written by
Michelle Liao
Michelle Liao
Global Trends

China is calling: 3 PR tips for startups

China is calling: 3 PR tips for startups

PR communications is crucial for any company going into the Chinese market because it allows brands to tell their stories in the right way, through the right people, reaching the right audience and understanding how to create meaningful conversation and engage effectively. It’s a process of investing, building and leveraging relationships now and in the long term. Here is what startups need to know.

China has become one of the most  popular business destinations in the past few years, as it is the second largest economy in the world, the world’s first in value of VC-backed internet businesses, and its economic indicators are very strong. Meanwhile, the government also offers lower tax rates for SMEs (10% or 20%).

Despite all the attractive numbers and size of the market, entering China can still be a tricky task. Besides fierce market competition, startups also face a complex Chinese communications environment. While there are some exceptional products that have grown organically, you are not the only story in town. The market is so crowded that being heard above the noise is increasingly difficult. We take a look at the top 3 PR strategic tactics to help startups stand out in China.

#1 Recognise cultural differences and adapt to the local market

Every startup going to China needs to build effective communication campaigns that relate to the local market audience, while exploring funding options. Such an effective communication campaign requires the understanding of local culture. Chinese culture differs greatly from culture in Europe and the US. That is a challenge in itself. In order to reach targets, startups have to understand the specific mechanics and conditions of the local market, as is the case with every new environment that they want to enter. Let’s take messaging application WeChat as an example: In Chinese business settings, it’s normal to exchange WeChat accounts instead of business cards. While in the West, WeChat or any communication app account is viewed more as a personal or private tool.

#2 Foster good media relations by understanding the local media landscape and preferences

Good media relations help startups to better deliver positive images and key messages to desired target audiences. Understanding the local media landscape and preferences and accommodating their needs can be a great push to foster good media relations in China. Various kinds of media events are arranged by companies, so that the company representatives and media have more opportunities to meet and talk. Therefore, relations are more easily established. And contrary to what we are used to, relations between journalists and company representatives can often be as good as a friendship.

Moreover, in China, besides a clear company narrative and good story angles, allocating media budgets for both editorials and advertorials is necessary. Chinese media outlets also prefer content to be written in a ready-to-be-published format. Providing ready-to-go articles, press releases, and other forms of content can result in forming stronger relationships with journalists.

#3 PR and social media communication go hand-in-hand in China

Public Relations is one of the most cost-efficient forms of communication used to develop the image and reputation of a company, a product or brand in China. Effective PR can result in positive earned media. With the majority of news now being accessed online, it is vital that brands develop a digital strategy tailored to the market. Brands also shouldn't ignore the influence of social media in China. It should definitely play a role in any communication strategy. Social media channels, such as WeChat and Weibo, have become a vital communication (and even e-commerce) tool in the biggest Asian country. Chinese consumers are more active on social media channels than their counterparts in the West. They trust their immediate social circle and family particularly, and they are strongly influenced by the content shared on their news feed.

Communication is incredibly complex, and even more so in China, given the influence of the government on media outlets and language barriers between brands and consumers. Brands need a comprehensive communication strategy, both offline and online, to be able to succeed in China. It’s always a good idea to work with a local partner with an international network when entering the desired market. Have the local agency navigate through the complicated local landscape and bridge the company with its desired targeted audience. At the same time, have this local agency act as the leading team to develop a central strategy and to deploy to and coordinate with different markets via its networks. It is the best way to maximise the value of investment while achieving your goals.