PR in China: Is it possible to control your own message?

With a population of 1.4 billion, there is little surprise that China possess more than 15,000 media outlets. Across newspapers, radio, television, magazines and online platforms, information is readily available. In fact, it must be flowing fast to meet the demands of over a billion-people’s quest for knowledge. One major caveat exists before you start sending press releases and pitches to reporters and editors – most of these entities are government-owned, operated and diligently controlled.

Below are key characteristics and recommendations to consider when you’re ready to obtain press in the Chinese media markets.

Don’t Underestimate How LARGE China Is

Localization is VITAL to effectively communicate with audiences in China. Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan each possess different languages and even further, various dialects. Therefore, it is important to provide multiple translations and be sure they are submitted to the appropriate outlet.

Navigate Government Interests (or Risks No Coverage At All!)

When doing any type of business or engagement with China, it doesn’t take long to notice or feel the influence and views of the governing body, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Media is largely government controlled and regulated and the platforms are primarily used to promote the views of the CCP. One example of this is that official newspapers currently act as a key communications tool for the CCP, while independent commercial papers tend to be driven by consumer needs and wants. While the reins have loosened over time, communism is still a dominating force.

In order to navigate the government issued guidelines on how stories should be reported, it is necessary to address your messaging with a fine tooth comb. To improve one’s chances of obtaining coverage you want to be sure that your messaging and goals align with that of the CPC and society. If this is vague, you likely will be denied or receive no response at all. As a result, outlets tend to be interested in human interest stories because they lack controversy and are more likely to drive engagement and clicks.

Pre-Package the Story You Want

The size and demand of Chinese consumers continues to grow, resulting in the struggle for media outlets to create and maintain adequate levels of new content. With pressure high for content distributors, more and more entities looking for coverage are finding success by providing pre-packaged stories include text, video and photos. In the United States, we recognize this format more formally in the marketing and advertising space (with a fee attached).

Another popular form of delivery is the traditional press conference. While this has lost popularity in the U.S. due to accessibility via technology, the Chinese market still finds great success. Contributing factors to this include media demand as previously discussed and the inability of journalists and the talent pool they are pulled from to keep up. In sum, there are not enough qualified and experienced journalists to handle the amount of incoming news and the amount of content users are going through.

Go to Where the People Are (and Growing)

Online behaviors in China differ greatly from that of the U.S. U.S. users typically engage in online searches and browse social media platforms as a means to fulfill a task, answer a question and other problem/solution scenarios. On the contrary, Chinese engagement is primarily for entertainment and used leisurely. Users are more motivated by social endeavors, engage on social platforms and visit video and entertainment sites.  

With media outlets adhering to government controls and navigating thousands of pitches and press releases daily, companies and individuals are positively positioned to engage with target audiences via social media channels. Currently, close to 600 million users in China actively use popular platforms including WeChat and Weibo. On these platforms, companies and individuals can create verified accounts, control their own message and utilize online features to better showcase and communicate their brands.


Marketing to China
China Business Review