Frustrations of an Ad Man in Korea

Contrary to what Mad Men would have you believe, working in advertising and public relations is not as depicted in that series (reminder: need some sunglasses for summer). Sure, we drink enough to make our organs the envy of medical schools. There are also opportunities to conduct private business meetings in discrete locations; seriously, just look around despite government denials of their existence. Of course there are company parties where it’s probably better for everyone that you don’t remember what happened.

Wait! It IS just like Mad Men, though without the hats and suits; I wear my hat when not in uniform. Even the “this-is-my-job-and-I-think-this-is-the-best-thing-for-your-company-but-you-think-know-better-so-feel-free-to-ignore-my-work” moments.

Here’s Mr. Breen’s view on PR in Korea



The last paragraph explains what I deal with on a daily basis.

In my experience, managers here will not accept recommendations from experts unless they understand them themselves. The problem here is that if the slogan were Spanish or Tagalog, they’d just say “OK.” But most executives know enough English to say, “But is Greece really in Apocalypse Now or is it coming later and shouldn’t it be Apocalypse Soon? My idea is Parthenon Soon …”



Nearly every day I have to explain that while something may be textbook correct it doesn’t mean that it is natural. Too often the emphasis is on ‘correct according to Kim’s English Book’ instead of natural according to that foreign guy you hired to make your English PR natural.

Methinks part of the problem is the stifling hierarchy of many Korean jaebols. Yes, contrary to what some Koreans will tell you, jaebols and all their associated qualities still exist in Korea. I work at one, I should know. My rank is 요원 (yo-won, special agent but my card says 에디터 and editor), which doesn’t line up with the regular order.

사원 –> 4급사원 –> 대리 –> 과장 –> 차장 –> 부대 –> 부장 –> 상무 –> 전무 –> 부사장 –> 사장 –> 회장

sawon –> sa gop sawon–> daeri –> gwajang –> chajang –> budae –> bujang –> sangmu –> cheonmu –> bu sajang –> sajang –> hwejang

사원 is your lowest level, they are usually the clerical staff. They need to make the tea

4급사원 is usually the one that does the most work in the office.

대리 is an ‘associate’. Sometimes makes the tea when the lower downs aren’t around.

과장 is a Manager

차장 is Deputy General Manager

부대 is the Deputy General Manager. He trumps the 차장 based on age.

부장 is the General Manager. The boss of a department.

상무 is the Vice President. They are usually the head a division

전무 is the Executive Vice President. These guys are the ones that usually represent the company at events.

부사장 is the Senior Executive Vice President.

사장 is the President. This guy is usually overshadowed by the Chairman.

회장 is the Chairman. Usually the oldest guy at the company

In the grand scheme of things I fit in between the 사원 and 4급사원. But I usually report to the 부장 and sometimes work for the 부사장.

For example, a 사원 (sa-won) is the lowest rank and will always refer to higher ranks by [family name + title]. So 김대리님, 조부장님, etc. A higher rank refers to the lower ranks any way they like. So a 부장 (bu-jang, department chief) could say [family name + title] or more often [given name + ].
I never get called 조지 요원님 and only once have I been called 조지씨 (Mr. George), by a guy from the Culture Department who outranks most people I work with. Writing my corrections and explanations in Korean doesn’t seem to work either.

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