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Chinese brands ride Hollywood blockbusters to global fame

Volume 1, 2016

Did you catch a glimpse of TCL mobile phones in Iron Man 3, or the popular Chinese food brand Zhouheiya during its brief appearance in Transformers 4? If you did, then you’re already familiar with the work of Jianru Helian (CEIBS AMP 6 & LCP 2012) who’s playing a key role in introducing Chinese brands to global consumers. Through Reach Glory Media Group, the company she founded five years ago, Helian is driving the globalisation of Chinese brands through entertainment marketing – getting them screen time in major Hollywood films and television shows so they’re seen by audiences around the world, as well as in China.

With her short-cropped hair and trendy wardrobe, Helian is the epitome of today’s business woman. She comes across as extremely competent, candid, and fashionable. Her surname, rarely seen in China, is said to be typical of descendants of the Huns and she seems to have inherited their candour. Throughout our conversation she was unfaltering as she shared her love for the entertainment industry, her determination to make a name for Chinese brands, and her belief that there’s a bright future ahead for entertainment marketing and her company Reach Glory Media. Read on for more:-

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I’d been working in the advertising and media industry since graduating from university, and after more than a decade, I had developed a thorough understanding of customers’ needs, market trends, brand marketing, communications and innovation. Having spent a few years at Warner Brothers, where he was in charge of the global market, my business partner Ji Erwei was very familiar with the Hollywood entertainment industry and producing. We often discussed the question of how to combine the needs of Chinese brands with good movies, and I suggested we work together to create a framework for bringing both sides together. We set up Reach Glory Media Group at the end of 2010. I’m the Chairwoman, responsible for brand communication; he’s Executive Director in charge of entertainment content.

Was it difficult to get traction in the market? What is your company’s main focus?

The company grew quickly. We’re headquartered in Beijing, and have offices in Los Angeles, Seoul and Shanghai. We help Chinese brands go global through entertainment marketing and have been involved in almost all the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, including those released in mainland China. Reach Glory has put together collaborations for many Chinese brands. The fast food chain Zhouheiya was seen in Transformers 4; TCL’s consumer electronics products were embedded in Iron Man 2 and 3; the apparel brand Semir collaborated with Iron Man 2, and the Internet apparel brand Vancl has a deal with the American television series The Big Bang Theory which is popular around the world, just to give a few examples of our work.

We are positioning Reach Glory as an entertainment company with brand communication as our core business. We are trying our best to live up to our slogan, “Know more about movie producers than Chinese brands; Know more about Chinese brands than movie producers”. We want to help finicky Hollywood directors see Chinese brands and their products as being easy to incorporate into their films in an organic way; it’s about finding the right balance between business and art. We don’t just broker deals, we also help both the movie producers and Chinese brands expand their reach into new markets, achieving a “win-win” result for all involved. Reach Glory’s business can be broken down into four segments: branded content, making brands entertaining, producing entertainment, and creating platforms for products.

You come across as a very confident business woman who’s very sure of what she wants and where she’s going. Were you always so clear about what direction your career should take?

There have been two turning points in my career so far. The first was in 2007 when I enrolled in the CEIBS AMP Programme. I was feeling a bit lost and facing some difficulties in my career at that time. The AMP Programme inspired me to set up my own company. Before CEIBS, I was involved in various activities – advertising, public relations, event management. “Business model” was a foreign concept to me. I used to compare what I did to “scrambling eggs”. The many classmates I got to know at CEIBS had a great impact on me. I came to realise that I should stop “scrambling eggs”, and instead begin to “keep a hen to produce eggs”. I started to think about business models, and learned that the essence of a business model is sustainability. Professor Katherine Xin inspired me a lot, and taught me a useful lesson: “Never be full-function, instead focus on what you are best at; other people’s skills can complement you in the areas where you are not as good”. By August 2008, when I completed my studies at CEIBS, I had a clear picture of what I should do. This was the greatest learning from my CEIBS experience.

After graduating from CEIBS, I began to work on movies, and stopped everything I had been doing before. I had not yet set up a company, but began investing in movies as an individual investor. Since I was really eager to produce content and always had a dream about being in the film business, I later decided to work with my friend Ji Erwei who had just returned to China from Hollywood. Together we invested in two movies; he was the producer and I was the presenter. This experience laid a solid foundation for the movie product placement work I am doing now.

The second turning point occurred when Reach Glory was acquired by Gangtai Holding. Reach Glory became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gangtai. Having access to more investment capital has helped our development as it allows us to leverage our unique advantages in brand placement and joint promotion.

Who has been your most influential role model? 

My uncle has always encouraged me to do what I enjoy, and encouraged my entrepreneurship, which has helped me a lot. My parents died when I was still a child, my uncle is the one who raised me. He’s an innovative person and doesn’t follow a traditional path. His optimism and entrepreneurial spirit have had a great influence on me since my childhood. He started his own business many years ago, while most people were still working for established companies. My uncle helped develop the optimistic and enterprising sides of my personality. He often says, “You don’t have to accomplish something big, just remember to be happy and hardworking, so you won’t have any regrets in your life.”

When I was still thinking about whether or not to stay in a big company to gain more experience, remembering my uncle’s words encouraged me to start my own business. He said, “In our family, no one is more suitable for entrepreneurship than you. You have the right personality.” He’s always supported my choices. I later came to better understand my uncle’s meaning. First of all, women entrepreneurs actually have more fall-back options and rarely start a business just for the money. Therefore they must intertwine their ideals and preferences with the business. Apart from that, when you do what you like, it won’t be so tiring, and you will have a better chance to succeed.

In 2015, Gangtai Holding acquired Reach Glory for RMB440 million. Why do you think such a large listed company wanted you? What do you think the future will bring for your company? 

After the global financial crisis in 2008, there were many changes in the advertising and marketing industry. Clients became very cautious and thought about their marketing expenses more carefully. They wanted their money to go further, and to achieve much better results, or maybe they were very targeted in their spending. An increasing number of brands began to promote their products via movies or other content, hoping to create more impact with less money. Entertainment marketing and content marketing are the future trends, and will be important tools for companies to promote their brands. For brands, the value of this marketing strategy lies in the high rate of return on investment; for producers, it lowers their investment risk.

Compared with traditional marketing, entertainment marketing puts more emphasis on customers’ active participation as well as an emotional connection between customers and companies. Entertainment marketing, with brands at the core, relies on data. Consumers are attracted by things such as embedded advertisements, ads played during the previews in the cinema, and merchandising. These things spark emotional resonance among consumers and enhance a brand’s value. All successful entertainment marketing follows a similar path: authorised joint promotion, applying movie elements to products, promotions, ground operations, media pitches and new media marketing. When executed simultaneously these things combine to create a multi-platform “perfect storm” of audience awareness during a movie’s promotion and release period.

Gangtai has provided us with strong support for content, and I think with the acquisition we did not sell the company in a traditional sense; the deal has given us a capital platform. We need a large amount of easily accessible capital for movie and content production, and we think we have a sound strategy for Reach Glory’s sustainable development. I have full confidence in my team: almost half of them have overseas experience. Our excellent team is unmatched by almost everyone else in the market. They are why we have been so successful so far.