Media landscapes in Germany and China: Same same but different

Since the launch of One Belt One Road Initiatives, Chinese government has been pushing and inducing foreign investors and domestic producers to move inland through its “Go West” policy. Following this trend, in recent years, Germany has been the favorite country for Chinese direct investments in Europe.

Whilst Chinese companies are expanding their investments in Germany, it is also worth looking into how communication can help Chinese companies succeed in Germany. In our experience in helping companies in both China and Germany, we have observed that the ways to communicate and the media landscape in Germany are different, but also similar in some regards. Let’s have a look.

Similarities

Media decentralized in both Germany and China. In China, there are few central official media channels with offices in different cities. However, several cities, such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, have their own local influential media outlets and journalists. Besides central and local media outlets, we should also take “regional” media outlets, such as outlets in Huabei Region (northern China) or Huanan Region (southern China), into consideration, depending on the communication needs.

In Germany, in addition to the major media cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, cities like Cologne, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt are also home to important media corporations and journalists.

We can therefore conclude, that the media landscapes in both Germany and China are decentralized and have their own reporting styles.  Therefore, when communicating with journalists in China and Germany, we first need to understand their reporting styles, preferences and focal points,.

Media relations are required in both countries. “Relations” are highly valued and called “Guanxi” in Chinese. This is similar to Germany. We call it “Vitamin B” (B stands for “Beziehung” in German which means “Relations” in English ). In Germany, it can take years of cooperation to get on friendly terms with editors. It is therefore important to maintain a reasonable distance when approaching the German media and always give journalists their freedom, so as not to scare them off future publications.

In China, often, different kinds of media events are arranged by companies, so that the company representatives and media have more opportunities to meet and talk. Therefore, relations are easier to be built up. The relations between journalists and company representatives can be as good as friendship.

Nevertheless, good media relations help companies to better deliver positive images and key messages to desired target audiences.

Timely and relevant stories matter. The standards of newsworthiness in China are very similar to Germany. Stories should be timely, relevant and have a human-interest angle. Don’t forget to show the big picture to Chinese media. Chinese reporters are always interested in the macro impact of stories. Think about what your story means for the local or regional development, a certain industry or the wider economy? And how does your story align with the government’s policy?

Now, let’s talk about the differences.

State-owned media in China vs. privately owned and operated media in Germany. Most of the traditional Chinese media outlets are government-owned, and are subject to the government guidelines on how certain stories should be reported.

In Germany, the press is privately owned, and highly values its independence and freedom from censorship.  

Media approaches are different. In China, instant messengers are frequently used by journalists, and they are also fine with being approached via QQ and WeChat. The influence of online communication tools is becoming increasingly fundamental to the media relations of enterprises.

We would not use WhatsApp in Germany to reach out to journalists, unless you know them personally. It is expected that you first send an email and then follow up with a call. When addressing journalists in Germany, surnames are a must – with exceptions for startup and some tech media.

Earned coverage in Germany vs. paid editorial in China. German press is independent and vocal. They tend to discover unique angles for their stories, and do not take gifts. German journalists may have their interests and questions when interviewing companies, so they prepare their questions on their own. When it comes to interviews, 1-on-1 or exclusive interview are expected.

In China, journalists expect a „travel allowance“ to show up at events and write stories based on what is provided in press materials. As for interviews, group interviews in China are possible. For example, an interview with up to five journalists is common. For interview questions, Chinese media are open to discuss with companies before the interview takes place and to ensure key messages from the companies are delivered while journalists’ interests are also being covered.  

Last but not least. There are cultural differences, and they need to be addressed. For any companies who want to succeed in a foreign country, understanding the market is essential; respecting the local culture is a must. Doing communication is no different from that. It’s always a good idea to work with a local partner with an international network when entering the desired market. Have the local agency navigate the local complicated landscape and bridge the company with desired targeted audience. At the same time, have this local agency act as the leading team to develop a central strategy and to deploy to and coordinate with different markets via its networks. It is the best way to maximize the value of investment while achieving goals.