Best practice corporate communications in China
What do you need to successfully build and manage your company’s reputation in China? A local CEO who tells a credible corporate China story and a sophisticated social media presence. These are two key findings from our recent best-practice survey on corporate communications in China.
Despite an ever-intensifying engagement of Western firms on the Chinese market, there seems to be little consensus on how to effectively communicate with Chinese media and society. A most recent study conducted by Hering Schuppener and Finsbury aimed to close this gap by evaluating how German companies position themselves in the Middle Kingdom. The core finding: “Think global, act Chinese.” This finding applies to all areas investigated, which comprise team structure, media relations, social media and CEO communications. The results came from face-to-face interviews with 20 local communication executives of German DAX, MDAX and large owner-managed firms, among them BASF, Bosch, SAP and Volkswagen.
China CEO: face and voice
The China CEO fulfils a crucial function for communicators as he (a male person in all 20 firms questioned) is a prominent and integrating figure, both internally and externally. He is regarded as the prime narrator of a company’s China story. Out of 20 companies, 18 actively position their China CEO in the media. However, the intensity and frequency of CEO positioning varies considerably – from monthly activity to one media outreach a year. The global CEO is a welcome face to represent the company in China, too. He talks on big picture topics, preferably in exclusive formats and high-level.
The China CEO’s messages should be aligned with the personality and the broader communications strategy to gain maximum credibility. What is even more important: Talk China! Chinese journalists expect to hear China stories, no matter whether they speak to the global CEO, the China CEO or division heads and experts. This means for example that stories about what you invest in China will be far more popular than mere accounts of your Chinese market share, or how earnings from China benefit the German parent. Further popular topics are: China strategy, market outlook, innovations and partnerships.
The global CEO is a welcome face to represent the company in China.
Make China your social network
If the top executives unite authenticity, the ability to tell China stories and have an affinity to Chinese social media, communication success is bound to follow. Why? One out of every two Chinese has internet access. Every internet user spends an average of 26 hours per week online.
Surprisingly, many German companies have not yet seized this potential, the survey showed. This is unfavourable, given that firms can significantly enhance their publicity and reputation in China with a social media strategy, as many respondents affirmed. WeChat is the most commonly used social media app in China, offering diverse functionalities. It is also the most popular platform used by German firms. Those who already use it successfully do it in very versatile ways. Apart from interactive applications, they use social media as a reporting tool for corporate and investor relations news. Some WeChat channels even include IR tools and earnings reports. However, rarely China-specific business figures are reported separately, hence the tools only offer access to the global figures.
Of course, corporate communications in China cannot build upon CEO positioning and social media alone. The survey has also gained detailed insights about the importance of networking and cultural sensitivity, as well as team infrastructure and HQ relations. Sure enough, even for successful communicators, China remains a learning process. One noted: “There are many delicacies that one has to know about China. It is an accumulation of everyday experience. As a foreigner it is very hard to understand the skills and mind-set.“