China's foreign publicity has always been subjected to two main factors: Lack of a platform for publicity and published information are not in line with the mainstream discourse of the international public opinion.
We do have some foreign television and broadcasting but most of them cannot be received in many countries due to political or marketing reasons. So China, in fact, has few channels to get its voice heard internationally.
Moreover, Western media tend to highlight reports on China according to their preferences, including misleading or negative information on certain crucial issues.
In addition, Western media have a firm grip on the global market share of audiences and the political and social doctrines inherent in their reports have been widely accepted. China's current discourse hierarchy cannot match the international "mainstream discourse" and the gap and difference had resulted in our plight in foreign publicity.
This author believes that it would be useful to improve China's national image through neutral culture publicity in commercials of domestic enterprises. In this regard, China can learn from Russia's experience.
Dobolyi Alexandra, a Hungarian politician and Member of the Party of European Socialists, who visited Beijing on Sept 20, 2008, talked about Russia's publicity experience toward Europe with me. She said that she provided for Russian leader Vladimir Putin a public relation proposal for improving Russia's deteriorating image in Europe. The method is that three Russian energy giants, including Gasprom, Rusatum and Luckoil, jointly fund releasing commercial advertising in various media outlets of one European media group.
As a pilot project, they first focused the publicity in Hungary through RTL (Radio & Television LUX) owned by Dutch and Luxembourgers, which hold large local market coverage. According to the contract, except for commercials (five minutes per day before news), RTL also provides golden hours once a week for broadcasting short film series about Russian conditions and customs. The short film series on various subject matters were projected in a non-political, light-hearted, and funny manner to display Russia's history, culture and geography. Cost for the public relations exercise totaled $1.5 million a year.
According to two surveys with samples carried out in Hungary before and after the program started, the image of Russians among Hungarians had improved remarkably, beyond the expectation of the program's designers and investors.
There are three factors contributing to such good effect of this simple and low-cost publicity plan.
First, the publicity took advantage of Western media as the carrier. The reliability of the publicity was raised when targeted audiences received information about Russia through Western media.
Second, the advertising contents are non-political, which are conducive to water down Russia's negative image or perception among the local audience.
Third, as the Russian government becomes the de facto commercial client of the media group, the media would inevitably think twice before they criticize the programs, or Russia for the matter.
Dobolyi believes that it is worthy for China to invest on a public relation exercise in Western mainstream media. Publicizing China through Western media could yield twice the result with half the effort. The audience in Western countries is liable to accept the non-political short films, which could in turn soften or challenge negative news of China.
In the process of forging their self-owned brand, Chinese enterprises certainly need to launch commercials worldwide. If this market resource could be organized and exploited, the Chinese government will obtain influence on major media in different countries. The following are some concrete suggestions.
First, set up an international advertising association of Chinese enterprises affiliated to the State Council Information Office. The association could sign long-term contracts of commercial release with the world's major media groups, which at the same time could broadcast or publish non-political short films or articles about China. The short films and articles could be supplied by China or jointly made by the concerned media group and China.
Second, the association could transfer the commercial time periods to Chinese enterprises at a preferential price. On the one hand, this could promote Chinese manufacturing enterprises to improve international competitiveness; on the other, it is a new approach for China's foreign publicity, which could further fuel the growth of China's soft power.
The author is an associate professor at Renmin University of China.
(China Daily 04/17/2010 page5)