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  • Writer's pictureLiz Yin

3 Myths of Earned Media in China

Earned media is defined as publicity that is gained through promotional efforts other than paid ads and owned media (i.e. brand website). Common earned media ​​outputs include media coverage, social media mentions, organic influencer mentions, speaking engagements, contributed articles, etc.

Most marketers agree that earned media is imperative for establishing credibility and raising brand awareness. As a brand, getting the endorsement from reputable local media publications through effective earned media efforts can expedite your chances of reaching your business goals in the new market.

However, Chinese media is complex and works completely different from the West and other Asian markets like Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. For one, many news publications are controlled by the government, and even independent media publications need to follow the government guidelines.

The Chinese market is massive both in terms of media landscape and population. China boasts the biggest media market in the world with 114.5 million newspapers sold each day. And it owns the largest digital population comprised of over 1 billion netizens who access the internet via mobile. Not to mention the different rules of etiquette working with Chinese news reporters and influencers.

Common misconceptions about earned media in China include assuming that foreign media success will automatically translate to success with Chinese media. Others assume that earned media comes cheaper than paid media, or free.

Ahead, we’re dispelling the three most common myths about earned media in China so that you can better translate your global strategy into a local, more relevant earned media strategy in the Chinese market.

Myth 1: Earned Media in China Should Come Easily for Successful Multinationals

When a multinational company enters the Chinese market, they naturally think earned media should come easily in China. This is a misconception of many multinationals, especially those who have gained PR success in other Asian markets.

It is true that business success in other regions may make you seem more trustworthy and make it easier to pitch yourself to Chinese media.

But it is also important to understand that Chinese media outlets today are highly competitive. Stories must be locally relevant to appeal to Chinese journalists, as is true in most places.

To earn media coverage, you need to tie your business to the local news agenda that is relevant to the local audience. Many factors influence what Chinese journalists write about, including the industry trends, government guidelines, and the publication’s editorial calendar.

The first step toward earning media attention is localizing your brand messaging. When thinking about your message, consider these factors:

  • What do you offer to Chinese customers?

  • What industry problems do you solve for Chinese customers?

  • How do you contribute to the industry’s overall development in China?

Earned media never comes in silos. Chinese journalists like to write a story about a company with industry credibility and influence. So it’s key to have an online presence in China — including a Chinese company website and social media accounts (especially WeChat). These elements are critical to establishing yourself as a trusted source.

Myth 2: Earned Media Is Free in China

It’s common to assume that earned media is free. And while it is true that it is from an “unpaid” source, you need to consider the investment in talent, agency, and the “hidden cost” behind building media relations.

In China, it used to be common practice to offer the media a small amount of cash incentive put in a red pocket (also called media allowance) as a reward for the media participating in a press event or writing a story. While it might seem bizarre in other markets, it is an industry norm in China. The amount of the media allowance varies case by case and is also affected by the media’s compliance guidelines.

Professional earned media experts know the nuances within each media publication, and know the best practices without “crossing the line” or violating compliance policies.

In addition to the media allowance, marketing and communications teams also need to consider the time and talents invested in order to reach the right audience with the right messages. Your team’s salaries, agency fees, software, and other elements like wire services and traveling all factor into the cost of the results.

All of these make it essential for you to plan your budget early on before jumping into the market too quickly.

Myth 3: Earned Media Is More Valuable than Paid

Many communications professionals argue that earned media is more valuable because it is “deserved” rather than acquired.

Inherently, earned media comes from an uncontrollable source and has third-party validation. However, it’s hard to say that earned media is more valuable than paid in China.

To start, sponsored content, such as contributed articles on independent media outlets or influencer content usually doesn’t indicate its “paid” nature, whereas in the West you will typically see the content with an “advertising” or “sponsored” marked under the article headline. This provides a great opportunity for brands to generate awareness in the beginning without pre-existing media relations in China.

Plus, just because you’re acquiring a paid media opportunity doesn't mean you can ask the media or influencer to write whatever you want. Each media publication or influencer has its reporting style and story angle they prefer based on what matters to its audience.

Instead of trying to influence what the media should write about, the key is to align your message with the interest of the publication’s audience. After all, unbiasedness is what makes earned media valuable and your audience trust you.

Furthermore, the evolving digital media ecosystem in China also forced marketers to adopt a more integrated communications approach. Therefore, it’d be hard for anyone to say that one strategy is more important than another when a combination of owned, earned and paid media is essential to drive your sustained success.


While the China market is exciting for many foreign businesses, the vast differences compared to other places can be intimidating to marketers when coupled with unfamiliar rules and regulations.

A local agency with a nuanced understanding of Chinese media — and the connections to boot — will be the best ally in your earned media success in China.

Learn more about how we could help you earn meaningful coverage in China.


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