Party A, Party B

Stories between Party A and Party B are a running joke in China. Party A outsources work to a service provider, such as Party B. For instance, if USC were to ask an advertising company to design a poster for an upcoming football game, then USC would be Party A, and the advertising company would be Party B. Party B has to accomplish every “mission impossible” task assigned by Party A, so most media practitioners don’t want to be Party B.

Jing Mo (her first name has been changed) is a campaign manager at a national commercial real estate company in China, in charge of media strategy and execution. Before the job, Mo had been at an advertising company for four years, and an online advertising corporation for three years. In other words, after being Party B for seven years, she finally joined Party A. When I asked Mo what the differences are between being Party A and Party B, surprisingly, Mo didn’t tell me how relieved she felt after ditching the bitter life of Party B. Instead, she told me how different Party A’s and Party B’s needs are.

“There are many disconnects between Party A and Party B,” Mo said. She mentioned that when she was Party B, the one thing about Party A that upset her the most was that Party A never thought about what it needs to do to help Party B finish its job — Party A just assumed that Party B would be able to satisfy all its needs without asking any questions. Even if Party B were to ask anything, Party A wouldn’t answer, because it believed that it’s Party B’s responsibility to figure out everything on its own. Mo recalled that when she worked at the advertising company as an account manager, once a medium sized financial organization reached out to her and asked for help in increasing awareness of their firm. However, when Mo asked the man what the organization’s business scope was, the gentleman said he would have to ask for his supervisor’s permission before answering the question. After he made a phone call, he asked Mo: “My boss asks if you could simply print out some flyers and posters with the name of our firm on it with a simple description of what other similar organizations are doing.”

“You might be thinking that it’s a financial firm, and they might indeed have some secrets — but I’m telling you this is happening in every industry, including fashion, education, and retail. Every time I would be thinking: What exactly are the secrets in teaching kids to dance?” Mo laughed. Although she found the phenomenon ridiculous, now that she’s Party A, she is able to understand the reasons behind it. In China, Party B might fail to understand the importance of confidentiality agreement due to immature regulations and laws on this issue. Mo stated that the companies she worked for were big, so they paid a lot attention to educating employees about the significance of keeping clients’ information confidential. She said it doesn’t mean that other small- to medium-sized companies would just go around and announce their clients’ secrets to the world. “But what if Party B talked about ‘a story’ of their clients with one of their friends? No one knows what would happen.” Mo admitted that she can now feel the lack of protection for Party A since she’s become a part of it, and it’s no surprise that Party A becomes suspicious about everything, though sometimes it seems ridiculous.

According to Mo, distrust between Party A and Party B has led to another disconnect. For instance, as the one who pays, Party A always want everything — it’s understandable that they want to maximize the result, but they fail to realize that decisions have to be made because of time and budget limits. “However, when I was working as Party B, Party A thought I just didn’t want to do my best almost every time I tried to tell them the truth,” Mo said. She mentioned that in order to satisfy Party A and thus makes life easier, Party B will simply provide many channels, formats, and stunts for Party A to make them feel that they’ve done enough work, or they will simply do everything Party A asks for. However, the consequence is that quantity overweighs quality — most of the “work” won’t be very effective.

Mo remembered one time a private clinic reached out to her when she was working at the online advertising company. The clinic’s patients were mainly seniors, and it wanted to grow into a bigger clinic, and thus needed help to raise its visibility. Mo’s final project offered them communication channels on Weibo, WeChat, and several mainstream web portals. However, the plan wasn’t carried out well because no seniors would be using those channels. “I was extremely tired of arguing with my clients,” Mo said, “So I just gave the representative what she wanted — though I knew it wouldn’t be good.”

I asked Mo what she believes will be the most efficient way to bridge the gap between Party A and Party B. “Communication, communication, and more communication,” Mo answered without hesitation. She said when she was Party B, she found Party A arrogant and didn’t want to talk to them. In addition, at that time, Mo held prejudices against Party A, regarding them as ignorant and bossy.

“But now I understand that my prejudice at that time was a kind of arrogance as well,” Mo said, “I forgot about the fact that it’s because Party A is not familiar with a certain area that they need Party B.”

Mo said that not until she joined Party A and understood it did she realize how much time Party A and Party B have wasted on petty disagreements and mistrust. However, she now understands that everyone is just trying to get his or her job done. She believes that if both Party A and Party B can communicate more, and try to put themselves into each other’s shoes, there will be fewer conflicts and better outcome.

At the end of the interview, I asked Mo what changes there would be if she returned to Party B now. She said she definitely wouldn’t do everything Party A asked for just to get her job done. “I would try to demonstrate my understanding of the situation and convince them to trust me,” Mo said. I asked her what she would say to the representative of the clinic, a woman around 50, if she came again. Mo laughed and said that she would ask the lady if she had a Weibo or WeChat account, and how many friends she had browse websites and use social media everyday. “That would a good way to show her why the plan wouldn’t work, don’t you think?” Mo said.

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