Clau­dia Koss­er

is an Asso­ciate Direc­tor at Her­ing Schup­pen­er. She advis­es clients from var­i­ous sec­tors in cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions and strate­gic posi­tion­ing, as well as in M&A trans­ac­tions. As of sum­mer 2017, she will be work­ing with Fins­bury Asia out of Hong Kong.

Matthias Schnet­tler

is a Client Exec­u­tive of Her­ing Schup­pen­er. He focus­es on cap­i­tal mar­ket com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Before join­ing Her­ing Schup­pen­er, Matthias grad­u­at­ed with a M.Sc. in Inter­na­tion­al Man­age­ment from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nottingham’s for­eign cam­pus in Ning­bo, Chi­na.

Cor­po­rate COm­mu­ni­ca­tions

Best practice corporate communications in China

By Clau­dia Koss­er & Matthias Schnet­tler

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.“