Tom Mattia, former Global Head of Communications for Coke and EDS and Chief Communications Officer at Yale University, sat down with Ed Lallo of Newsroom Ink to discuss public relations and communications before heading to China as chair of Edelman China.
© by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink
Deserted, dreamily lit streets, heavy with the lingering dust from the day – straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel. A bicyclist on the way to an early-morning market, carrying crates of live poultry piled in a way even a Costco stocker would admire. Small, quiet streets devoid of autos as far as the eye can see. Those are the memories of China 20 years past for Tom Mattia, the new chairman of Edelman China.
“The nexus of the Chinese world is Beijing,” explained Mattia on their choice of the city as their new home. “It just makes sense for the business for me to be there. The city is continuously expanding, building high-rise towers further and further from city center. The city is in constant motion, never resting.”
As his wife Marti and he prepare to leave the already sweltering Texas heat for their new Chinese home, he admits that it is a completely different China they will experience the second time around.
Gone are the deserted streets, the bicycles and people strolling lazily along. Beijing today is a city that moves fast, filled with six lane streets and cars whizzing in every direction.
“In 20 years, the city has gone from a quiet, agrarian society transplanted inside a big city, into being a full-urban center,” he said.
How can a retired New Jersey native living in Texas hope for business success 9000-miles away in this new fast-paced country?
“The great thing about our profession is if you have the right skill set you can apply it anywhere,” he said from his Hill Country home, with plans for a new deck spread over the dining room table. “The tools of our profession are transferable, you can move them around. But you must have the ability to gather facts, sort through them, understand the story, get the messaging straight and then figure out how to deliver them.”
Mattia is a firm believer that everyone in his or her career should have both agency and corporate experience in order to determine where they are most comfortable; then focus those skills in that particular area.
He views public relations agencies as a source of great breathe. They have the ability to touch numerous organizations and business in a wide variety of fields, helping to develop a broader, client-based knowledge.
“The balance on the agency side is doing the right thing for your client,” Mattia emphasized, “as well as doing the right thing for you business. First and foremost, always do the right thing for your client. The relationships that sour are ones that are focused on billing the next hour. The relationships that prosper are the ones that concentrate on moving the client forward.”
As senior vice-president of Global Communications for Coca-Cola, a company that does business in more than 200 countries, is where he felt he started to really understand the dynamics of international business.
“If you are in a corporate job, your responsibility is to bring the outside world in, as well as bring your company out,” he said. “You become the ‘mouthpiece’ as well as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the company.”
A majority corporate communications and PR departments turn to agencies for additional “arms and legs”. While at EDS, Coke and Yale, he sought more than bodies. For him a good agency not only provides the additional talent, but also experienced consul that helps expand his view – getting information he couldn’t because he was stuck in the belly of whatever “tar-baby”.
A majority of corporate communications and PR departments turn to agencies for additional “arms and legs.” While at EDS, Coke and Yale, Mattia sought more than bodies. For him, a good agency not only provides the additional talent, but also experienced consul that helps expand his view – getting information he couldn’t because he was stuck in the belly of whatever “tar-baby.”
“Bob Dilenschneider, who runs The Dilenschneider Group, would send me 10 ideas a month while I was at Coke,” said Mattia. “Nine ideas wouldn’t work, but one of them would, or give me an idea that would lead to something that would. I would never feel bad about getting a letter, email or call from Bob because I felt that he was looking out for me.”
Agency relationship with clients needs to be based peer-to-peer. As he heads off to China, this is what he hopes to bring to Edelman’s clients, a broader view that fits their needs.
Mattia considers his first and foremost responsibility is to ensure he is the last westerner to run Edelman’s business in China. His challenges while there will be to review the current structure of the business, develop the agencies talent and build a bridge to appoint Chinese national as CEO.
The five offices off Edelman China currently consist of two PR brands; Edelman and Pegasus, a former Chinese based agency that Edelman acquired.
He wants to enhance the current digital capabilities of both agencies, as well as investigate a number of other possible options. Both agencies have good digital capabilities, but he wants to look into the possibility of bringing them together to form a new Chinese digital agency under the Daniel J. Edelman business.
Opportunities for Edelman exist in both consulting and strategy according to him. He sees his job as pulling the two together under a comprehensive structure, as well as identifying areas the agency should pursue with both large multi-national and local companies.
Mattia sees a definite opportunity for business with Chinese companies.
“I can remember 20 years ago working in Hong Kong, running China for Hill and Knowlton and saying that if the Chinese state enterprises get freed, we should be looking at them as a business opportunities,” he reminisced. “Twenty years later, the industry is saying the same thing. However, the dynamics of the Chinese marketplace has changed enough to start taking a good hard look both at independent and state-run companies.
Historically, business in China has been outside in; large multi-national companies that understand the value of PR coming into China. There is now the opportunities to start helping Chinese companies understand the importance of building their brand, especially building their brand outside of China.
“If China wants to continue its growth, it can’t go on forever being the low-cost producer,” Mattia explained. “As China’s income rises, the domestic economy becomes more important and plays a larger role for the growth of local businesses. This is where the opportunity lies for Edelman, to help Chinese companies start making this transition.”
He hopes to bring the skills needed to position their brands and move them forward in the marketplace. Opportunities for Chinese business lay in Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America and the “stans,” someplace outside of North America or Europe to start.
He sees China having a “great work ethic as well as a great enthusiasm” that reminds him of IBM in the 70s and 80s. The Chinese people believe that tomorrow will be better than today. He finds it rewarding to see they believe if they work hard and work smart they can advance. These are things he finds to often missing in the current North American marketplace.
The Chinese market is very active and full, but Mattia sees it as a land of opportunity for those that speak fluent Mandarin or have a unique talent to offer.
Oglivy has been the recognized leader in Asia for some time and is well positioned. Edelman, which employs approximately two hundred professionals, is a close second. Burson Marsteller, Porter Novelli and Ketchum also have a prominent presence, along with a growing number of Chinese firms.
“I think Edelman was very smart in acquiring Pegasus a few years ago,” said Mattia. “Steve Tao, who runs the firm, is a very good, smart entrepreneurial expert who knows the market.”
The firm’s major clients include Hewlett Packard, Johnson and Johnson and Mars, while Pegasus does a lot of automotive work for Mercedes, BWM and Volvo. He feels that he has three main business objectives for both brands:
- Keep the consumer business strong
- Align corporate strategy, especially corporate social responsibility
- Build the public affairs business
In a perfect world, Mattia would like to find one or two Chinese companies interested in broaching the US marketplace. He sees both opportunity and problems in making this possible.
Rick Levin, the president of Yale University, is looking at creating a research “incubator space” for Chinese companies seriously interested in the US. As these companies open U.S. operations, hopefully it will provide business opportunities for Edelman.
“Reputation” is the major obstacle he sees for Chinese companies looking to established brand presence in the US. The value of reputation is a hard discussion to have with a Chinese company, but he feels it will be his job to better explain what that is, its market value and importance in the U.S. and world markets.
The quiet, carless China streets are far in Mattia’s past. Today, the streets of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are filled with millions of people stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, trying to travel in a thousand directions at once.
It will be Tom Mattia’s job as new chair of Edelman China to help clients steer the equally confusing Chinese business maze and set a clear direction for a winning strategy.