Finding the right partner the key to success in China

Pukeko Pictures with partners at the Forum of Creativity and Music Education China

Pūkeko Pictures CEO Clive Spink talks about the challenges in growing their entertainment production business into the Chinese market.

Pūkeko Pictures is an independent entertainment production company developing and producing world-class, multi-platform entertainment for a global audience. The company has produced television programmes seen in over 100 territories including Jane and the Dragon, The WotWots, Thunderbirds Are Go, Cleverman and Kiddets.

“Pūkeko Pictures has set out to build relationships globally to accomplish the goal of taking high quality content from New Zealand to the global market,” says CEO Clive Spink.

“As the largest single market in the world, China is a game changer for any industry but has become a key territory for media and entertainment industries.”

However finding a partner to work with in China was a challenge. The company aimed to find a Chinese partner that was interested in co-developing intellectual property (IP) that would work for audiences in both China and New Zealand.

More importantly, Pūkeko Pictures wanted a partner that “could expand beyond the TV programme and into location-based experiences, consumer products, publishing, digital outcomes, and augmented reality,” says Spink.

“This partnership in China needed to be with a company that has similar aspirations and complementary business practices to Pūkeko Pictures. Synergy is key.”
Clive’s top tips for other Kiwi companies looking for partners in China
  1.  Find partners who have the same values, aspirations and complementary businesses. Build strong mutually beneficial relationships with these partners that go beyond business, as this results in a greater understanding of each other.
  2. Find partners who enable you to work beyond western assumptions on what the Chinese market would respond to.
  3. Allow each partner to leverage their businesses’ unique skill sets while respecting the differences in each countries audiences.

Tips on targeting the China market

Pūkeko Pictures had been looking at the China market for some time. Co-founder Richard Taylor invested in and built Pūkeko Pictures’ relationship with China in nearly 20 years of travel, exhibitions, education seminars, demonstrations and hosting of high-level government and private contacts.

“Richard’s history in the region enabled Pūkeko Pictures to build on his established credibility and relationships,” says Clive.

However even with that head start, Clive and team have had to spend a large amount of time travelling. 

“The time required on the ground surpassed our initial expectations but reaps dividends in building relationships. I personally visited 8 times last year along with Senior Management. You need to attend and participate in conferences, trades shows and government delegation visits to support your Chinese partners.”

One piece of advice Clive returns to during our interview is that while there is incredible scale, pace and resource in China, this can make it tempting to forget your strategy.

“There are opportunities popping up all the time and these can cause complications or distractions,” says Clive. “So it is important to build a partnership and relationships first.”


Government support makes all the difference in China

One element that Pūkeko Pictures were well aware of was how important having relationships at a Government-level was.

“In China the level of involvement with Government officials is very high and so having New Zealand Government support is very important,” says Clive.
“NZTE assisted us with furthering our connections in China, in business, local and central government.  The government-to-government connections gave us access to key trade events, credibility in the marketplace and an opportunity to carry out the work China and New Zealand governments set out with establishing the film co-production agreement.”

“We also utilised the network of New Zealand Government support both locally and on the ground in the markets, such as the Trade Commissioners, NZTE and MFAT staff.”

But NZTE’s support included more than just in-market introductions. “NZTE, through the International Growth Fund, provided us with much needed resources and support that allowed us to spend significant time on the ground in China.

“This enabled us to do research, complete due diligence and develop relationships that are so vital in doing business in China, ultimately ensuring we found the right partners to enter into a strategic long-term business relationship,” says Clive.


What is next for Pūkeko Pictures in China?

“Pūkeko Pictures is producing Kiddets, the first co-production in children’s television between New Zealand and China. We launched the IP in Guangzhou in April 2017 to kick off TV show production and the location based experiences, consumer products, publishing, digital outcomes and augmented reality.”

“On the back of this relationship and IP we are now exploring a range of other IP with our partners as well as new business plans to retain IP ownership and have a long-tail business sustainability.”

So, it is a case of watch this space as Pūkeko Pictures build their brand and partners in China.

Clive Spink is the Chief Executive Officer of Pūkeko Pictures. He is responsible for the growth of the business and its development and production momentum. Clive was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer after a year as the company’s Chief Operating Officer


Clive Spink: Pukeko Pictures is an independent entertainment production company focused on the development and production of world-class multi-platform entertainment for a global audience. The company was founded in 2008 by Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Martin Baynton with the purpose of bringing high value storytelling and high quality production values to the children’s and family audience. The single largest market in the world, China, for us is a game changer as an industry and has been a key territory for the development of media and entertainment businesses.

The challenges that Pukeko was facing was in finding a Chinese partner interested in developing intellectual property that would work in both the China and New Zealand market. It was also important to find a partner that could extend the brand beyond just the TV program we were producing into other brand extensions like location based experiences, consumer products, publishing, and digital outcomes like augmented reality. As NZTE suggested as a solution for Pukeko in its move into China was to invest considerably in terms of time and resources on the ground in China. It was important to develop the relationships that we had there and find exactly the right company or group of companies to form a commercial relationship with. 

The International Growth Fund provided us with much needed resources and support that allowed us to spend significant amounts of time on the ground in China. This enabled to do right research, complete due diligence and develop relationships that are so vital to doing any business in China, ultimately ensuring we found the right partners to enter into a long-term strategic relationship with.

I think the thing that really surprised me was the time required on the ground. Personally I spent over eight times travelling to China last year along with my senior management but you needed to also participate in various conferences, trade shows and government delegations to show your level of support to the Chinese partners and market. The other thing that was unbelievable was the scale of pace and resources and just scale of the market in China. I think until you’ve actually been in market you don’t necessarily appreciate those things.

Building business relationships across countries is always challenging, you know with language and cultural but numerous visits to China hosting Chinese delegations in New Zealand has allowed us to learn a lot about Chinese culture, Chinese norms and practices. One of the things that is very important is just learning a few phrases of Chinese. I have presented at a couple of events and almost got a standing ovation when I said wǒ ài zhōngguó, that means “I love China.” One of the other big learnings we had was that along the way there are certain points where both parties have to take a leap of faith. Those leaps of faith actually strengthen the relationship so it’s important to recognise those points as you move along the relationship.

The advice I’d have for the creative and film industry is we need to utilise the willingness of both governments to see partnerships and growth potential between our two countries in this industry. This is evident by the New Zealand screen grant system and the television co-production treaty between China and New Zealand and there has been recognition at both government levels that this level of cultural and film industry co-operation is something that they heavily support.

I would strongly recommend working with NZTE, it has been a really positive experience for us at Pukeko. They are an amazing leading government organisation who are actively engaged in China and provide a level of resources both locally on the ground here and in market which has been beneficial to us.