Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

The Perils of PR in the Chinese Press

Aug 20

Written by:
8/20/2008 10:51 PM  RssIcon

To pay or not to pay for coverage is the question facing every western brand or organisation here

There’s no end to the number of newspapers and magazines in China I thought while picking up the People’s Railway Daily the other day on the 30 minute new bullet train from Tianjin to Beijing south station. It’s type face and design suggest it’s done as a contract publishing job by the People’s Daily for the country’s railway company, also a giant state-owned operation. The contents were dull: lots about engines, engine oil and soporific speeches by railway management officials.

There’s a lifestyle section though and I figured it’d be receptive to some tastily written public relations pieces for Beijing GAA Club (of which I'm media officer): a bunch of foreign men and women playing a funny kind of football in the Chinese capital would make for a nice light hearted lifestyle kind of piece. So back in the office I contacted the editorial department. When we finally ascertained who’d be in charge of the lifestyle pages – there were four journalists with claims to that – I got the distinct impression that what mattered most was not the quality of the words – my Chinese colleague was going to translate that – or the photos, but rather what kind of gift we’d be offering. After humming and hawing on the Chinese side we got to the nub: RMB200 (about EUR20) would get us the coverage, another 100 would get us more space.

Now that puts me in a dilemma: pay the cash and get coverage or be moralistic about it. PR companies in China as a rule slip RMB200 to journalists attending press conferences – they call it “travel allowance” and without it you’ll get no journalists (who have also expect a souvenir and a meal from publicity-mad western companies mad for market share here). But by handing over the cash like this you’ll get a bland reproduction of your press release. Chinese newspapers are a boring read because their wordy, flowery articles, devoid of detail or critical analysis have often been paid for. If noone reads the article why bother paying to place one in the first place. Our dilemma was however easily solved: Beijing GAA doesn’t have the money to pay for articles.  

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