Navigating the Chinese Media Landscape

Attendees of this year’s IABC World Conference in Chicago got a rare treat when Yujie Chen, director of PR Newswire Asia – made the trip from Beijing to address the group.  Yujie offered an insider’s view of Chinese media, and offered advice for Western companies seeking to establish business presences in China, and the communicators who support those efforts.

The discussion started with an overview of the Chinese marketplace, the impact it’s having on Western economies and nuances about doing business in China.  The value of the Chinese market to US companies is $200 billion, and growing, Yujie noted, but for every successful US company in China, there are many failures.  The most common mistake:  believing that you can simply set up shop in China and the profits will roll in.

Just as business practices and cultural preferences differ country to country, so does the media scene, and nowhere is this more evident than in China.   Right off the bat, Yujie reminded the audience of the inescapable fact that Chinese media are subject to the Communist Party’s control.

While all media are controlled by the government, there are varying degrees of oversight, ownership and control, and savvy public relations people need to understand the differences between different outlets.  The Communist Party propaganda department , Yujie noted, has people working across the country, at all levels.  They the guidelines  for Chinese media – issuing policies, directives and guidelines on how the media should report different stories as often as needed.  Media people in China have a good sense of self-censorship and know where the boundaries are.

The key media players in China include:

Xinhua – “the most official” news media. Xinhua is the only news agency in China that is entirely owned and controlled by the government.  It’s the only outlet allowed to cover major government initiatives, developments in foreign affairs, etc.   As a result, Xinhua still has the most authority in covering the most important issues in China, and it’s one of the four largest newswire services in the world, rivaling the AFP, AP and BBC wires.   Despite Xinhua’s influence, it’s not the best target for media professionals.  Typically, Xinhua’s focus is macroeconomic.  They represent the central government.  Being reported by Xinhua is almost like getting a stamp of approval from the government.

The media with the greatest penetration: CCTV – China Central TV. CCTV has 97% penetration in China, and is the most popular source of news, sports  and entertainment news, especially in rural areas.  Evening news is probably watched by half the Chinese population.   Many rural areas don’t have access to other types of media.   Don’t forget that CCTV is still watched carefully (and controlled) by the government.

There are 370 TV stations in China.  Each province has a provincial station, each of those will have 50,60 channels .  For communications pros this is important because of the its popularity  These stations are also important for advertisers.  If you work for an established company that wants to connect with customers, this may be worth for you.

Niche focus & strong growth:  print media . – With more than 2,200 newspapers and 9,000 magazines, the print media business in China is not declining. Yujie noted that it has yet to really mature.   The business is flourishing but the penetration is nowhere near as deep as CCTV.

For companies operating in China, print media is probably the most crucial.  The publications are subject focused, and can help you reach your customers in a more targeted way.   Tip: spend time learning about print outlets, and select those that make sense for your brand.

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