Mintz's outsider approach beats the big guys in China

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[Shanghai] Dan Mintz, chief creative officer of Dynamic Marketing Group, is one of China's least conventional marketing pioneers, and has managed to succeed where multinational advertising networks have failed. In the past 11 years, the eccentric Brooklyn native has built one of the country's hottest creative agencies.

With help from two Chinese partners, DMG Chairman Peter Xiao, a finance expert, and VP Wu Bing, a former Olympic gymnast, the independent shop generates billings worth $96 million and employs 350 people in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Los Angeles and New York.

At first glance, Mr. Mintz is an unlikely candidate to take on Madison Avenue's established networks. He has never worked for a Western agency and did not attend college. His name rarely pops up on the industry grapevine, even within China.

And yet a deft mixture of street smarts, talent, an uncanny ability to handle diverse personalities and cultures and a healthy dose of bravado have earned him the respect-and accounts-of blue chip marketers like Volkswagen and China Mobile.

Earlier this year, for instance, DMG outperformed five Western agencies-WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide and BBDO Worldwide, Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi-to win the creative account for VW's first Chinese brand campaign.

Difficult pitch

"It was a very difficult pitch," recalled Mr. Mintz, one complicated by overlapping relationships in China's auto industry, where rivals Volkswagen and General Motors both operate joint ventures with bitter Chinese rivals Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. and First Auto Works.

"Expectations for this campaign working out were very low and everyone needed to be handled and communicated to properly," he said, "but handling the mix of cultures on the client side is something we do rather well."

The agency's strategy, built around the Chinese character for "heart," won the unanimous support of all four marketer teams in the review: the stodgy German execs from VW's Wolfsburg headquarters, VW's Vadco import business in Beijing and both local joint venture partners. At a subsequent creative presentation in Beijing, Mr. Mintz and his team got a standing ovation from the client and were appointed on the spot.

"They presented a concept that convinced us all," said Lutz Kothe, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based worldwide head of marketing & communications, VW brand. Soon after, DMG was handed a four-year Olympic marketing assignment for VW, a national sponsor of the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Most of DMG's clients are local companies such as Asia Securities, China Electronics Corp., Juneng Pharmaceuticals and China Mobile.

Despite DMG's successful track record, Mr. Mintz deliberately maintains a low profile in the ad community, dating back to his first days in China, when he drafted his nascent film-making experience to produce TV spots for agencies.

Although he acknowledges that multinational networks were barely established in China at that time, he was appalled at the sloppy ads that agencies churned out and so started offering creative suggestions to their clients. Marketers soon started calling Mr. Mintz directly and he suddenly found himself in the advertising business.

"Back then, there was a lack of commitment in the people and the agency structure, both from a strategic and tactical point of view," he said.

Those early experiences gave Mr. Mintz-a fluent Mandarin speaker who feels more at ease among Chinese artists than highly-paid expats-a distaste for Western agencies that sticks with him today.

At the same time, Mr. Mintz is astonishingly unfamiliar with some aspects of the advertising industry. For instance, when it was suggested to him that captains of industry like WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell would probably be interested in buying his red-hot agency, he innocently asked "Who's Martin Sorrell?"

Just Asking

Q: What's your best tip for foreigners setting up in China?

A: Make friends with government agencies, but don't assume you have to form joint ventures with the state to be successful

Q: What's your favorite meal?

A: Mongolian hot pot

Q: Where do you most like to eat it?

A: 1221 The Dining Room

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