Global PA and communications consultancy APCO Worldwide has announced the appointment of James Robinson as Managing Director of its Shanghai office.
The appointment comes as APCO beefs up its China business ahead of a push for revenue growth on the mainland and potentially big shifts in the political and trading environment between China and its global partners.
Commenting on the appointment, APCO CEO Brad Staples (left), said: “The China market is critical to almost every global client today. We’ve seen tremendous growth in China, and adding James to our leadership team allows us to pursue more opportunities, accelerate progress and deepen our bench. James has worked in China, the US and Europe and he has a keen understanding of the needs of ambitious corporations in this growing market. His return to China is milestone for us, and a reflection of the importance of the region.”
Robinson will take the lead in linking APCO’s China business with its global operations, and in connecting its clients’ local and global communications. In this role he will work closely with existing APCO executives Linda Du and James McGregor who will both take on a greater focus on managing existing and new business relationships.
Robinson graduated with both a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in China studies from the University of Cambridge and speaks Mandarin proficiently. He rejoins a team of more than 80 APCO staff in Greater China, including accomplished senior colleagues that include:
Speaking with PublicAffairsAsia he said: “For a firm such as APCO we have to differentiate ourselves from local competition and the big marketing and ad agencies. Our unique value add can be as champions locally, being really smart about what is happening on the ground in government and among stakeholder groups – and then connecting that expertise to what is developing globally. It is very hard for local players or big global holding companies to be as nimble as we are.”
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In addition to managing the Shanghai office Robinson will maintain responsibilities in helping lead APCO’s sustainability and purpose practice group, which assists clients navigate the issues and stakeholders which have the ability to accelerate or derail their growth agendas.
In recent years, Robinson has led several of APCO’s most significant global assignments for leading corporate, non-profit and government clients, supporting research, engagement, public affairs, communication and reporting programmes.
He told PublicAffairsAsia that he would lead a further drive towards digital roll out and seek to link projected double digit growth in APCO’s China business with its global operations.
“We will make sure that all our people are really smart in using digital. We have the programme ‘Digital in our DNA’ and we want to see digital used not only in communications but in engaging stakeholders and in public affairs. We also want to connect what our clients need here in China with what is happening globally at the headquarters level.”
Prior to his most recent posting with APCO in New York, where he led the firm’s work on the Clinton Global Initiative, Robinson previously served in the company’s Beijing and Jakarta offices.
China market focus
During his earlier China posting he advised multinationals looking to enter the China market and helped clients expand their China presence through government and public affairs programmes. Robinson also managed marketing and business development functions for APCO’s China presence.
He told PublicAffairsAsia: “I am seeing three defining trends in the industry here. We are seeing clients moving from market entry phase to market optimization: many are bringing a second HQ here to China. Secondly digital is bringing speed: the market is a lot faster, both for consumer communications and for corporate communications and public affairs. Finally, we’re seeing intense competition for really good people, both between agencies and in-house.”
Robinson’s appointment comes at a crucial stage in China-US and Sino-global relations, with a new US president set to be installed in the White House and China about to embark on the 19th party congress in 2017.
He added: “We’re experiencing the rise of nativism and localism. The real world impact of this movement will be the effect this has on trade policy, such as the TPP agreement. At the same time, both in the US and here in China, policymakers will be looking to find fresh investment and to unleash capital. We will have to watch whether the US is a welcoming environment for outbound China investment.”