Beijing, China – Immense Opportunities for Business

February 5 2024

Faces and Markets of PRGN is a new series of blog posts in 2024 that puts PRGN member agencies and their markets in the spotlight.

Each week, expect to read about a market from an economic, business and communications point of view, brought to you by the very people living and working on the ground in that country, state or region.

The blog pieces illustrate the vast amount of in-depth knowledge of business, media, communications and marketing PRGN brings together having presence in more than 40 countries and 70 cities on six continents through its member agencies globally.

In this week’s blog post, Shawn Jiang Xiaofeng of China Advocate, describes the business and communications environment in China and offers advice on navigating his home market.

Business environment in China

China, with its vast geographical area and diverse development, offers immense opportunities for businesses. The Chinese market by GDP is as massive as the European Union, with territory twice the size of EU countries combined. From the bustling megacities of Beijing and Shanghai to the rapidly developing towns in the inland, China’s market is both extensive and varied, comparable to U.S. economic powerhouses on the East Coast and the growth potential of Brazil or South Africa in the West.

China has a unique system of state-owned enterprises, private companies, and multinational corporations.

Beijing China Immense Opportunities for Business
Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

The competitive landscape in China is constantly changing, with new companies and business models emerging all the time. For example, ride-sharing services like DiDi Chuxing have disrupted traditional transportation industries. The e-commerce sector is also booming, with companies like Alibaba and leading the way.

For multinational companies to succeed in China, one common principle is doing business “In China For China.” It means companies are best to tailor products and marketing strategies to appeal to Chinese consumers, and form partnerships with local businesses to better understand and meet customer needs, and eventually contribute to the local industry and society development.

In terms of universal values, China – just like the Western world – puts focus on technology, education and innovation. However, it has unique characteristics that also set it apart from the West. With a rich history and heritage deeply ingrained in its culture, patriotism is a strong force in China. The government also places a high priority on the protection of women, a value that resonates with many Western societies.

China is also known for its leading technologies. Take, for example, the high-speed bullet train that transports people faster than a Formula-1 racecar, showcasing the nation’s technological prowess. China has also leapfrogged into the future with mobile payments, creating a cashless society when transaction is as simple as a swipe or a scan.

Notably, China is at the forefront of renewable energy investments and green initiatives, particularly electric vehicle (EV) development. The country has set ambitious goals for the growth of the EV industry, and companies like Tesla, NIO, and  BYD are all investing heavily in China. The Chinese government is also offering incentives and subsidies to encourage the adoption of EVs. Today, China is the largest producer and exporter of electric vehicles.

In conclusion, with its vast geographical size, diverse development, and welcoming business environment, China offers a world of opportunities for international businesses.

Communications, media and PR market in China

1. Media Ecology:
China has a vast number of media outlets, with an estimated 8,000-10,000 newspapers, 1.5 million websites, and more than 3,000 TV and radio stations. These media outlets are divided into a variety of categories, including news, sports, finance, trade, mainstream, entertainment, etc., and there are also numerous social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Toutiao, Zhihu and various video platforms. The media ecosystem is very fragmented, with different media types competing fiercely for attention and audience.

2. Government Regulations:
China’s government has a significant role in regulating the media. The government controls the content and distribution of media outlets, and enforces strict regulations on media operations. Most Chinese media outlets tend not to touch upon government sensitive topics or red lines, which allows them to be quite free in reporting on any other topics they want, especially news related to corporations. Some media outlets have begun seeking independence from government control, offering more diverse and independent content. 

3. The Reemergence of Traditional Media:
With the rise of digital media, traditional media such as party and government-run media have been for years somewhat marginalized. However, in recent years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s tightening of propaganda control, these media outlets have started to regain influence.

4. Social Media Platforms:
Social media platforms such as Tencent’s WeChat, QQ, and video platform Douyin attract huge user base. The platforms have significant influence on consumer behavior, with influencers playing increasing roles in product endorsements. Interestingly, on platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, some traditional media still plays an important role influencing public opinion and setting the agenda.

5. Content Marketing for B2B Enterprises:
Content marketing is crucial for B2B enterprises in China, as they aim to build trust and credibility with clients and partners.

6. The Importance of Media Relations:
In China, both personal relationships (Guanxi) and professional relationships are crucial for effective media relations.

7. Comparing Chinese and Western Journalists:
Chinese and Western journalists both value accuracy, objectivity, and credibility. Chinese journalists often prioritize political sensitivity and social issues in their reporting, value face in reporting and are often willing to accept more promotional information from companies. Western journalists, on the other hand, are more likely to be more aggressive , more focused on independent analysis and critical thinking.

8. Media Allowance:
There is a unique practice in China that involves providing allowances to journalists to attend events, originally for covering the reporters’ travel expenses. The amount of the allowance varies from RMB 500 to 2,000 ($70-$278). It does not serve as a guarantee of reporting. It should be noted that media allowances can sometimes blur the line between independent reporting and paid advertising, especially in light of the commercial pressures often faced by Chinese media and their desire for business cooperation with companies.

Key expertise of China Advocate

  • Corporate Communications
  • Public Affairs
  • Issue & Crisis Management 
  • Healthcare Communications 
  • Technology Communications

Top 3 advice for foreign companies navigating the communications environment in China

1. Strong Relationships with Industry Media and State Media
Having a good relationship with trade media will help you raise awareness among customers and generate business leads, while a relationship with state or mainstream media can help position your foreign company as a contributor to China, not a threat, and enhance your reputation with deep influence.

2. Employing Local Thinking, Language and Talent
China has its own way of doing things, so while foreign companies can still use their global advantages, they should also deploy local wisdom. This includes understanding local cultural and social norms, as well as using local language and communication strategies to interact with the media and the general public. Copying from the U.S. or other markets won’t simply work here.

3. Looking at China as the World’s No. 2 Country
Big returns require big investments. You’ll need to make certain PR investments (and keep them up) to make a real noise and impact. China values long-term views, and you’ll need to have a comprehensive understanding of Chinese business, government and brands to design a top-level communication strategy. A macro perspective is necessary to understand the interconnectedness of these factors and to navigate effectively.

China Advocate’s 5Rin1 model can be used as a theoretical framework to guide a foreign company’s reputational efforts in the Chinese market. This model includes Public Relations (PR), Government Relations (GR), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Customer Relations (CR), and Expert Relations (ER), being integrated into one single framework.

Most influential media for consumer communication in China

  • China Central Television
  • Xinhua News Agency
  • The Paper
  • South Metropolis Daily

Most influential media for corporate communications in China

  • China Central Television
  • Xinhua News Agency
  • China Daily
  • 21st Century Business Herald or China Business News
  • Caixin or Caijing

Most popular social media channels in China

WeChat: 1.3 billion monthly active users worldwide. WeChat is a popular app in China that allows users to chat with friends, family, and business partners, as well as access various services such as payment, transportation, and health care.

Weibo: 600 million monthly active users. Weibo is a platform that allows users to share content, interact with others, and engage in various forms of entertainment.

Douyin: 800 million daily active users worldwide. Douyin is a video-sharing platform that allows users to create and share short videos.

Toutiao: 120 million daily active users. Toutiao is a news aggregation platform that provides users with personalized news content based on their interests and behaviors.

Little Red Book: 200 million monthly active users. Little Red Book is a photo-sharing platform that allows users to share their lifestyle photos and videos.

Zhihu: 100 million monthly active users. Zhihu is a question-and-answer platform that allows users to ask and answer questions related to various topics, such as technology, science, and culture.

Most important international events in China

1. China International Import Expo (Nov.5-10)

2. World Internet Conference and China International Service Trade Fair (Dates TBD)

3. Boao Forum for Asia (March 26-29)

4. Trade events:

China in Numbers*

Population: 1,409 million (2023)
Languages spoken (official): Mandarin (official; Putonghua), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghainese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages (Zhuang, Mongolian, Uyghur and Tibetan)
Religions (% of population): Folk religion 21.9%, Buddhist 18.2%, Christian 5.1%
GDP per capita (in USD): $12,622 (2023)
(Real) GDP growth rate: 5.2% (2023)
Inflation rate: 0.2% (2023 est.)
Unemployment rate: 5.2% (2023)
Key sectors and industries (% of GDP) agriculture: 7.9%, industry: 40.5%, services: 51.6% (2017 est.)
Mobile penetration (per 100 people) 122 (2021 est.)
Internet users (% of population) 73% (2021 est.)
Corporate profit tax: 25%
Consumer tax or VAT: 6%
Shawn Jiang Xiaofeng
Managing Director, China Advocate

Shawn is a seasoned expert with a focus on business growth, strategic marketing and communications, issues and crisis management across Asia. He is founder of China Advocate, an award-winning agency with clients such as LinkedIn, Boston Scientific, LyondellBasell, Siemens and ByteDance. 

Previously, Shawn was co-founder and CMO of Somur Gene, a Chinese leading consumer genetic testing company, and a founding member of an award-wining boutique agency. He has worked as a Director at Weber Shandwick, supervising public affairs and strategic communications practice, and has also worked at Ogilvy on the technology practice. 

He has provided counseling to companies including Apple, Microsoft, DuPont, Bayer, McDonald’s, ABB, DIT of British government, CCPIT Shenzhen, APP, Oriental Dream Works, Stratasys, Borouge, Clariant, Eastman and others.

Before that he was North Asia Area PR manager at shipping company Maersk Group for four years. During his tenure, the Group’s reputation score among stakeholders such as media and government successfully improved. 

He provided consultancy to Beijing Government on fostering creative clusters. He graduated from Wuhan University and he is a guest lecturer in Peking University and often invited by media for comments. He received his EMBA degree from the top-ranked China-Europe International Business School, which has the largest, most influential alumni EMBA network in China. Shawn is well connected with China’s entrepreneur community, including Huawei, JD, Alibaba and Meituan.

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