Spurred by interest from clients, The Kellen Co. became the first U.S.-based association management company to establish roots in China when it opened an office in Beijing in January 2007.

“Many of the associations that we manage want to grow their associations globally into this new economic frontier — the Chinese market,” says Phelps Hope, vice president, meetings and expositions at Atlanta-based Kellen. And some clients are using meetings as a way to break into China.

Kellen hasn't planned any major meetings or conventions yet, but it has run several small seminars for clients, designed to educate or inform local professionals about the association and the industry.

The venture also gives Kellen an opportunity to tap into the Chinese market in hopes of managing or providing services for some of the many associations, which are called non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, in China. “We're willing to make the investment because we know it's an economic frontier for us.” The AMC has not picked up any Chinese clients to date, but Kellen officials know it's just the beginning of a long-term commitment that will hopefully prove fruitful. “We have a long-term plan of growing the business in the Chinese market. We're there — we're not leaving.”

Kellen's Beijing office is staffed by local residents with knowledge of the market and connections to local entities and authorities. “You have to have a man on the ground,” says Hope. Connections with the Chinese government are critical to doing business since Chinese NGOs are actually sponsored and overseen by the government in communist China.

To lend insights into the nuances of doing business China, Kellen held a conference in December for association executives, called Entering China: Opportunities and Challenges. Featured speakers included Yu Lu, secretary general, China Consulting Association, and Victor Yuan, chairman, Horizon Research Consultancy Group, Beijing, who gave an overview of the association environment and discussed future market trends and how they might affect U.S.-based and Chinese organizations.

“This was an excellent way for members of the U.S. association community to meet and brainstorm with business leaders from China,” said Randy Ma, manager of Kellen's Beijing office. With many of China's associations establishing new partner relationships, there are opportunities for organizations looking to expand into China, he said.

Kellen, which manages some 80 associations, has been aggressive in globalizing its business. In addition to its four U.S. offices, Kellen has branches in Brussels, Beijing, and Singapore. The Singapore office opened in January as part of a partnership Kellen forged with CMA International — a local AMC. Kellen also has partnerships with companies in India and the Middle East, where it won a contract to manage the Arabian Knowledge Economy Association, based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Five Things You Should Know about Doing Business in China.

  • Treat the business card exchange with respect. Never put the card in your back pocket or even shirt pocket upon receipt, rather, keep it in front of you on the table until the meeting is over. If standing, place it in a portfolio, folder, or purse or hold it until the conversation is over. Also, study it for a few seconds and comment about something on the card — the address, the title, the design etc.

  • Don't make small talk about personal matters, such as asking about their weekend. It's okay to exchange business pleasantries, for example, asking about their flight, but otherwise, get right down to business.

  • The Chinese currency is a closed currency, which means it's not traded on the world markets so you can't exchange it for American dollars when you leave the country. If you're going to be there for an extended period of time, it might be a good idea to wire money into a Chinese bank and pull from it as necessary. Or just spend wisely.

  • If you're an exhibitor, hire a translator because only about half of the attendees will speak English, but all will speak Mandarin. Same thing with booth materials: Get them translated into Mandarin.

  • Market using all available channels: telephone, mail, and e-mail. Chinese people like to keep their business options open and may not decide to attend until the last minute. So be persistent and contact them and invite them right up until the deadline. Use all marketing vehicles because people in different parts of the country respond better to different modes of communication.

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