Relationships also key in West for newcomers
More Chinese companies are investing in the United Kingdom, triggering a demand for public relations services to help build brand awareness and achieve business goals.
Experts say due to a different political landscape and business culture, it is critical for new Chinese entrants to the UK market to understand how PR works in the West, which can be different from how it works in China.
Simon Sporborg, the UK managing director of Brunswick, an advisory firm specializing in critical issues and corporate relations, says one of the main tasks is to educate newcomers about the market, including providing local market insights and knowledge, preparing the management team for engagement with local stakeholders, and helping the company understand local regulations.
He thinks Chinese companies in the UK need to recognize PR as a long-term game. “If you arrive here as a relative unknown entity and want to make an appearance on the public stage, you cannot trust that people will understand who you are or what you are doing. You really need a thought-out strategy for how you approach that.”
One of the key issues in PR, he says, is to understand that “it is not an end itself, not an isolated and stranded activity. It really needs to be driven by the overarching strategy of the business and it is the business that drives the PR, not the other way around.”
Sally Maier Yip, the founder of 11K Consulting, a London-based UK-Asia niche PR agency, agrees. “Most Chinese companies may still think that they only need PR when they are launching a new product or service, or when they are in a terrible crisis.
“PR is not about quick fixes, but is about building long-term, meaningful relationships with your stakeholders, which can consist of your customers, media and governments, depending on the business you are in,” she adds.
Yip believes that in some way, PR is more underrated in China than in the West. “When Chinese companies work with a PR agency in the West, they need to understand that they are buying their PR agency’s expertise, which has a price to it. Chinese companies need to play the game when they enter the Western market. They need to show respect and be cooperative Simon Sporborg, when working with Western agencies.”
While China might have a different understanding of PR, Anne Gregory, a professor of corporate communication at the University of Huddersfield, says PR in the UK is about developing social relationships as much as about building a solid reputation.
“That includes looking strategically at how business is done and ensuring that it is done in a way that gains the support of those who have the power to build or destroy reputations,” she says.
With the emergence and popularity of social media, many say PR should also evolve with media consumption habits and technology usage.
Engagement with individuals and groups is the key to a successful campaign, says Marcus Sorour, general manager of WE Communication, a PR and communication consultancy firm that has dealings with several big Chinese companies, including WeChat, ZTE and Lenovo. He says it’s important that a firm entering the UK market signs up with an agency that understands local social media strategy and engagement.
Social media engagement takes into account the needs of both the client and those in the marketplace, using media to provide creative content at the right time to the right people or groups and through the right channels, Sorour says.
He cites his company’s experience with handset maker ZTE. “We run their UK press office — primarily working on a targeted review program to get its devices in the hands of key influencers, and providing insight, coordination and influencer engagement services at the main trade, shows such as the Mobile World Congress.
“The goal is to connect ZTE with key UK influencers, grow their share of voice services against competitors and increase sales in this highly competitive market,” he explains.
At the 2016 Mobile World Congress, the company set up targeted briefings for the executive team with key influencers to communicate ZTE’s strategy and view of the mobile market. “We also engaged an influential UK vlogger who uploaded videos throughout the show,” he adds.
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