While companies can find great opportunities for outreach in Asia-Pacific outlets, PR efforts call for research and understanding of regional customs.
The Asia-Pacific media industry represents a huge opportunity for US companies trying to market their products in the region, but it also presents numerous challenges for PR pros.
For starters, there's the need to customize pitches not just country by country, but city by city.
"It's not really accurate to look at Asia as one homogeneous region," notes Julia Astashkina, VP at Jungle Communications. "In China, for instance, you have to have three separate pitches for Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, and then when you go to Japan you have completely different dynamics there."
There are some common characteristics across the Asia-Pacific media landscape, including the fact that most outlets seem to have solid audience and advertising support.
"The media there is very healthy," notes Bill Imada, chairman and CEO of the IW Group. "And one reason for that is that, in general, consumers in Asia are ferocious readers of print media. You can see evidence of that even in the US, where ethnic media outlets have grown from 250 to 650 in the past decade, with most of that being print outlets."
Another phenomenon is the surge in internet media, particularly blogs and chat rooms. The web has proven so popular that the Chinese government recently had to impose new restrictions, including requiring all bloggers to provide officials with their full identities. "They may not be as big as they are in the US and Europe, but it's certainly starting to take off," says Emily Chen, director of the corporate practice at MS&L's Hong Kong office.
Asia's online media is also showing some surprising teeth. As an example, Chen notes that both Nike and Toyota found themselves on the defensive recently after several sites questioned whether some of their TV ads were culturally insensitive.
"It started off in the chat rooms, where people raised the question of whether or not a Nike ad with Lebron James was insulting to the Chinese culture," Chen says. "With the Toyota ad, again it started in the chat room, and as a result, both companies had to make public apologies."
Imada also suggests that there is a growing confidence about the region's economy. "A lot of US products were considered superior, but now many trends are being set by Asia," he says. "There's a lot of nationalism now in Korea, China, and Japan. Many of the best fashions are coming out of Korea or Shanghai, and even Asia-produced films are going head-to-head with Hollywood at the box office."
But there is some debate about whether that nationalism might cause Asia-Pacific editors to become less fascinated with US products. "In some ways, the US influence is still humongous, especially with things like technology," says Julia Huang, president and CEO of Long Beach, CA-based InterTrend Communications. "Whatever is developed in the US has a huge impact on manufacturing in Asia, so there's enormous media interest."
Cindy Chan, regional account director at MS&L Hong Kong, adds that the emerging middle class in many Asian countries is fueling a surge in interest in US lifestyle products.
"There are new magazines, such as Vogue China, that are introducing a lot of people in the region to luxury brands from the US and other parts of the world," she says. "These local editions tend to reflect the same editorial style and standards of their parent publications."
When it comes to pitching Asia-Pacific outlets, US-based PR firms do have the option of pitching the New York-, Washington-, or LA-based reporters for many of the top publications and broadcast outlets.
But to get consistent coverage from Asia-Pacific outlets, "You need somebody on the ground in that region," Astashkina says. "If you're trying to manage a media outreach campaign from here, it's just a drop in the bucket. You absolutely must take the extra steps and not only localize by language, but also take into consideration cultural issues, such as the color of your font and the tone."
"Tailored pitches are clearly important, but just like in the US, it all boils down to relationships, and relationships may be even more important in Asia," Imada adds. "In the US, you can casually meet a reporter for breakfast or lunch. But over there, you may attend newspapers functions and events, and also exchange gifts with the journalists, so the relationship is more of a ritual."
Pitching... Asia-Pacific media
- US-based reporters for Asia-Pacific outlets are not only looking at major US outlets for story ideas, but also the growing ethnic media market here, so placing stories in an Asian-language paper in the US could lead to coverage overseas.
- Make sure your pitch matches the outlet's language. If it's an English-language Chinese daily, pitch in English, but don't expect native language outlets to do the translation
- If you treat every Asian market the same way, you'll cause your brand more harm than good, so take the extra steps to tailor your pitch according to customs and local sensibilities