Why PR in Hong Kong is different from PR in China

International companies that want to do PR in China and Hong Kong often overlook the fact that these two markets are very different from each other. Not just historically, in size, population and economically, but also how the media operates.

Let’s start with the obvious difference: the language. While mainland Chinese people speak Mandarin and use simplified Chinese symbols, people in Hong Kong speak Cantonese and write with traditional Chinese symbols.

English content can be used in Hong Kong, as there is a small number of English publications, but only to a limited extent. So when thinking about doing PR in China and Hong Kong, be aware that you’ll need to use Cantonese and Mandarin.

The media landscape also differs. Hong Kong with a population of just over 7 million has over 20 newspapers and tabloids, making it one of the highest newspaper-to-resident ratios of major cities worldwide

  • Currently there are seventeen Chinese newspapers in Hong Kong: am730, Apple Daily, Headline Daily, Hong Kong Commercial Daily, Hong Kong Daily News, Hong Kong Economic Journal, Hong Kong Economic Times, Metro Daily, Ming Pao Daily, Oriental Daily News, Sing Pao Daily News, Sing Tao Daily News, Sharp Daily, Sky Post, The Sun, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po
  • The English media pool is very small versus the number of local Chinese publications. There are three local English-language newspapers; South China Morning Post, The Standard and China Daily Hong Kong Edition and three regional English-language newspapers; Wall Street Journal Asia, Financial Times Asia and International Herald Tribune

The media landscape in Hong Kong is tiny compared to China, which has a population of 1,339 million people:

  • Media in China were state-run until the 1980s. Independent media has emerged, but state-run media outlets continue to hold significant market share
  • China has over 2,200 newspapers (leading ones are People’s Daily, Beijing Daily, Guangming Daily and the Liberation Daily) and with 107 million copies sold daily, China is the largest market for newspapers
  • The two major news agencies are Xinhua News Agency and the China News Service
  • Internet access has been restricted and Facebook and Twitter have been blocked. Local versions including Sina Weibo and Ren Ren are very popular

Not surprisingly, in Hong Kong’s small and efficient media market, a single one-on-one interview with Apple Daily can deliver the in-market impact of 30 newspaper placements across China’s diverse and fragmented media landscape.

Yes, media is censored in China – but that’s not the case in Hong Kong, where the public embraces Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. PR campaigns can be much more outspoken in Hong Kong, compared to China. Still, they need to be relevant to the local Hong Kong market, so news stories as well as executive visits will need to address topics that are relevant to people and businesses in Hong Kong (as opposed to China) – ranging from fast Internet speeds for high frequency trading to smartphones and mobility. Surprisingly, e-commerce is not a big topic in Hong Kong, but then it is a small city with shops at every corner – so you can buy almost everything anytime and don’t need to order online and wait for delivery.

There are also similarities between PR in China and Hong Kong. For example, when it comes to technology news, there are only a few publications that will be interested in this type of story – especially when it is focused on a business-to-business topic. There are a lot of consumer tech stories in the press, especially around big, well-known brands, but it is much more difficult to place enterprise technology news – unless it is really unique and interesting. Also, the press release is still a key way to effectively communicate news and Chinese media often rely on them to write their story.

Here are a few tips for PR best practice in Hong Kong and China below (which I had prepared for my work, but I thought you might be interested in reading those as well):

Best practice recommendations for PR in Hong Kong

  • PR content needs to be localised into English and Cantonese/traditional Chinese (not Mandarin/simplified Chinese)
  • Announcements that result in coverage need to have a very strong local news angle (i.e. what impact will this news have on the people and businesses in Hong Kong?)
  • With the intimate relationship of Hong Kong and mainland China, stories tied to the China market are of interest to the local media
  • Local Chinese media prefer face-to-face interviews; this can often make or break an interview opportunity – whereas English media prefer phone interviews
  • Providing there is a strong news angle, small group media briefings with the local Chinese press work very well, English media want to get a unique story so a one-to-one interview is preferred
  • The press release is still a key way to effectively communicate news and the local Chinese media often rely on them to write their story
  • There is no Internet/media censorship in Hong Kong, foreign websites including Twitter and Facebook are accessible

Best practice recommendations for PR in China

  • All content needs to have local relevance, focusing on benefits to the local market and involving local partners/customers
  • Press releases work well, but need to be translated in simplified Chinese. They often get syndicated across many media outlets
  • It is important to position domain experts that know the local market (vs. marketing experts or communications professionals) as spokespeople
  • Traditional media is still very important – although discussions on Sina Weibo and Ren Ren (local social media channels) should not be overlooked
  • Face-to-face meetings are very important in China, and Chinese journalists like to attend press conferences and roundtables
  • At the end of a meeting or an event Chinese journalists look forward to receiving a gift
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