Three Crucial Factors of Public Relations in China

China’s media landscape is extraordinary — just in its sheer size. More than 2,200 newspapers, 9,000 magazines, 2,000 radio stations and 3,000 TV stations get information to the public. Contrary to Western peers, China’s newspaper circulation numbers are not only healthy but growing. China is the world’s biggest newspaper market, with 114.5 million daily papers, even trumping India.

Native online media and news platforms have mushroomed over the past few years, adding complexity to an already highly competitive, fragmented landscape and offering plenty of opportunities for corporate storytelling and effective media relations. Here’s what you need to know to understand and navigate this market:

Journalism with Chinese Characteristics

First and foremost, localization is paramount. This means translating into the respective, local language – bearing in mind the differences between Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan – as well as ensuring stories are weaved into the wider Chinese narrative.

Most media in China is state-owned, either directly or as part of media groups led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) or government newspapers. Both categories are subject to the same government guidelines on how certain stories should be reported.

While official newspapers tend to act as mouthpieces for the CPC, independent, commercial papers are more consumer driven. Both categories must be considered in order to reach a broad audience. It is therefore imperative for PR professionals to understand the wider Chinese narrative in addition to the tight framework journalists are working under.

What Doesn’t Work at Home May Work in China

In many Western markets, media may attend corporate press conferences, but are rather apprehensive to do so because they don’t seem to be the right places for discovering unique angles for their stories.

Since many journalists in China are relatively inexperienced, press conferences are therefore appreciated, even expected, for delivering corporate news, product launches, research presentations or thought leadership campaigns. Given the fast growth of media industries in the past decade and the rise of digital and social media, the supply of qualified journalists cannot meet the demand. Therefore press conferences are a key tool for ensuring a story is told in full.

The right venue and spokespeople at press conferences are incredibly important, just as image, rank and class carry significance in Chinese society. In a world of quick personnel changes and frequent institutional reforms, close relations with media contacts help deliver stories more consistently and effectively.

Keeping Up with the Pace of Reporting.

Digital media’s rapid growth has increased the speed at which information is delivered, demanding that journalists churn out content at a faster pace. Just like their Western counterparts, China’s media outlets are facing pressure from digital and social platforms and apps. Therefore, in addition to delivering news in different formats and across multiple channels, they are also seeking partnerships with key social sites as authoritative content providers. To meet quotas and deadlines, journalists are looking to companies to provide them with insightful, and often pre-developed, stories and materials for their articles. It is not unusual to find press releases published verbatim across several major news outlets, so it is important to make sure your press release tells the full story.

Working with colleagues and clients across borders has become the new normal for communications professionals and one of most exciting aspects about working for an international PR company. In order to best respond to the international communications needs of our clients, it is imperative that we are aware of the differences, intricacies and cultural nuances of the various markets. The Global Fellows program allows me to completely immerse myself in local culture and learn firsthand about the Chinese market for the benefit of colleagues and clients alike.

Maria Dantz is a Daniel J. Edelman Global Fellow from Edelman Brussels currently working in Edelman Beijing. 

Philip McCaster

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