I am sooooo excited to finally get to write this post! I was waiting to write it as my final wrap up from my India trip. I want to introduce you to the most interesting woman in the world… Yuet. And I got to spend two weeks with her. All through my trip I would learn little tidbits about her amazing life, but it wasn’t until we were in the backseat of a car together on the way to the Taj Mahal from Dehli that I finally learned how more AMAZING she is… and she actually let me take notes!
Let’s just start by saying that Yuet is a lovely, humble woman. And when I told her at the end of the conversation that she was the person to finally open up China to capitalism and open the eyes of millions of Chinese to American culture, she blushed and said she only had a small part in it, and it was a team effort. Bah. Once you read the rest of this, you’ll agree with me.
From the Beginning
Having grown up in Hong Kong, in 1973, Yuet was one of the first students to visit China after Nixon had “raised the Iron curtain.” She and a handful of students backpacked town by town and city by city (about eight total) where they had to register at each police station to get a permit to be there. They went from the south to the west and ended in Shanghai. It was very eye opening for her.
They were received very warmly by the locals. One time they went into a store and when they left there were about a hundred people waiting for them outside. They just stared and followed the students and didn’t ask any questions. They just wanted to see the young people wearing jeans and t-shirts while they were still in their old Mao uniforms. The funniest interaction was with a male student who had long hair like the Beatles and wore hippy shirts and the locals kept asking if he was a man or woman.
The students stayed in China for a month. And they hadn’t done much research before they went. Because there was no information coming out of China, they had no idea what to expect, they could only just go.
This trip set her up to have a remarkable relationship with China her whole life.
Years later she would be a marketing executive in New York City working for CBS when CBS engaged with the Chinese government to start bringing programming onto Chinese television. Before CBS, she said, the only content they had was a snooze fest. One show was a guy teaching how to get stains off of a t-shirt. And there was no advertising on TV whatsoever.
So the agreement between CBS and the Chinese government was to have government approved shows run in China with the advertising blocks still in-laid and CBS could sell the advertising space to companies around the world.
Yuet was the one who managed the program selections and did the screens with the government officials and provided the instant interpretation. She would have to explain the scenarios and jokes in a way that they would understand. And then the officials would either agree to run that show episode or not.
She worked with the advertising and sales people in the US who sold the space. She went to the AAAAs and big brand agencies directly. She also managed the logistics for getting the ads inserted into the shows and would ship three-quarter video taps to China with the full show. She then worked with a local Chinese agency to monitor whether things ran in order to provide proof of performance to her clients!
Because this was their first foray into advertising, there were no rules in China like here in the US (like no cigarette and limited alcohol advertising), so she helped develop standards for appropriateness and helped make the decision on what kinds of advertisers they would go after.
I asked her what kinds of challenges she faced and she mentioned some instances that she asked to keep confidential, but she did summarize by saying that, just like any other new job, there are things you don’t know until you come across them, but with communication and collaboration they were able to overcome those challenges.
When she started landing more Asian accounts, she proposed to CBS that they open an Asian office in Hong Kong. They accepted the proposal and she became the managing director of CBS Asia. She built the office from soup to nuts, from the chairs and carpet color to finding the right sales people. It was a strong strategic move to build marketing intelligence and build relationships.
She did continue to struggle whether or not she was doing the right thing for China by bringing advertising. But because of the relationships she built and the goodwill that was formed, she overall feels like it was the right thing to do. I agree with her. She opened the eyes of so many Chinese people to learning about other cultures (albeit a capitalist, materialistic one) that enlightening them was way better than them staying in the dark.
I am incredibly impressed with this woman’s life story and how she has persevered. And you only got a small, yet very impactful taste of it. I’m pretty sure I’m her biggest fan. Love you, Yuet!