Especially over the past year, our disruptor clients have looked to expand into the increasingly robust Asian markets. As our clients grow in the U.S. and set their sights abroad, we want to accommodate by offering PR agency partners in countries that have the same work, feel and network of influencer relationships that V2 offers. The Whiteoaks PR network represents that for us in Europe, a network of PR agencies that we’ve been partnered with for more than 10 years.
Our goal is to offer our clients recommendations on PR agencies in the region that have not only had success in working with American companies, but are representative of V2’s culture, style and results.
We began speaking with agencies in Asia at the beginning of the summer, and right away connected with two agencies in China (Communication+ PR, SPRG Beijing Strategic Communications Consultants Limited) and two in Japan (J-Spin Public Relations, Arex Corporation).
These agencies are in a great position to help our clients work effectively within business cultures that are quite different than what our clients experience in the U.S. Furthermore, we decided to partner with two agencies in each market so that our clients have a choice in terms of who they work with and to minimize the potential risk of any conflict issues.
We recently spoke with each agency partner to learn what they believe to be the biggest hurdles for American companies launching PR programs in Japan and China, and asked about their communications best practices in each region:
What do you feel are the biggest challenges for U.S. companies as they seek to gain awareness in China?
Bedder Wei, Communication+ PR: “In recent decades, China has attracted the interest of many foreign companies wanting to develop their business in China. They perceive China as a profitable destination for the lower cost, greater market growth potential, larger purchasing power of both individual consumers and business partners, and many other opportunities. Meanwhile, they’ve also been facing many challenges, such as cultural differences, language barriers, understanding local policies and regulations, the complexity of accounting, workforce competition, market system and dynamics, difficulties of branding, relationship management and so on.
China’s media landscape is extremely dynamic, unique and exclusive. And it’s getting increasingly more complex, and actually now is undergoing a reform which we called ‘Convergence Media’ Development. Therefore, U.S. companies need to really understand the communications and marketing environments in China, know the market well, the media and target audience, and then adapt their communication plans, including content, strategy, channels and approaches, to the ways that Chinese audience are used to today, especially in terms of social platforms.”
Cindy Qin, SPRG Beijing Strategic Communications Consultants Limited: “Refresh their understanding about China, because the communications environment changes quickly and significantly.”
Knowing there are cultural differences in the way companies do business in China and the U.S., what’s your advice for communications best practices in the Chinese market?
Bedder Wei, Communication+ PR: “Our advice for our American business friends is to build ‘Guanxi’ …essentially translating to ‘relationships.’ The term ‘Guanxi’ is a very meaningful word in the Chinese language as well as Chinese culture. There is a very famous Chinese saying, ‘well begun is half done.’ What we want to advise here is, ‘well guanxi-building is half begun.’
Guanxi-building matters in almost all communications, through almost all the media and channels, and to almost all the target groups and stakeholders. To successfully build guanxi:
Show respect and attitude. Giving face is very important in Chinese culture. So, the smart and accurate control of content and tone is worth paying great attention to, and it is also a big test for foreign companies’ communications expertise in China.
Use the right language. Language difference is inherently a big gap between China and the U.S. Furthermore, using the customized language and expression of your customers’ own language would help achieve a ‘more with less’ effect. They would feel ‘wow, you know me well’ in the bottom of their hearts.
Communicate in a relatively implicit style. Chinese culture is very different from American. Communicating is just like cooking a dish. The refined management of timing, temperature, seasoning and other details are key. It’s best to be modest, especially for a foreign company, when telling your target audience that you’re proud of and confident in your products and services, technologies and strengths.
Be creative and humorous. Doing so could get Chinese customers’ attention and create a positive opinion of your company.”
Cindy Qin, SPRG Beijing Strategic Communications Consultants Limited: “American companies should respect and adapt to cultural differences, work with a reliable, local PR partner and focus on the long term.”
What do you feel are the biggest challenges for U.S. companies as they try to gain awareness in Japan?
Junko Tanaka, Arex Corporation: “While social media and content marketing are popular in the U.S., existing mass media are highly reliable in Japan, and corporations need to deal with journalists. In order to gain coverage, the corporation’s relationship with Japan, such as the employment situation, commitment to the Japanese market and the status of partnership/collaboration are strongly advised. In other words, coverage cannot be expected without these elements, so the role of PR is to come up with and propose these hooks and linkage. Continuous close relations with the media are also important. Language barriers exist, and many reporters do not read or speak English. Time must be allocated for localization of materials and websites.”
David Huerta, J-Spin Public Relations: “Two of the biggest challenges are understanding the importance of face-to-face relationship building with the media and Japanese language.
Japanese press prefer face-to-face interactions – such as one-on-one interviews, press roundtables or press conferences. Phone or e-mail interviews are rarely done in Japan, especially when starting a PR program: ongoing education and building relationships with a core group of key media is critical.
Also, unlike some parts of Asia, English is not commonly used in Japan. Everything must be done in Japanese: news releases, marketing collateral, press presentations and interviews. Translation of documents should be done by a professional, tech-experienced translator. For a non-Japanese speaker, you need to secure a tech-savvy, experienced class-A interpreter. Don’t try to trim costs by having an internal Japanese staff act as an interpreter.”
Knowing there are cultural differences in the way companies do business in Japan and the U.S., what’s your advice for communications best practices in the Japan market?
Junko Tanaka, Arex Corporation: “Print media (newspaper) still has a strong influence in Japan amid the global trend of digitalization of media — a point to bear in mind when selecting who to pitch.
In many cases (partly because Japan is a smaller country than the U.S.), interviews are not conducted over a telephone or Skype, but in person. It is important to have face-to-face communication with reporters during briefings, interviews and other opportunities.
As national general and business newspapers have personnel reshuffle, reporters tend to become generalists rather than specialists. Companies are encouraged to build a relationship with reporters that are just starting out, and reporters with different backgrounds.”
David Huerta, J-Spin Public Relations: “Don’t assume a PR strategy that has been successful in other markets can be copied for Japan. Take local advice on what works and what doesn’t and adjust your plans accordingly.”