CIPRA poll reveals China's PR industry is flourishing

WASHINGTON: PR firms may have had a rough couple of years in the US, but, according to a new survey, things in China have never been better.

WASHINGTON: PR firms may have had a rough couple of years in the US, but, according to a new survey, things in China have never been better.

The China International Public Relations Association (CIPRA) has released the findings from its 2003 annual survey exploring how agencies are performing in the world's most populous - and secretive - country.

The data, collected from 14 unnamed foreign-funded PR firms and 31 domestic agencies, shows an industry with strong growth and stronger prospects.

Total revenues for the industry (excluding Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) are estimated at $397 million US, an increase of $96.39 million over the 2002 total.

The average growth rate of the top 10 international agencies was 15%, while the top 10 regionally owned firms clocked in at more than 30%.

Overall, there were more than 1,500 PR shops operating in the country last year, with the total number of practitioners exceeding 15,000 - an increase of 10% over the previous year.

Among strongest-performing cities, Beijing topped the list with more than 40% of the market (most top-10 firms, according to the survey's criteria, have headquarters there).

Shanghai also showed signs of strengthening due to its increased role as a consumer and corporate hub, while Chengdu stood out as a fast-growing base for the Southwest China market.

Andrew Pirie, Weber Shandwick's Asia Pacific president, credited the boom in the Chinese PR market to a fortunate confluence of factors.

"Clearly, China's accession to the WTO is a mega-trend that will have major implications for business in China and [how they] communicate," he said via e-mail. "A highly competitive market will become even more so. This will create more demand in the communications space."

Other business drivers Pirie noted include ongoing media reforms and the unusual strength of investment dollars in China.

Both the survey and Pirie addressed the challenge of finding qualified PR personnel in the country. According to the survey, training was still a major effort for the top firms, whose employees typically spent up to 50 hours a year in training.

"It has been and will continue to be a big challenge," wrote Pirie. "We are consciously working to groom local talent, but obviously it is hard to take someone with two to three years' experience, no matter how talented they might be, and put them in a position that requires 10 years' experience or more."

The changing face of Chinese PR doesn't stop at the private sector. The communist Chinese government itself is now training its first network of national spokesmen, a feat necessitated by the rising presence of foreign and independent media.

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