. While there are many aspects that can be covered when educating spokespeople, below are a few tips and tricks that any interviewee should be aware of before venturing on the path of “no comment”. Whether it’s a live TV or radio interview, a phone or face to face interview for a written article, these pointers are basic tools to turn the conversation in your favor:

  • Be prepared – Know who your interlocutor is, who the audience you are addressing is and what is the topic of the interview. Prepare some talking points before you start and make sure you know what you are saying at every step. Have regional figures and stats on hand, especially if your institution provided the research. Know what is newsworthy and be aware of hot topics in the media that might come up in the conversation.
  • Stick to your key messages Know your corporate message and use interviews to get your message across. Make sure you tailor it to your audience and reinforce it throughout the interview, especially when concluding.
  • Be clear and concise – Answer questions to the point and do not deviate from the subject or give too many details unless the journalist requests them. Keep your phrases short and use plain words or explain technical terminology if you must.  Take your time to answer if you need to gather your thoughts and pause before the next question to give the journalist an opportunity to absorb your message.
  • Don’t answer what you don’t know – Avoid speculation and don’t answer questions outside your area of expertise. If you do not know the answer or are not sure of it, be honest and tell the journalist that you will get back with the information. On the other hand, you should never say “No Comment”, as this reflects negatively on you and your organization.
  • Don’t be aggressive or defensive – Keep your calm regardless of how critical the questions get. Be polite and pleasant and do not insult or get angry with the journalist or lash out at the competition. Try to avoid negative questions and, where possible, turn them into positive answers.
  • Everything is On-The-Record – Do not say anything that you do not want to be mentioned in the press. Beware of trick or follow up questions after the interview has officially ended and do not divulge confidential information.
  • Interviews are not sales pitches – The journalist is not your customer, so give him useful information that the audience will appreciate. Remember to address the general points of pain of the market without trying to sell your products or services.

mara blog

The Do’s and Don’ts of the PR World

Posted on May 5, 2014 by Active

The world of PR is a lot of fun and can be very rewarding. However, in order to accomplish your Client’s goals and targets it is important that PR professionals keep in mind a few simple do’s and don’ts. They may seem extremely logical but it is surprising how many PR professionals can forget due to hectic schedules, intense deadlines and a LOT of multi-tasking.


Grab a reporter’s attention by choosing your words carefully. Make sure that you are familiar with their work and you are aware of the things they enjoy writing about and then tailor your pitch to suit them. Remember words wield immense power. Keep your pitch short and sweet, make sure it is relevant to the reporter and their publication and sum up how the story you are pitching is going to benefit their audience!


Remember, just like you have deadlines so do the reporters you are pitching to. If you are pitching a story, do not do it when they are trying to close a publication or file a story – they are not going to have time to chat to you and they will not like the fact that you have not taken their time seriously. If you are already working with them on a story – DO NOT MISS THEIR DEADLINE! They have to make sure they can submit their work in time – just like you have to share content with your Client on time. If you don’t like it being done to you (and I know every PR professional, will complain at least once, of how their Client’s do not respect their time) then don’t do it to others. Another 2 quick no no’s are spamming and sharing content with no images – helllloooooooo…we live in a digital age – everything goes online and everyone wants to see a picture of it!


Make sure you have your finger on the pulse when it comes to anything to do with your Client. By that I mean use social media monitoring tools – these can range from Google Alerts to Facebook, twitter, Instagram stalking! Keep in mind you need to be aware of your Client’s news as well as trending topics in that particular industry and just for the extra mile keep an eye on your Client’s competitors, we don’t want them stealing our limelight!


Long negative rants on social media forums, especially if your Client has access to those forums is never a good idea! Do not get carried away and always try and maintain a professional image on Social Media. Remember, people will be sussing you out on Facebook way before they meet you in person. Don’t hide the fact that there have been a number of times that you have Facebooked/twitter stalked a new Client before a meeting. Think about it this way, if your Client was to set up a Google Alert with your name, what information would you want them getting?


Manage your Client’s expectations, learn how to say no when you need to and set out a clear approval process. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities as a PR consultant – nothing is more convincing than confidence. If a Client is being slightly too pushy or rude, find a way to explain your side of the story in a rational and logical way, make sure you have the facts and if necessary the stats to back up what you are saying. Ensure that you have set realistic goals from the onset and make sure you remind your Client of those goals – do not let yourself be a pushover, eventually your skin gets tougher!


Do not be afraid of your Client – you are the expert in your field and in the region you are in, you are the one consulting them, take charge. Do not simply be a ‘yes’ robot. If your Client wants to do something in the region – for example launch a product or issue a press release that you feel will not work – speak your mind that is your job. Never ignore a situation, if something is not going to plan address it with your Client straight away and suggest an alternative or a solution. Mistakes happen, it is how you find your way back that will define your success.


Be proactive. Research. Pitch. Be present. If a story has come out and it is relevant to your Client reach out to them and suggest a commentary piece or call up the reporter and ask them if they are interested in a larger story. If your Client sends you a release that you believe could gain coverage if certain parts were altered – make the alterations and suggest that your Client use the amended version and explain why. Pitch and close interviews, be present at that interview with your Client, advise them and direct them, build their trust in you and allow them to watch you work your magic in your element. Generate valuable content on a regular basis. This highlights that you are continuously identifying trends and are able to provide reliable, solid information. Once again, this will build your Client’s trust in your abilities.


Lack of motivation is not a good look on anyone. Do not simply send something out because you have been told to. Do not source semi-relevant coverage just so you can say you achieved coverage. Engage with your Client – hold brainstorming sessions and make sure you show your interest in what your Client does. Do not sit idle and allow your Client’s competitor to snatch all the good PR opportunities away!

things to remember

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