With a smile, Hilary Li recalls the day back in November 2010 when she received a call about an exciting internship opportunity.
As a grad student in Beijing, she had a passion for marketing and was looking to crack into China’s burgeoning digital space.
The call came from an upstart digital marketing and web services firm called Web Presence in China, which CEO Jacob Cooke had co-founded a year prior. At the time, the firm had only a couple of employees, all working out of a single office in Beijing.
“They invited me to intern part-time while I was completing my master’s degree,” Hilary says.
“Jacob outlined a vision for growing the company and how I could fit into the company’s growth plans. I was excited—I had a feeling that the firm was well-positioned to ride the wave of China’s digital boom, and that I could grow along with it,” she says.
Hilary jumped at the internship opportunity—and has never looked back.
Now Vice President of Digital Marketing, in November 2021 Hilary celebrated her eleventh year with the firm, now known as WPIC Marketing + Technologies.
As Hilary has risen in seniority, she has played a critical role in driving the development of WPIC into the leading e-commerce and technology consultancy focused on China and the broader Asia-Pacific region.
Her story speaks to the positive culture WPIC tries to cultivate—as well as to the rapid changes that have taken place in China’s digital landscape.
A Female-Friendly Environment
In an era where young people frequently change jobs, Hilary says that WPIC’s efforts to empower female employees has been a major motivator for her to continue working at the organization.
“WPIC has a very welcoming culture for female employees,” Hilary says. “The company actively recognizes outstanding contributions by female employees and invests in our career development.”
“The company is very supportive of female employees, especially new mothers, and provides a working environment where everyone feels safe, comfortable and respected,” she adds.
“Many technology companies in China have neglected the notion of work-life harmony for their employees, and that makes it difficult for young people to lead meaningful lives outside of work, or to start families if they wish to,” Jacob Cooke says.
“The burden is especially high for female young professionals. We want our employees to be happy, and we want them to stay—so we’ve designed our policies accordingly.”
“It’s sadly a common phenomenon that many new mothers choose to permanently exit the workforce, or that they continue working but encounter barriers to career advancement,” says Joyce Wang, WPIC’s human resources manager in China. “Or maybe women want to start a family, but choose not to because they know they might encounter career obstacles.”
“WPIC was a strong supporter of me when I became a new mom,” Hilary says. “Flexible office hours allowed me to spend more time at home with my kid, and job security, promotion opportunities, and recognition of my workplace achievements were not affected at all.”
“Family comes first at WPIC,” Jacob adds.
“At present, most of WPIC’s company positions are occupied by women, and the majority of company leaders are also women,” Hilary says.
Hilary’s advancement at the firm over the past eleven years is indicative of a culture that encourages female success.
From Intern to Vice President
The story of Hilary’s career progression has been interwoven with the growth of WPIC as a company—as well as with the development of China’s online landscape.
As China’s ecosystem has evolved, Hilary has constantly upped her skillset to keep abreast of market changes. She engineered many of the solutions that have allowed WPIC to adapt to these changes and consistently deliver strong results for clients.
“When I started my internship, WPIC’s marketing services were primarily related to search engine optimization,” Hilary explains.
In 2010, visibility on Baidu was at the core of a brand’s digital strategy in China. With Google pulling out of China earlier that year, Baidu was by far the largest search engine in the market—and one of the most important channels through which Chinese consumers learned about brands.
Tmall, JD, and Weibo were already online by 2010—with WeChat to follow a year later—but they hadn’t perfected the features which today make them such engaging platforms for highly personalized discovery of brands.
“Back then, traditional browser search was an important part of the pre-purchase phase of the customer journey, both in terms of discovery and research,” Hilary explains. “It was similar to the Western customer journey of today, with people relying on Google to learn about or find brands.”
“So as an intern, my main tasks involved search engine optimization of the content on our clients’ websites, as well as creating and placing paid advertisements on Baidu,” she adds.
For Hilary, the scrappy nature of start-up life meant that even as an intern, she had direct exposure to every aspect of the growing firm, from business development to client relationship management to the execution of a wide range of tailor-made services. She ended up interning part-time with WPIC for two years while she was completing her master’s degree. During that time, the firm’s client list and solution set began to grow.
“I learned so much during the internship,” Hilary says. “We had a collaborative team ethos and I got to work on engaging projects from the get-go. As a new company, we had to be able to quickly pick up new skills and work together to overcome challenges.”
That flexibility would prove crucial as Hilary and WPIC adapted to changes in the digital landscape.
After finishing her master’s program, Hilary was hired to be a full-time account manager in the marketing division. She was pivotal in securing some of the company’s first big clients, including major multinationals in the manufacturing, entertainment, and apparel industries. She subsequently managed those accounts and quickly won clients’ trust for designing and executing successful marketing campaigns.
“Hilary’s creativity and marketing prowess not only helped land some major business wins early on, but allowed us to deliver great results to those big-name clients, which really put WPIC on the map,” says Jacob.
Around that time, China’s e-commerce revolution began to pick up steam—and with Hilary’s shrewd reading of the market, WPIC re-oriented its service offerings to meet the changing market conditions.
“We realized a trend that Chinese consumers weren’t going to be relying on web search so heavily in the pre-purchase phase—customers were going to be making purchases inside the marketplaces, which couldn’t be reached through a web search,” Jacob says.
“That had major implications for the marketing strategies we developed for our clients,” Hilary says. “Instead of web search, the customer journey would involve going to e-commerce marketplaces directly and being exposed to new brands and products through personalized recommendations, ads, and interactive features.”
At the same time, Weibo was also taking off as a platform where brands could promote themselves through paid advertisements and partnerships with key opinion leaders (KOLs).
“In response to these trends, on the marketing team we developed integrated offerings for search, e-commerce platforms, and social media. This allowed our clients to work with a single vendor to cover all touchpoints with Chinese consumers,” Hilary says.
As the digital ecosystem continued to change, Hilary spearheaded new solutions to better connect brands with consumers.
“Consumers now discover brands and products through a wide range of digital channels, such as Little Red Book, Douyin, and Kuaishou,” Hilary adds. “An omni-channel approach is so important for success in China, so we created solutions to work with our brand partners across all those platforms.”
As the company grew around Hilary—expanding to additional offices in Nanjing and Hangzhou, adding a logistics division based around a cutting-edge warehouse facility in Jiangsu province, and growing to over 300 employees across China—she has been a rock on the marketing team, gradually taking on more responsibility and eventually leading the team.
In 2017 she was named Director, then became a shareholder and in 2020 Vice President, overseeing nearly 20 direct reports. She is also a member of the firm’s senior leadership team that oversees WPIC’s strategic direction.
“Since its inception, WPIC has been committed to building a bridge between international brands and the Chinese market,” says Hilary. “As China’s ecosystem has changed, we’ve had to be flexible about the platforms, strategies, and capabilities we utilize to help our clients have an impactful online presence in China.”
“It’s such an engaging job because the market moves so fast, so we constantly have to tweak our service offerings to deliver the best results to clients.”
“We’ve been fortunate to have Hilary on our team to help guide the firm through such a fast-changing market,” Jacob says. “Her creativity and knowledge of the space has allowed our firm to adapt to changes in the wider digital landscape in China.”
“I’m confident that with Hilary as one of our firm’s leaders, we’re positioned to navigate future changes in the market,” he says.
“I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished at WPIC over the last decade,” Hilary says. “And I can’t wait to tackle the challenges that will come next.”