In 21st century China - with its billion-plus consumers, where the past is always present, and the future seems limitless - there is a saying: "Everything is difficult, but nothing is impossible."
That expression is not exclusive to China. India can also lay claim to a challenging socio-economic environment. Both countries can also boast thriving new economies. The rest of the world, meanwhile, has quickly begun to set up shop in each country, learning how to conduct business in these dynamic and complex societies.
The Council recently looked at how the PR industry is developing in each market and how it is impacting firms in the US.
The Council and several of its members visited Beijing and Shanghai earlier this month to learn how communicators and media are shaping the messages coming out of China.
Meeting with local media, corporate communicators, government officials, and PR agency executives, we found an audience enthusiastic to share their successes, challenges, and the many nuances of doing business in China.
What is happening in China is forcing a nascent PR industry to grow up fast. According to the China International Public Relations Association, the industry is growing about 30% a year and showing no signs of letting up. Some 2,000 PR firms, with total revenues of just under $1 billion, work in a hypercompetitive marketplace. While business booms, managers from both agencies and corporations scramble to populate and train a limited workforce. There is also concern that the country will soon face a leadership shortage, according to recent studies by McKinsey & Co. and Deloitte.
China's PR pros face familiar challenges to their Western counterparts: competition from other marketing functions, demonstrating ROI, and understanding new media's impact. There are differences, however, in the payment of bills: Chinese clients will likely view an agency invoice as merely the first move in a protracted negotiation. Many firms, therefore, prefer to work with multinational clients.
The government still exerts an influence over the media, as it owns them all, but that's changing. Today, working journalists have more latitude. Stories related to commercial activity, for example, are largely free of scrutiny, but political pieces are still heavily censored.
The payment of journalists is still a concern, but less so in the major markets, as earned media's power gains recognition. PR and its focus on reputation and disclosure can have a solid influence in this area.
The Council's Client Advisory Committee met in March to discuss India's PR landscape and how multinationals are cultivating reputations there. India has moved more cautiously into the business world than China has in order to avoid potential social unrest. A deep local knowledge is paramount in India. On a strategic level, companies entering India are wise to demonstrate a long-term commitment there. On a tactical level, the challenges can be daunting in a country with so many distinct ethnic provinces. For example, a countrywide press release requires more than a dozen language translations.
China and India represent two of the most compelling business stories of our time. As foreign companies continue to stream in and local businesses grow, US PR firms are building and networking to seize the opportunities. As a member of the International Communications Consultancy Organization, the Council continues to explore the global business environment on behalf of its members.
Matt Shaw is vice president of the Council of Public Relations Firms.
The Council is dedicated to strengthening the recognition and role of public relations firms in corporate strategy, business performance, and social education, serving as an authoritative source of information and expert comment and helping set standards for the PR industry. For more information about the Council of Public Relations Firms, call 1-877-PRFIRMS or visit our Web site at www. prfirms.org.
This column is contributed and paid for by the Council of PR Firms.