How To Launch a PR Campaign in China

Q) What is the PR landscape in China like?
A) The whole concept of public relations is still evolving in China.  Traditionally, print coverage was arranged on a one-on-one basis with a reporter, and secured with a “transportation fee” in a small envelope tucked in a press kit.   While that still remains the norm in some cases, public relations in China is evolving in to a more transparent industry.  All things considered, the Chinese media is hungry for relevant business news from Western companies, and coverage of press releases remains high.  If you wish to garner positive results from your communication efforts, there are a few simple rules to follow.

Q) How do I deliver my message to the Chinese Market?
A) PR Newswire Asia has a network of 10,000 journalists in China representing 3,000+ media agencies, which include 500 general media, 2,200 trade publications, 300+ websites and 50 foreign news media.    

  • Make sure your releases are posted to as many Chinese language portals and online sites as possible.  Remember most Western news sites are blocked in China, so posting on local sites is imperative to get the most exposure for your news.  Journalists use databases for research on stories just as often in China as in the West.  It’s also important for recruiting efforts – when in competition for the best and brightest in talent, the more information on your company available to the potential employee the more likely he or she will be to choose your company as an employer.
  • Good quotes to have – anything from a local executive of a customer/client/partner stating how your product/service/partnership is going to be of great benefit to the target audience.  Not having a local quote will greatly reduce pickup of your press release.
  • Always translate your press release into Simplified Chinese.  Traditional Chinese documents made for the Taiwan market will not work for China.  While a macro may be run to convert to the simplified character, the language has evolved differently in China than in Taiwan, and there are many terms that are not used in commonIf you need  to target audiences in Taiwan,as well as China, it’s best to have a two different versions. –. Also, always include a contact on the press release who speaks Mandarin and can communicate with the journalists if they have questions.  If no one on your communications staff speaks Mandarin or can read or write in Simplified Chinese, add a contact from your local agency or a staff member in your Asian regional office.
  • Localize your website.  Make sure any product or service information on your website is translated into Simplified Chinese, as well as the About Us and Contact Us pages.  Journalists interested in writing a story off your press release will visit your website, and if there is no information there in Chinese, the chances of actually getting that story decrease dramatically.

Q) Should I include quotes from local sources?
A) Yes, anything from a local executive of a customer/client/partner stating how your product/service/partnership is going to be of great benefit to the target audience. If you do not have a local quote, it could greatly reduce coverage of your press release. Do not quote any government official unless you have express written approval – try to get a letter of permission that you can provide to the censors upon request. 

Q) What should I avoid in the press release?
A) In China, you always need to be cognizant of censorship restrictions.  Certain rules need to be followed for any message you wish to present in order to get media coverage and avoid having your message censored or blocked.  For example, avoid the words: “human rights,” “freedom,” “dissident,” “imprisonment,” “work camp,” “internment” or any topics in this arena.   The Chinese government will not allow press releases with these words or topics to be distributed in China. Additionally, avoid any intimation that there are shortages of any product, talent, service, or anything similar in China, or that without your product or service, China would not be able to develop something.  They are very sensitive to this nuance.  

Never include any wording that could be construed as critical of the Chinese Government or any business or government official. And be careful when mentioning Taiwan – never mention the Republic of Taiwan in any release going to China.   The official name for Taiwan within China is the Chinese Province of Taiwan.  Obviously, this is a very sensitive subject.  If possible, it’s best to leave it out entirely.  If your news release is sent over the Xinhua News Agency wire, XNA will automatically change any reference to Taiwan to their official name before running the release on their wire.

Q) Do I Need an Agency in China?

A)There are many factors that must be considered when deciding whether or not to hire an agency in China.  Here are a few questions to guide your thoughts:

  • Is China a country of primary importance to your organization?
  • Do you have a local office but no communications staff on site?
  • Do you work with distributors, affiliates, partners, or reps?
  • Are you primarily interested in trade publication coverage?
  • Will you be exhibiting at trade shows in China in the next year?
  • Will anyone from your executive staff be visiting China?
  • Do you want a lot of pickup from your release?

Q) How do I find the right agency?
A) Finding a local agency can be trying if you’re located half a world away, but there are several resources you can use to find the appropriate fit.  

  • Ask your PR agency if they have an office in China or an affiliate in China that you can use.  This route is the easiest to manage for the in-house communications team since you work through one set of contacts. 
  • Work with a large multinational agency.  All of the major agencies have offices in China, and work with a variety of industries.  These agencies have large numbers of media contacts, good local staff and, depending on what is needed, can be surprisingly flexible in their rate structure. 
  • Ask around to communication peers.  Email posts to public relations society user groups can produce excellent leads.  People are happy to share their experiences, and personal recommendations have a higher degree of probable success.  Join the International Public Relations Association, this user group is invaluable for finding PR resources, and their seminars are excellent.
  • Ask your local PR Newswire representative.  PR Newswire has, local offices, and a variety of agency and journalist contacts within China, and our considerable experience on the ground will be an enormous resource to you. 
  • Ask your local office or partner for a recommendation.  Be sure to thoroughly check out any local recommendations for competitor conflicts and the depth of the journalist network.
  • Web research.  Be very careful about this – anyone can put up a website, and hiring an agency or independent PR person from a Web lead can lead to undesirable results.  Always double check references.

Q) How do I manage the agency in China?
A) Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Set regular times for conference call meetings to discuss status of current projects.  Arrange these meetings at a time that is comfortable for all.  If you are in Europe, early in the morning works well, and if you’re in the US or Canada, evening is best.
  • Perform random reverse translation of news releases crafted in country.  This is always a good idea to make sure the message conveyed by the local agency closely matches the one you prefer.   Any deviation from your chosen message will need to be corrected immediately.
  • The customs in China are different than in the West, and misunderstandings easily occur.   Be patient and flexible, and you will have few conflicts.
  • China has many more holidays than any country in the West, and two holidays last for a full week or more.   Get a schedule of the holidays for the coming year and use that in planning any campaigns. 

Q) What if I decide to do it myself?
A) Managing PR in China from your country without local staff or a local agency will be difficult, but not impossible.   Here are some tips to remember:

  • Do your homework.  Read as much as you can on public relations and cross cultural communications relating to China.  Get access to a media database with some depth in China, such asPR Newswire’s MediAtlas.  Create a media target list for special messages.
  • Craft your email to the media on your list carefully and then have it translated – including the subject line!  
  • Send your releases over PR Newswire.   This shows the media that you are a legitimate organization.  The wider the net you spread the better.   Don’t worry if you get no results at first – these things do take time, and patience will be rewarded.
  • Get as much of your news as possible into Chinese language sites.  You want your releases to come up in as many searches as possible.  Choose keywords carefully, and make sure your translations have the correct characters.
  • Make sure your email system can send in Chinese text – most journalists will not open attachments for fear of viruses.   You will also receive responses back from journalists in Chinese, and if your system cannot handle the character set, you will only see garble that looks like spam, and could overlook something important.
  • Hire, or borrow from another department if you can, someone who can speak Mandarin and read Simplified Chinese characters.  There will be times when you will want to make phone calls to the Chinese media, and you will need a native speaker to accomplish this.  Be aware that Chinese media do not respond well to cold calls – PR in China is still very much on the relationship level, and you may not meet with a warm reception at first.
  • Monitoring and measurement – you will need third parties to handle both services for you.   Referrals from peers via IPRA and PR Newswire can be of assistance in identifying various options.
  • Expand your knowledge base – attend as many conferences, speeches, and other events aimed at China and international public relations as you can.  You will be able to learn from the experiences of others, and will be able to adapt their recommendations to fit your situation.

Q) Where do I go for help?
A) PR Newswire has considerable experience in communications with China, and we are available to discuss communications strategies and best practices that fit your particular situation.   Contact your local PR Newswire Representative, or email to set up an appointment to discuss how you can effectively communicate your company news in China.

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