A PR and communications strategy for Chinese New Year can yield a mixed bag of results. Companies who choose to engage their audiences during this period can enhance their reputation, build loyalty and boost sales but a poorly executed strategy could alienate a large group of stakeholders and undermine all other communication efforts. A lack of sufficient planning, misinformed conceptions of the holiday and inconsistent messaging are some of the mistakes that have caused major brands to falter in the past.
Chinese New Year is widely celebrated all over Southeast Asia, with countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and others boasting large Chinese populations. The impact that Chinese New Year has on public relations and other communication efforts is often misunderstood, and it takes genuine strategic nous to truly leverage the power of the holiday.
Understand what Chinese New Year means to your audience and for your brand
Large brands such as Burberry have come under fire for being insensitive in their Chinese New Year advertisements. While they would argue that their intentions were pure, having a clear and accurate understanding of the holiday can help ensure that brands strike the right tone with their communications strategy. The best way to avoid any potential backlash from your audience is to research the holiday thoroughly and to ensure that your message is in sync with the meaning of Chinese New Year.
Chinese New Year holds different meanings to different audiences. Some view the festival as a time for family and reunions while others use the holiday as an opportunity to fund their next luxury purchase with hong bao money. Even the food served carries symbolic significance with dumplings representing wealth due to their resemblance to ancient monetary ingots. The understanding of deeper meanings in seemingly simple things allows brands and companies to resonate with Chinese audiences on a deeper level and leaves more impact than a generic festive greeting.
Opportunity to build strong and meaningful relationships with the media
While reunion dinner conversations and family visits often focus on new personal relationships, the festive period presents a unique opportunity for businesses to build professional relationships. Connecting with media representatives on a personal level during the festive season can lead to future efforts being looked at in a more positive light and increase the likelihood of your story gaining traction in the media sphere.
Methods of outreach that are considered appropriate can vary wildly between types of media. Social media influencers are inundated with gifts during the holidays. On the other hand, large media publications having policies against receiving such gifts. While large media publications discourage sending expensive presents to specific journalists, sending a festive contribution to efforts organised by publications such as The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund can be very well received.
Ensure that your message is consistent with the overall communications objective
Chinese New Year messages present an opportunity for companies to flex their creative muscles and reach out to their audiences in new and exciting ways. However, ad hoc communication efforts that are not in line with the personality of the brand can seem random and are often ineffective in creating a splash. Even if the campaign goes viral and is effective in keeping viewers interested during the holidays, a campaign that is disjointed from the grand strategy does little for brand building.
Holiday messages need to play a part in the grander communication strategy of the company, and a well-designed story or advertisement can act as a foundation to build upon for future communications. Coca Cola’s annual Chinese New Year campaign in China is a prime example of how a company can enforce their existing brand values of joy and sharing using a reunion dinner as a backdrop, even using the same clay doll characters for over two decades.
Make sure your efforts are sincere and respectful
In an age where information is just a tap away, consumers are more well-informed and opinionated than ever before. Audiences are not afraid to call out brands for insincere and ill-informed messages, as Dolce and Gabbana found when they posted an Instagram post featuring a Chinese model struggling to eat a pizza, pasta and a cannoli using chopsticks. Even after the video was taken down, leaked Instagram messages show Stefano Gabbana defending the video and referring to Chinese people as “ignorant, dirty smelling mafia.”
Chinese audiences are extremely proud of their culture and insincere efforts to leverage that culture for personal gain is not viewed kindly. Any brand that wishes to engage the audience has to do so with the right intentions and with genuine respect for the culture. Past examples of success have been from outlets such as CCTV, whose efforts have consistently put them in the good books of Chinese people around the world, with their New Year’s Gala viewed by over 700 million people annually.
Pick the right time to pitch to journalists
Chinese New Year is usually preceded with weeks of planning. Plans can range from mundane activities such as picking a venue to the more complicated planning of how to introduce your new partner to your extended family. Similarly, the most effective holiday public relations strategies are those that are planned and executed early. Some Chinese New Year stories are pitched to the media weeks before Christmas to avoid getting lost in the flurry of celebrations that take place in that period of the year. Media publications often schedule their stories around an editorial calendar that is fixed months in advance. This means that the timing at which a pitch or story is sent out can affect the chances of that story being published.
Jacinta Paul, a seasoned public relations professional and client services director at PRecious Communications shares that “the strategies that you are thinking of, your competitors are also thinking of similarly and sometimes even ahead of time. You have to make sure that you get out there before your competitors do and you capture the market before them. So it’s always good to plan early and execute as early as you can.”
A strong understanding of communication strategies during the festive period can help businesses renew and strengthen existing relationships with their stakeholders. Christmas and New Year have traditionally been the holidays that businesses utilise to spread joy and festive cheer and while those have worked well, recognising that Chinese New Year holds a special place in the hearts of Asians worldwide can yield unbelievable results.
After all, it’s all about making your stakeholders feel PRecious.
Authored by Divyesh Daswani – Junior Client Associate at PRecious Communications.