The China Connection: Overcoming the Complexities of the Chinese Media Environment to Achieve Communications Success
By Yujie Chen, Managing Director, PR Newswire China
As China’s economy continues to enjoy strong growth, increased spend by their middle class and expansion overseas to compete with western and fellow Asian counterparts, the opportunity for U.S. companies to do business there has never been greater. A market that is worth $200 billion to U.S. companies, it has become a key global economy, with many predicting it will overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest within the next 10 to 15 years. With over 1.3 billion potential customers, more than 513 million active Internet users and 69 companies on the Fortune 500, it is a market that companies cannot afford to ignore.
Success in China, however, is heavily dependent on a deep understanding of the complex and sometimes contradictory Chinese media landscape, as it is markedly different from that of the U.S. Historically government controlled, the media landscape in China has undergone a rapid transformation that has allowed for radical growth of social and mobile technologies. A number of commercial media and cutting-edge internet platforms have gained presence amidst state-run media that once controlled all aspects of print and broadcast, creating a new, hybrid landscape that needs to be respected, embraced and carefully navigated to achieve communications success.
The Power of Traditional Media
Despite the growing influence of online news sources, traditional media – including newspapers, magazines, television and news agencies – are still upholding a strong footing in the market.
Print publications, for example, are declining in popularity in other countries, but are still thriving in China. The thousands of newspaper and magazines continue to experience growing readership, and targeting both the traditional publications and the new commercial ones is critical for generating exposure within this channel. Newer publications, despite being subject to the same levels of censorship as the long-standing ones, showcase more editorial freedom and have developed a reputation for more investigative and sensational journalism, while the older, state-run outlets focus on more sensitive and political topics. Of note, their online counterparts, not limited by copy space and often competing with popular online portals, offer an even broader range of content.
The influence of television in China is also impressive. With television at the core of almost all of China’s households, a staggering 76% of advertising revenue in China can be attributed to TV advertisements. And although there is only one national television network – the state-run CCTV – many regional and local networks are accessible across China. Faced with strict censorship guidelines, however, television audiences among certain demographics are diminishing; some more educated and younger generations, wary of the controlled messages being delivered, are shifting their attention to other sources.
There are two news agencies in China and Xinhua News Agency is the clear leader as the primary collector and distributor of information in China. In fact, as the largest wire service in the world, Xinhua provides news in both Chinese and English and is responsible for creating many of the media controls with regards to censorship in China – further strengthening its media power.
The Importance of Online Media
Commercial news sites are structured quite differently in China as compared to the U.S., but still remain a highly essential component to the news environment and a primary source of information for a large part of China’s population. There are four main web portals, (SOHU, SINA, QQ and Netease); however, government regulations restrict the web sites from producing their own news, in turn making online news sites aggregators of news. They must acquire their content from reputable print publications, expanding the visibility of the online versions of those newspapers and magazines with existing content sharing networks. Savvy PR professionals seek to build relationships with media that already have strong networks, as it bodes well for search and online visibility of a message.
The value of high search engine rankings is also increasing in China. With more than 513 million Internet users in China, search engines are becoming a more popular way to access and read content. Baidu, the dominant search engine, boasts more than 80% of the market share according to the China Internet Network information Center, but with Google holding second place, seeking visibility among both is strategically sound for communication professionals.
The Surge of Social & Mobile Media
Social media – surging in China – presents an enormous opportunity to develop ongoing relationships and engage with journalists, other professionals and the general public. Western social media and blogs, including the hugely influential channels of YouTube, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, though, also fall victim to the strict Internet guidelines and are blocked in China. Exploring the equivalent Chinese platforms – such as the micro-blogging “Weibo” sites and Chinese video-sharing portals– and engaging with Chinese-language multimedia content, is necessary to reach these audiences.
Finally, the number of mobile users continues to soar with iResearch reporting that the market scale of China’s mobile internet is over $6 billion, with a year-on-year growth of 97.5%. Sophisticated tools are quickly emerging, making mobile devices a key vehicle for Chinese consumers to access engaging content.
Achieving Communications Success
Professional media relations is still of the utmost importance when looking for exposure in China, and the press release remains a powerful vehicle for making that connection. PR Newswire, for the last ten years, has committed itself to building up a comprehensive network of professional media and key influencers across China and is positioned to help companies engage with those who matter most. With an extensive Chinese distribution network, PR Newswire translates and delivers messages to China’s print and broadcast newsrooms, journalists, bloggers, financial portals, social media networks, web sites, content syndicators and search engines.
Just like in the U.S., however, understanding your target audience, their interests, behaviors and preferred mediums for information, and then tailoring and localizing content is best practice to engage Chinese media and consumers. As a large, diverse country, cultures and trends vary from region to region, so paying close attention to the differences and modifying your approach accordingly will make communications initiatives much more effective. Chinese language is much preferred, multimedia content is favored and relevance is a must. Mistakes are forgiven, but ignorance is unwelcome, so the effort to adapt is highly appreciated by the Chinese and ultimately worth your time and energy.
Conquering the China market can be a challenge, but with the right approach, a concerted effort to understand the nuances of the media and a respect for various cultural differences, U.S. companies can turn opportunity into an extremely profitable venture and reap valuable benefits as a result.
Editor’s Note: The content of this article is largely based on a PR Newswire white paper on the same topic. For more information about this topic, download “Navigating China’s Complex Media Landscape.”