News and Insights

Going through COVID-19 in China: Lessons and Experience in Marketing and Communications

April 15, 2020

Today is a day of significance for me. For the first time since the Wuhan lockdown two months ago, mainland China reported only single-digit growth in domestic Covid-19 cases, and our Shanghai team has officially returned to work in the physical office after one-and-half months of working from home.

Yet, it’s far from a day of celebration. I could feel the same anxiety, confusion and stress that we experienced in late January and early February in China, if not more, amongst my colleagues and clients all around the world. I get questions everyday now – what can we do and what should we do? What’s gonna happen? Can you share your experiences from China?

Yes, I have lots to share. The last month and a half had been a daily rollercoaster for us who cover China as the main market. So, I’ll share some experiences from the marketing and media relations front from China in the last two months. However, as the media landscape is quite different in each country, and the media agendas are set against various backgrounds, please take this only as a reference in terms of timeline and focus. Having said that, I believe the development of focus agenda would be generally similar globally.

The Chinese media (including mainstream, business and vertical industry media) have experienced three phases of focus agenda during the last two months.

Phase one: COVID-19 “Lockdown and Emergency” phase

From late January to mid-February, media attention was completely focused on Covid-19-related news and updates, while Chinese New Year celebrations had been completely halted. All topics revolved around the lockdown, the shortage of medical supplies, the brave and selfless deeds of doctors and nurses rushing to Wuhan from all over the China, social distancing etc. One-by-one, trade shows were getting cancelled until the end-of-April. That also meant all the planned press releases, events, promotions – everything, was cancelled.

During this phase, we were only able to submit our client’s news and updates to the media if it was related to corporate donations, medical or healthcare. Even so, the sub-topics were in constant flux, often changing overnight in line with the dynamic nature of specific requests from the media.

For example, Jie Mian, one of China’s most influential digital media outlets on business and finance news, was looking for AI and Epidemic Management topics in early February. We took the opportunity to bring in a world-renowned AI health provider to provide expert opinions. Unfortunately, the media did not select the story because it lacked actual applications in China. The media focus then was extremely local and national, and relevancy is critical to present media stories at this phase.

Now looking back, this period of time (and where the global situation is now) would be best spent preparing for content to launch in the next phase, gearing up for ideas that could be implemented as soon as this phase is over, and strategy planning for going digital, if clients have yet to.

Phase two: Managing COVID-19 “Return to work and Economic Recovery” phase

With effective social distancing and near perfect execution of a challenging total lockdown, China’s situation came under control towards late-Feb and early March. Companies started returning to work and the government began trying to boost economic recovery. The media were eager for content that showed how various industries faced challenges and how they were overcome, as well as the outlook on the future of the Chinese economy from the viewpoint of different industries and sectors.

This is the best time to push your clients out and grow their brand awareness from various perspectives. Even for the most industrial-focused or upstream manufacturing client who normally wouldn’t make it to the top mainstream and business media, here is your opportunity to do so.

We were able to secure editorial opportunities for clients in China Daily, amongst 37 CEOs around the world who commented on China’s future economic growth, together with big names such as Apple, Bayer, Merck etc. A simple update on the state of business and industry recovery would also be able to get into a regional mainstream and business media.

This is also the best time to discuss what the strategy of going digital means for clients and how it can be implemented – especially for B2B clients who have traditionally been among the last to realize and adopt digital and social campaigns. But this is probably the easiest time to persuade them to give it a try, because they themselves have realized that this is the only way to go at this point.

Phase three: Economic development and “Entering New Normal” phase

In the last two weeks, China is entering a new phase and we have seen the media and clients back to the new normal. All over China, society has almost completely gotten used to Live Streaming, a habit that was developed during the social distancing time spent in the previous two phases. We see it being adopted in not only B2C but B2B marketing and communications as well. Clients welcome livestreaming their product launches and events via channels such as virtual trade show booths, WeChat mini-programs and professional livestreaming platforms; and digital campaigns are being adopted to support lead-generation programs as new media offer distinctive online platforms that can make almost anything happen. You can see some ideas from my colleagues on how these could develop in other countries

In China now, everyone is optimistic about the future and continued growth despite all the challenges. Only in challenging times can you find opportunities and leverage on them. The fastest ones to adapt will be the ones who survive, something to keep in mind especially for my colleagues and clients around the world who are still treading in phase one. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we will succeed in our fight against COVID-19!

So, for now practice social distancing, and make best use this time to think and generate new ideas for what’s coming next….

TAGS: Manufacturing

POSTED BY: Juliet Zhu

Juliet Zhu