It is not unusual for a London ad agency to set up an office in China. But when you learn that the agency has Chinese founders, the expansion eastwards, rather than westwards, is more surprising. After first opening an office in London, Qumin has now ventured into Shanghai.

Arnold Ma
Peng Yan

Arnold Ma and Peng Yan, like the founders of Facebook, met at University. Both are China born but UK educated. Ma came to England at the age of 11 while Yan studied in China until the age of 18. Ma had an early interest in digital work and built his first website while still a teenager. During his studies at University, he won a sabbatical and spent a year working full-time for a company learning and overlooking all aspects of traditional and digital marketing. This was followed by several internships and then, upon graduation, Ma started a career in marketing.

Ma was still working in an award-winning Covent Garden (a trendy London area) digital agency when he decided to break away. He contacted Peng Yan who had gained experience in the field while still in China and shared Ma’s passion and enthusiasm for the digital world.

Still only 26 years old, the pair set up a new digital ad agency and called it Qumin. The name developed from Ma’s memories of his childhood in China where he enjoyed lamb spiced with cumin served at the night markets. While considering this name, his partner pointed out that Qumin in Chinese is (趣民) pronounced QuMin in pinyin – which means interesting people. This sealed the decision and the new name went up on the agency door.

Three English board directors were appointed to work with the founders. Jeremy Whitaker became Chairman, Nick Rines is now Director of International Communications and Reg Starkey came on board as Creative Director. Starkey, a veteran of the ad industry, worked for some time in Asia so he knows the region. Singaporean Mei Yin Chou recently joined the London team as Account Manager with a role in Business Development. Ma took the title of Marketing Director and Yan is Director of Operations, China.

This Anglo-Chinese shop is a full-service agency but specialises in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) and Social Media Marketing (SMM) which it offers in English and Mandarin.

Shortly after opening in London in July, Qumin opened a second office in Shanghai. This has resulted an interest from clients ranging from Intact Nutrition, a North American health food company, to upmarket retailers seeking to attract business from Chinese shoppers who are rapidly outspending their Western counterparts. Chinese corporations are obviously also showing interest in an agency which is more in tune with local thinking and has the ability to help brands internationally via a London office.

“In digital expertise, London and New York are currently years ahead of Shanghai and Beijing,” said Ma. “Qumin offers the most elegant bridge between West and East. We can transfer our Western expertise instantly to our homeland and we naturally understand the Chinese culture in ways that western ‘experts’ never ever can.”

Concurrently, Qumin is selling its marketable connections in China’s more desirable digital spaces including news giants such as SINA and 163.

Qumin is looking at expansion in Asia and plans to open a third office in the region. You can find out more about this new agency at www.qumin.co.uk.

Digital marketing in all its guises is becoming an essential part of the marketing mix and, as marketers recognise its ability to connect and engage with consumers to a degree unknown before, we will see more agencies, perhaps led like Qumin by the Chinese, opening up in the region.