With more than 20 years experience in China, Scott Kronick chatted with US-China Today about the state of the Chinese PR industry and where it is headed in the future.

作为一个在中国有着 20多年产业经验的公关元老,Scott Kronick与《美中今日》畅聊了中国公关产业的现状以及其未来的走向。

For multinational public relations (PR) companies, China has become one of the most lucrative markets. The field has attracted a host of local and foreign firms since the industry opened up in the early 1990s. PR practitioners have had to be nimble in order to remain competitive in China. When food safety worries struck, companies called in PR firms to help them to restore confidence in their products. Further, global practitioners have had to adapt to the blocking of seemingly indispensable technology tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. While some might argue the PR industry in China is a unique beast, the president and CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Asia-Pacific, Scott Kronick, sees things a bit differently.  With more than 20 years in China, Kronick not only develops international strategies, but also works with many Chinese officials on communication skills. US-China Today chatted with Kronick about the state of the Chinese PR industry and where it is headed in the future.

The Chinese public relations industry is booming by all accounts. What has contributed to this huge demand and how do you see it playing out in the future?

There are a number of factors contributing to the growth of the public relations industry in China. The evolution of branding and the desire by companies to stand for something in consumers’ minds (beyond traditional product benefits) are probably the biggest drivers. Established multinational brands want to build lasting, loyal consumers as much as local brands want to cultivate their own relationships with Chinese consumers. Another aspect is the challenge of actually reaching consumers to communicate with them. China has so many platforms – both traditional media and new media – and deciphering which to use to communicate most effectively is another driver. China is home to the largest population in the world that is always on: watching tv, surfing the web, reading newspapers and magazines, utilizing social media, listening to the radio, and much more. There is such a great need for engaging content and that has sparked the growth of our industry in China.

What is unique about the PR industry in China versus other places in the world?

The practice of public relations is no different in China than anywhere else in the world, yet what is different is how public relations skills are applied. To be successful you need to understand the local market nuances. For example, we would not use Facebook or YouTube as channels to launch a campaign. These platforms are not operable in China. Social media has exploded in China and as a result most of our campaigns skew much more social than other markets in the world. Influencers are different and preferences are different depending on age groups and geographies. We often say ‘a brand is not successful until the local market tells you so’ and what this means is that the experienced public relations practitioners understands local market nuances to help their companies or clients connect in deeper more meaningful ways.

What characteristics must a PR professional possess to work successfully in China?

Curiosity. You have to be interested in a lot of things and very open-minded in everything related to what is happening inside and outside of China. Good writing, social media, storytelling and research skills are also very helpful. Great PR people are very good counselors. When presented with a marketing or crisis challenge and asked, “what would you do?” You need a point of view and to be prepared to help the client resolve their problem.

What have been the challenges communicating the qualities of American brands to Chinese audiences?

“A brand is not successful until the local market tells you so.” If an American brand comes into China and says, ‘this is the way we do things in America and that is how we are going to do them here’ they are destined for failure. That doesn’t mean brands need to compromise their values or processes, they just need to recognize that operating in China is different and they need to first understand what the market needs before assuming their brand will be successful.”

Scandals in recent years have rocked the consumer goods industry in China, for example the 2008 milk powder scandal. What is the PR industry’s role in restoring consumer confidence following these events?

Great PR is about telling the truth and making it authentic and interesting. Most of the consumer crises of late result from a lot of misinformation and most of the time this just needs to be addressed with transparent, responsible, timely and authentic communication. What people want is truth and honesty in the midst of crises and helping companies and organizations to do this is the role of the professional public relations advisor.

How much does social media play into public relations campaigns? What are some of the newest techniques for managing Chinese social media?

Social media is very important. Today most consumers get their information through non-traditional channels and figuring out how consumers get their information and make decisions are paramount to success.   For people to succeed in today’s media climate you certainly need to understand how to develop engaging content and the role it plays in the decision making process. Being skilled in data analysis is also very important to guide your client or organization using data-driven insights. Great social listening and analytical skills are also very important.

What are the biggest growth sectors for public relations in China?

We have seen a lot of growth in the fashion/luxury goods categories, entertainment, sports, automobile, business-to-business technology and services industries.

Many multinational PR firms have set up shop in China. How competitive are these firms with local Chinese PR firms? How can a company succeed in creating a culturally sensitive workplace?

I like to think we are very competitive. Our strategy is to be the most international of the local firms, and most local of the internationals. We have more than 500 staff that are 95% local Chinese. I don’t see how they are any different than Chinese in local firms. What we try to do is bring the best practices from around the world to help our teams serve their clients, and we are also leveraging our global network on behalf of Chinese companies that want to expand globally.

We spend a lot of time cultivating our culture. Our values help to create what I hope is a culturally sensitive workplace. First and foremost is respect for each other. That is not written down anywhere yet it is an unspoken necessity. We are trying to develop a highly creative and effective environment that celebrates teams, fosters collaboration, allows staff to be brave and provides a sense of freedom so our people can do their very best to serve our clients. This type of culture is what has been driving our success.  Respect, however, is first and foremost.

Facebook has wanted back into China since it was blocked in 2009. Mark Zuckerberg even talked to President Xi in Chinese when President Xi visited the U.S. last month. If Facebook entered into China, how would you utilize this platform?

If it has traction and the proper community that fits with what our clients need, we would evaluate how to work together with Facebook China. There are many different ways we can possibly engage. It needs to resonate with our consumers first and foremost.

If the blocking of companies such as Facebook were ended, how do you think Chinese digital companies like Sina and Tencent would compete with these platforms?

I wouldn’t underestimate either of these brands, Tencent particularly is a great platform and the industry leader. In this case Facebook would be the challenger brand and already is far behind Tencent in China.