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Enterprise : LEARNING CURVE: U.S.-ASIA COMMUNICATION CO. : Rim Shot : Marketer Helps Bridge East-West Gap

February 20, 1996

Michael Wu, a native of Mongolia, founded U.S.-Asia Communication Co. five years ago after a career that mixed business and journalism on both sides of the Pacific. Wu, whose family fled communism to settle in Taiwan, came to the United States as a college student. He saw the need for a company that could bridge the huge cultural and linguistic gap between mainstream American firms and the burgeoning Asian immigrant population in Southern California. Wu was interviewed by Karen E. Klein.

I started this company with the idea that I could take the messages of such institutions as Kaufman & Broad and Pepperdine University to non-English-speaking Asian immigrants.

The immigrant community was suspicious of dealing with American companies and does not naturally turn to American marketing because of the many language and cultural differences that exist. But I have experience in both cultures and felt that I could effectively market American companies to these immigrant communities.

I also have some Asian firms who hire me to develop marketing plans for them here in the United States, and I have an office in Beijing with two employees who arrange Pacific Rim tours for Asian companies that want an introduction to American consumers and the U.S. market. One of my clients, for example, is a Japanese cosmetics firm anxious to gain a share of the American market.

I used to be a reporter, announcer and editor in Taiwan, where I got a radio and television broadcasting degree.

I came to the U.S. to get a master's degree from Brigham Young University in Utah, majoring in Asian studies.

While I lived there, I was hired by the governor as the state's first Asian affairs director, working with Asian business concerns in the state. What I learned was that Americans do not realize how many little details are very significant to people from Asian cultures. For one thing, in Asian cultures friendship must come first before business deals are made.

A lot of Asians complain that every time the American business people stop by, they want to strike a deal.

But that is not the way Asians like to do business. There should be socializing, friendship, eating together, meeting the family. Another problem we face is in translation. English ads and slogans don't mean anything when translated literally into Chinese. So I must find a creative translation, something that catches the attention of the consumer.

On the appeal of lucky numbers in advertising . . .

"All these things are designed; nothing can be overlooked. I like to use eight, which is a lucky-number word that sounds like 'flourishing' in Chinese. I don't use four, which is the number of death."

On how Asians view aggressive American business people . . .

"The Chinese character for 'money' has four strokes. They say you should never try to chase money, since you have only two legs and it has four. You have to let the money chase you."

On why he chose a camel as his company's symbol . . .

"He is a very peaceful animal who is reliable and carries a lot of weight. He consumes only a little but produces a lot."

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AT A GLANCE

Company: U.S.-Asia Communication Co.

Owner: Michael Wu

Nature of business: Advertising, marketing and promotions firm specializing in reaching Asian immigrant consumers.

Location: One office in La Crescenta, one in Beijing

Number of employees: Eight

Annual income: $120,000

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