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Le rp cinesi: uno scenario in piena evoluzione

17/02/2004

Le relazioni pubbliche in Cina sono un settore emergente. Un articolo di The Strategist traccia una storia commentata delle rp cinesi.

Negli anni 80 alcune agenzie internazionali di comunicazione hanno iniziato a tastare il terreno, aprendo sedi a Pechino, ma si trattava per lo più di casi isolati. Negli anni 90 la Cina ha continuato a crescere economicamente, senza che però ci fosse un vero e proprio sviluppo di questo settore. Solo negli ultimi cinque anni le società internazionali di comunicazione hanno iniziato a proporsi sul mercato con un certo vigore e nello stesso tempo sono nate una serie di agenzie cinesi.Ecco il pezzo di The Strategist in versione integrale.
Public relations in China is a fledgling industry. In the early 1980s, a handful of international PR firms started to set up joint ventures in the country, primarily in Beijing. Meanwhile, there were practically no local agencies during that time.
Although the industry has gone through 20 years of development in the mainland, it did not take off until the mid-1990s when China's market economy started to produce visible results with admirable gross domestic product growth and increasing foreign investments. Over the last five years, more international agencies have aggressively moved into the mainland market while domestic PR agencies have also blossomed.
The competition between domestic and international firms has now intensified. Pricing and critical mass were, at one point, the two most differentiating advantages that helped local agencies win business, even from international clients. Increasingly, however, some forward-looking local agencies are moving up to offer quality and sophisticated services by recruiting top-notch professionals, competing with their counterparts in high-level strategic counseling areas. Despite increased competition, the market is growing so rapidly that it should be big enough for all serious players.
The annual market survey conducted by the China International Public Relations Association (CIPRA) showed a 25 percent growth in the mainland's PR revenues at $300 million (U.S.) in 2002 (20 percent growth in 2001). China's PR industry should be able to accelerate its growth momentum in the next decade, and the market could reach about $1.8 billion by 2010.
Two obvious factors would fuel the growth: the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. It certainly seems a big jump from the current $300 million to the estimated $1.8 billion in 2010 - but this would be over a span of eight years. Let's take a close look at the industry figures. The 2002 PR revenues of China were less than 8 percent of those of the United States (about $3.5 billion last year), or around 5 percent of the global PR market (about $6 billion in 2002). Should China's PR industry reach $1.8 billion by 2010, it would only be 40 percent of the U.S. PR market (or 25 percent of the 2002 global PR revenues). However, the huge Chinese market should offer tremendous space for increased PR revenues.
China's Media Reforms - a Boost for the PR IndustryApart from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the continued and sustained economic growth in China is the most important driving force behind the development of its PR industry. Despite the impact of SARS in the first half of 2003, China is still expected to see another 8 percent growth in gross domestic product. This is illustrative of the country's robust development momentum. Among the encouraging factors that will help the PR industry's growth: the rapidly evolving market economy; increasing competition from international products and services following China's accession to the World Trade Organization; gradual globalization of Chinese enterprises; rising consumerism; and escalating attention to corporate social responsibility. Traditionally, international corporations have used PR services in China to help create a favorable business environment for them in the mainland market. Major local corporations are now facing mounting competition pressures, prompting them to look at effective communications, public relations and market promotion at a higher level of sophistication. They have a greater need to communicate with stakeholders, build a strong brand in the consumer market, promote products to protect and expand their market share, establish their corporate images and attract international investors.
Meanwhile, China's WTO accession has provided foreign companies with a new playing field in the mainland. These companies need to continue deploying PR strategies to support their marketing/corporate initiatives in order to gain an even bigger market share in China and to sharpen their competitive edge through enhanced branding and corporate positioning.
Development of the PR market is closely related to development of the media in China. To a great extent, public relations and the media have an intertwined relationship. Today's booming media industry in China has created a favorable platform for the dynamic growth of the PR industry. The central government has embarked on massive reforms in the media industry and is adopting a more open attitude toward foreign investment in the country's media business. As the market becomes more competitive, domestic media have also taken on new commercial initiatives of their own to restructure not only their operations, but also format and content to attract a larger audience. All these developments are positive factors that will contribute to the growth of China's PR industry.
Key Cities for China's IndustryPublic relations is an international industry, but with many American features. The development of China's PR industry would follow the pattern of the PR industry's development in the United States. China is a big country, but growth will be concentrated in some key cities, not across the whole of the mainland. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou/Shenzhen are the "golden triangle" of China's PR market and they will continue to take the lead. However, Chengdu/Chongqing (Southwest) and Dalian (Northeast) could be the next growth markets as economic forces are spreading over to these two regions. Both local and international agencies are considering their expansion through geographical outreach, but it would take some time, possibly the next three years, to build a reasonable business base in the second-tier cities.
Communications - a New Milestone for China and Chinese CompaniesWith China's accession into the WTO, its communication with the outside world is increasingly extensive, and things that happen in China will receive more global attention and scrutiny. For example, SARS turned out to be not merely a contagious disease that was confined to mainland China, but became a health issue of global concern. The international elements of this issue eventually impacted China's overall economy due to reduced international travel. It was a wake-up call for China. The central government now understands that, in order for China to maintain its standing in the international market, it needs to further open up and take on more responsibilities as a world player. This requires communication. The central government reached a milestone during SARS by using carefully orchestrated communications programs to gain the confidence of local people, and to rebuild trust among the international community. In a recent survey by the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) among "China Elite" - affluent locals in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou who own their homes - those surveyed believed that the way mainland authorities reacted to the SARS outbreak in the spring of 2003 greatly improved China's image globally. The FEER has suggested that the central government of China has "successfully planted a string of entirely positive images of its achievements in this area," although it may continue to keep tight control of information to its citizens. The government's efforts in communications are working.
Many Chinese enterprises have come to realize their corporate social responsibilities along with increasing awareness of corporate governance issues. Over the past few years, many major corporations on the mainland have been accelerating their efforts and spending on community services, yet they were not able to communicate effectively to their stakeholders and the public. At present, more of them are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of communications - many privately run enterprises began to invest in corporate image building and community service advertisements.
Chinese entrepreneurs now understand that their market viability is being measured by the performance of their social responsibility efforts. They realize that international investors, when evaluating investment in Chinese corporations, are looking more frequently not only at management depth and business strategy, but also at real corporate social responsibility measures ranging from workplace conditions to environmental practices.
Thanks to an increase in the flow of information, especially through the Internet, China's younger generation of consumers is beginning to gain a much higher awareness of environmental and corporate governance issues. This creates a new green consumer force though not one as powerful as that found in the United States and Europe. The influence and pressure of this generation will most likely prompt a corporate response to business ethics and transparency. The government stands to gain as well from popular understanding of environmental issues and the advocacy of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Actions are already being taken by major government agencies. For instance, China has recently introduced regulations that give more power to the National Environment Protection Bureau to scrutinize and penalize corporations that create environmental hazards, especially those related to waste disposal. Any listed companies that have violated environmental protection laws are subject to investigation by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC).
Many NGOs and watchdog groups in the mainland are also aggressively promoting rating systems for corporate social responsibility and corporate governance programs. Major local corporations seem receptive to such concepts. With the challenges of the WTO, Chinese entrepreneurs know that as they become more embedded in the world's economy and trading systems, they will be called on to take on added responsibilities. Especially as more Chinese corporations are planning to compete in the international arena, they need to address the problems mentioned above in a way that promotes a forward-thinking and responsible image. Corporate public relations plays a major role in this regard. Chinese companies should be smart enough to learn from their American counterparts - using public relations as an important management function to help them achieve business success and establish positive corporate branding.
While the domestic consumer market explodes, so does competition. Competition will only continue to intensify as increasing numbers of foreign products establish their stronghold in China. Both international and domestic companies have realized the need for promotion and brand marketing - a strong growth area for PR agencies. Chinese companies, in particular, are feeling the pressure and are beginning to react. For example, in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, the municipal government has formed a strategy committee to promote local brands.
Overall, the trend in China is clear. The affluent and the young generation of consumers are becoming increasingly brand conscious. They are looking for choices - from computers and cars to soft drinks and fashions. Although domestic firms still provide the majority of their needs, international companies have been making significant inroads. It is a serious battle for business, and brand is the name of the game.
The China Myth Yet to BeginMany people think of China's development in the past 20 years as unbelievable. The growth in the past two decades is a natural outcome of internal policy changes that have brought China's economic development in greater alignment with other nations.
The real growth lies in the recently announced new "Five-Year Plan," which aims at bringing the country to a substantial economic level. If, in the following five to 10 years, China successfully becomes an affluent society, the overall economy will perform even better. People's quality of life will improve further and more people will be able to receive an education. With better education, local people will aspire to better living standards, which, in turn, will stimulate further national growth. The Chinese market, including public relations, has huge potential.
In the past, personal wealth was a taboo. Now, China is quickly creating numerous rich individuals. The latest surveys indicated that there were already 10 million millionaires in China in 2001 and that number would grow to 20 million by 2010. Meanwhile, the size of the middle class is also growing, and is expected to reach 250 million by 2015. Of this middle class, 75 percent will own their homes. The middle class and the millionaires will be the bedrock of social stability - and certainly a market for all brands to tap. The outlook for China's PR industry is optimistic. More international PR firms are entering the Chinese market and competing with domestic PR agencies. International PR firms usually have plenty of global experience and resources. On the other hand, domestic firms know the local markets better. As the industry continues to develop and competition increases, the price gap between the two will actually close. The competition will shift focus - it will be more on the ability to offer professional and sophisticated services rather than the lowest prices. This, eventually, will benefit the clients.
The increasing integration of the economies among the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan will promote similar integration of the PR markets in these three regions. It's a Greater China market. Agencies that are able to build a successful Greater China network and seamless collaboration in the region will have a better chance of success in this growing market.

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