Public relations in China

Public relations in China – an essential element of any brand’s marketing strategy

As China’s economy keeps growing, the Chinese consumer market has become increasingly competitive. While foreign brands benefited from better perception over domestic brands in the past, this trend is progressively fading thanks to the advent of Guochao marketing. With an industry worth 62.7 billion RMB in 2018, public relations in China have become an increasingly important element of brands’ marketing strategy. Sometimes mismanaged by foreign companies, public relations in China can have positive or negative lasting effects on brands’ image. In this article we will go over why foreign brands should not neglect public relations in China, what are the main differences with public relations in the West and which platforms companies should focus on for their communication.                

Public relations in China is a thriving business
Source: Qianzhan, Public relations in China is a thriving business.

How Guochao redefines marketing in China for foreign brands

As Chinese consumers are increasingly embracing their cultural confidence, domestic brands are gaining popularity. This creates a competitive landscape that foreign brands did not initially have to navigate. This change in the Chinese competitive environment contributed to a constant increase in advertising expenditures in China, 80% of which were used for online advertising in 2021.  The rise of national pride creates a more difficult playing field for foreign brands. These strong Chinese cultural values can also be the source of costly faux pas for ill-prepared companies willing to do business in China. Indeed, public relations disasters from foreign brands in China are often associated to culturally divisive topics, such as the independence of Taiwan.

Guochao marketing report 2021, product categories mentioned when asked about when they prefer to buy Chinese vs. foreign brands
Source: Daxue Consulting, Guochao marketing report 2021, product categories mentioned when asked about when they prefer to buy Chinese vs. foreign brands.

Digital marketing is at the core of an effective public relations strategy in China

In a country with a massive internet digital base of 989 million users in 2020, digital marketing in China has become more and more prevalent as a means for companies to reach the masses. While traditional media such as printed press and television are still relatively popular in China, new media have taken an increasingly larger share of companies’ communication budget. With a larger audience and wider distribution, online newspapers are one of the most effective vessels to communicate a press release. The largest of these online news platforms are Xinhua, Sohu, QQ news, Sina, and NetEase. Online newspapers are however not the only digital marketing element that can be used for public relations in China: social media platforms also represent a fantastic tool for companies to increase their brand perception. From livestreaming to promotion campaigns and influencer marketing, Chinese social media allow brands to create engaging content for their communities to interact with.

Online marketing has become king in communication strategies in China Public relations in China
Data source: Statista. Online marketing has become king in communication strategies in China.

What platforms to use to manage public relations in China?

Online newspapers and press conferences for communication

Press conferences are still a popular way to communicate for companies in China. Online channels are a great way for brands to spread far and wide their press releases, although it does not mean that traditional medias should be ignored as the hectic traffic on online platforms can tone down the potential reach of an announcement. As ready-to-be-published articles provided by companies are commonplace in China, press releases are a great tool for companies to forge the narrative they want around their brand through Chinese medias. They can also help in public relations crisis management, as corporate public apologies can go a long way to mend a company’s reputation in China.

Note that newsletters are not a good way to conduct public relations in China as reading email is not a daily habit of most Chinese people.

Chinese social media for engagement

Public relations in China, or anywhere else, are not simply limited to public announcements and press conferences. To grow a community around their brand, companies have also actively built engagement on social media. Chinese social media offers a wide range of channels to interact with consumers in various ways and picking the right platform and the right method will greatly depend on the company’s product and marketing strategy. Livestreaming particularly has been very effective at generating engagement and is now booming in China. In any case, the ubiquitous social media platform WeChat can hardly be avoided when it comes to marketing in China.

The Chinese livestreaming industry has quadrupled in a five year span Public relations in China
Data source: Statista. The Chinese livestreaming industry has quadrupled in a five year span.

Key takeaways about public relations in China

  • As it matures, the Chinese consumer market is becoming more competitive. Thanks to Guochao and the development of the competition, foreign brands cannot simply rely on their image to win market shares and must more than ever rely on a solid marketing strategy.
  • Foreign companies are at risk on fumbling on culturally divisive topics. These faux-pas can prove to be very costly as public backlash in China often have lasting consequences.
  • Digital marketing is at the forefront for doing public relations in China, although traditional media still have their usefulness as press conferences are still a widely popular method of corporate communication.
  • Chinese social media allows brands to create engagement and generate interest.

Learn how to make your brand stand out in the Chinese market