Minnie Wang
Aug 1, 2022

What one agency is doing to help local Shanghai shops cope with a slow post-lockdown economy

MARKETING FOR GOOD: We Are Social’s Saving Shanghai Shops programme is giving select businesses an entire suite of marketing services to help them reach customers.

Litchi, Table Rube, Lin Xiaomu, Yuu Yakiniku &Sake Bar, and Mark, Po Lam Tong Sui Po
Litchi, Table Rube, Lin Xiaomu, Yuu Yakiniku &Sake Bar, and Mark, Po Lam Tong Sui Po

Over the past few months, small businesses in Shanghai have suffered severe losses, especially those in the food, beverage, and catering industries.

Almost all the catering businesses in China have to struggle due to the dine-in restrictions, lack of financial support, higher supply-chain costs, and higher commissions from food-delivery platforms.

In June, We Are Social launched a small businesses subsidy programme called Saving Shanghai Shops (SSS project) as the city began lifting the strict three-month lockdown to fight the pandemic. It initially selected three lucky shops: Japanese restaurant Yuu Yakiniku & Sake Bar, desert soup store Po Lam Tong Sui Po and local coffee shop Table Ruby. 

Specialising in brand storytelling and influencer marketing, the agency is offering its free full suite of media services, including market analysis, target audience analysis, strategic marketing planning, designing online and offline campaigns, and KOL planning and management. Though the campaigns for the three shops have yet to be launched and will be soon, some preview content has already generated buzz and traffic on social media.  

Campaign spoke with We Are Social's North Asia CEO, Pete Lin about the programme: 

Why did We Are Social start this subsidies plan? How long will it last? 

Coming out of the Shanghai lockdown, we were heartbroken to see that so many small local businesses had been destroyed. It was even more agonizing to see that the ones that are still surviving may not survive much longer.

As residents who love the city, our Shanghai office colleagues wanted to help the city heal. We don't really have the skillset to help improve macroeconomic conditions, but we do have the ability to help individual businesses, big and small. We knew that small businesses normally would not be able to afford our services, and so we thought if we picked three and helped them for free (and also pay for some KOL collaborations and some media out of our own pockets), then that would be a worthwhile contribution to the city. 

This is an experiment for us. So we hope to see the results of our efforts within two months. After that, we will evaluate our impact on the community and decide if we would keep it on as an evergreen program.

How did you select the three restaurants? Any standard?

We wanted to select businesses of different offerings and needs. So we picked a Yakiniku (Japanese Sake Bar), a cafe (Table Ruby), and a dessert shop (Po Lam). There was no particular standard that we required - we just wanted to pick independent stores that bring joy to the Shanghai communities.

How will you help these restaurants? 

We will offer them our entire suite of marketing services - from market research, social listening, audience profiling, strategy formulation, to creative planning and execution, influencer identification and management, and media planning and buying. Each selected business is given a modest but sufficient media budget, so that our ideas can be effectively amplified.

Did you and your team encounter any difficulties because of the subsidies plan?  

The shop owners are not accustomed to working with agencies, so we did have some difficulties in scheduling and conveying to them the importance of giving us all the details of their businesses.

How about some specific plans? Please share an example.   

Po Lam has a heartwarming story and is a fine example of an entrepreneur trying to fulfil his dreams. To us, Po Lam is an authentic way for Shanghai residents to experience Hong Kong culture without actually going to Hong Kong. So, our team is currently planning an in-store Hong Kong Culture Festival to give people a reason to visit Po Lam, as well as generate buzz for its desserts.

The three lucky shops

Po Lam Tong Sui Po: Mark, the owner and founder of this shop, gave up his job in the banking industry and learned the skills of cooking Tong Sui (Hong Kong local sweet soup) from his father. He then moved from Hong Kong to Shanghai and founded Po Lam in 2019 as a Hong Kong-style trending sweet soup shop. Before the Covid outbreak in China, it soon became the top dessert store in Shanghai and opened a second store in 2020. 

The first store was closed down during the pandemic, but the second one survived because of the warm support from loyal customers and the neighbouring communities in Shanghai.  As its owner was planning to open a third store this spring, a sudden lockdown that lasted three months in China’s largest city stopped his business expansion plan and forced him to drop all the investment for the new store. The only surviving shop of Po Lam is now the city centre, Xujiahui. 

Table Ruby: a coffee shop owned by Litchi and Xiaotang, that combines contemporary arts and coffee culture. The co-founders create this new cafe brand and hope to bring customers a  brand-new experience. 

Yuu Yakiniku & Sake Bar: is a Japanese restaurant, just like “Midnight Diner” in Shanghai, which opened five years ago. The owner, Lin Xiaomu, experienced tough moments because of the lockdown, but he is still quite optimistic and believes that running a business at such a moment means “being-towards-death”, an attitude of life’s wisdom. 

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