PR Newswire’s Lynn Liu: Only Quality Content can Break Through Chinese Media’s Information Silos
Lynn Liu is the Director of Audience Development and Distribution Services in PR Newswire, responsible for developing media relations and online distribution network in Mainland China, including social and mobile channels. Lynn holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Public Relations, both from the Communication University of China. He was in Singapore on March 15, 2019, and accepted an interview request to share his insights on an evolving Chinese media landscape and its impact on PR professionals.
In your opinion, what were the key changes to the Chinese media landscape in the past two years and how do these changes impact PR professionals?
The past 20 years saw the fastest ever evolution in Chinese media, as we moved from traditional media to internet media to mobile-first media. For example, it is impossible to buy a physical hardcopy magazine when walking along Beijing’s streets now. All Chinese media channels, including B2B trade media, are almost entirely digital.
I will start with Baidu changes as this is the largest search engine in China, with a market share of more than 70 percent, with Google being severely limited in China. In the past two or three years, the biggest change is Baidu’s constant adjustment of their search algorithm. Baidu seeks to enhance its users’ search experience by raising quality content to their eye level. Baidu continues to mark down low-quality content based on its lack of timeliness and news value.
Let’s move on to WeChat. I was actually a pioneer WeChat user, one of the first 5,000 users who signed up on the first day of its launch. Wechat is now the biggest social media platform in China and overtook Weibo – China’s answer to Twitter. WeChat isn’t just an instant messaging tool in China, it has led to a rich content ecosystem. Brands, even overseas brands, may choose to operate a WeChat official account to share content. According to the latest Tencent data, WeChat has over a billion monthly active users, with around 20 million WeChat official accounts, run by brands and individuals, that regularly publish content.
Let me briefly share my observations on other Chinese Social Media and New Media. Now, Weibo has become a platform that focuses on entertainment. Even though news articles are spread via Weibo, their focus is on news with a high entertainment value such as celebrity gossip. Toutiao is the best-known new media that has emerged in the past two years. This AI-powered news app is installed on over 240 million unique devices, tapping on users’ digital behavior to promote relevant news articles.
For brands, it is important to be aware that with the rise of WeChat and New Media, it is no longer just about users looking for news articles. News articles are also seeking specific users as well due to recommender algorithms that are pushing relevant content! If we factor in Baidu search algorithm changes as well, this means that a PR approach involving average content is unlikely to gain traction.
What other things do B2B brands need to watch out for in the Chinese media landscape?
When it comes to B2B marketing in China, building trust in your brand is critical. To gain this trust and confidence, your potential clients need to find positive mentions of your brand in the media as well as social media. To achieve this, B2B brands should have a long-term content publishing strategy, to maintain a voice within their target vertical.
Another difference relative to B2C is that a B2B field is typically more niche, with a specific target audience requiring more professional content. The next steps are to figure out the channels where our audience gets their information and what’s the right content to influence them.
There is a misconception that B2B content is boring. However, I believe brands can always make their content more interesting to close the distance between themselves and their readers. I often use a GE China example to make this point as it is a very typical B2B conglomerate with a focus on aircraft engines and medical equipment among others. For example, to launch a new type of aircraft engine, GE’s approach is to come up with a press release declaring the world’s fastest luxury yacht uses this aircraft engine to compose an eye-catching title. I also remember there was an earthquake in Nepal, and GE would talk about sending disaster relief equipment to this country. All these efforts create interesting news angles for journalists.
Planes powered by GE engines delivering disaster relief equipment in Nepal. Source: GE
PR professionals always seek to make data-driven decisions. What is the value of monitoring trending conversations in China and reaching out to relevant journalists?
I think that media monitoring cannot exist in isolation after brands have pushed out their content. For illustration, let’s just talk about media monitoring for the purpose of producing more targeted content that will appeal to target audiences.
As part of communications planning, we typically need to answer a few questions:
- Who is our target audience?
- Through what channels can we reach our target audience?
- What type of content can most influence our target audience towards conversion?
- When should I release my content?
PR Newswire’s China Media Monitoring Tool helps brands understand what are the hot topics that the Chinese media are focusing on, the trending keywords during various festivals or exhibitions, and what sort of articles have generated the greatest number of social media engagements. By analyzing this data, brands can effectively plan their content production and outreach strategy. This tool can also help to quantify the reach and resonance (Chinese social media engagements) of your various content pieces.
If my brand is manning a trade show booth in China, could you please share a few PR tips to optimize trade show ROI?
Let’s assume that your brand is actively monitoring Chinese media and has answers to the “who”, “what” and “when” questions as expressed earlier. Therefore, you may reach out to the target Chinese media verticals prior to an exhibition with press releases. In terms of common themes for exhibition press releases, brands often tap on new product releases, new partnerships, and prize-winning announcements while inviting the press to visit their booths.
For example in Nov 2018, Honeywell leveraged the inaugural China International Import Expo to demonstrate their contributions to China’s digital economy. Lydia Lu, Honeywell Asia HGR Communications VP, shared at our media coffee session that by matching their communications plan to the specific interests of Chinese media, they earned over 100 in-depth media reports with 17 contracts and Letters of Intent signed during this event.
Honeywell staff engaging media and visitors at the China International Import Expo 2018. Source: Honeywell
Chinese tourists are a very important market for international destinations and hospitality businesses such as hotels. Could you please share some examples of a good press release targeted at this segment?
Chinese tourists are indeed a valuable segment for international hospitality businesses. According to a 2017 Nielsen survey, Chinese tourists spend more per capita than many other international tourists — $762 per person, as compared to the global average of $486. Chinese language campaigns are a must since search engines and New Media recommender algorithms rank such content more highly. Beyond this, I will like to highlight the importance of communicating a unique experience since experiential travel is a growing trend.
In terms of eye-catching press releases, I can think of the Sydney Festival, a cultural spectacle involving theatre and other performing arts. The organizers chose a multimedia Chinese press release for distribution to target industry verticals. It featured videos and pictures of various programmes to make it easier for journalists to report about this event. In my opinion, a Chinese language press release, where PR Newswire handles the translation with cultural context, provides news distribution and a media distribution report is a great first step for international hospitality businesses to consider.
Multimedia press release, Source: Sydney Festival
It is interesting that you mentioned a multimedia example earlier. Why is multimedia content so important within China? Could you please share an example of such content that is planned and executed by your team?
One interesting phenomenon with the various social media and new media channels is that these channels are all information silos. For example, Toutiao content is not searchable on WeChat and Baidu.
Let’s assume a brand has owned media channels on WeChat and Weibo. The audiences that a brand can reach, even with paid promotion, is extremely limited. No media platform can cover all the audiences, but a common characteristic is that audiences are receptive to multimedia content, especially short videos.
For marketers, the challenge is to break through these silos with quality content as GE China had done. A big component of quality content is short and newsworthy videos that will win media coverage (earned media) and shared on social media by your target audience. In my opinion, a press release that incorporates multimedia elements is a platform-neutral way of disseminating information to Chinese media as they typically have a presence in channels such as WeChat and Toutiao. It is a critical step to build a sustainable PR cycle involving paid, owned and earned media.
For reference, you may see a press release featuring a video interview with Dr. Jens Puttfarcken, Porsche China CEO, that was produced by our team. Dr. Puttfarcken shared highlights of this brand’s strategy and how their product was being customized to match the characteristics and tastes of Chinese customers.
Source: Porsche China