Playing PR game key to success in China

Published on
January 22, 2012

Media exposure is vital to sales for foreign importers and seafood promotion bodies.

“Comparatively limited resources” for mainstream advertising means seafood promoters must create editorial by engaging influential TV chefs, food writers and bloggers, said Fan Xubing, managing director of Beijing Seabridge Marketing and Consulting Co., Ltd. He has negotiated valuable media coverage for a growing number of seafood trade bodies on Chinese TV shows like “Daily Cuisine” on China Central TV channel one (CCTV1).

Cooking shows form a staple of Chinese programing, even more so given that a recent government edict has weeded out reality TV programing in favor of more wholesome fare. Xubing helped get Canadian coldwater shrimp recipes to chefs on five Chinese cooking shows. He also helped get coverage for his clients in the Chinese edition of Food & Wine, as well as the local New West Cuisine and East Eat publications. Media dinners and familiarization trips have yielded valuable coverage for his clients, who include the Agri Marketing Secretariat of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Norwegian Seafood Council.

Sponsored trips for senior editorial staff to seafood production bases and good restaurants in Norway, Spain and Canada have also proven fruitful in terms of editorial space and TV slots.

“We take them [journalists, camera crews] on the boats, show them the fresh sources of the seafood. This is effective,” said Xubing.

Back in China, Seabridge also hosts journalists at dinners in trendy restaurants. Seabridge introduces clients’ product and advises on menus as well as providing material such as posters to promote the seafood to diners. Venues Xubing works with include the city’s trendiest Japanese restaurants as well as Da Dong, a restaurant famous for its pricey Beijing duck and run by a media-friendly chef of the same name.

A survey of 10 chefs at upscale Chinese restaurants in Beijing revealed that the Chinese edition of the U.S.-owned magazine Food & Wine as a key source of information for chefs and purchasers at local establishments. Among them, Raymond Yang, chef at the Choy’s Seafood restaurant at the Beijing Marriott Northeast hotel, said his favorite source of information on new seafood products and cooking styles is the Mandarin edition of Food & Wine magazine.

Specialized in Cantonese cuisine, Yang said his other chief source of information on products and trends comes from visits to Beijing seafood markets, and said he values information on the color, flavor and storage requirements for frozen imported seafood. Yang’s biggest selling products are finfish (bass is a top mover), prawns, sea cucumbers and scallops.

“More than 60 percent of our seafood comes from outside China, from places such as Australia, Europe and America,” said Yang.

Media can also be a double-edged sword. In an e-mail, Bruce Chapman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Prawn Producers, pointed approvingly to an article from the October 2011 edition of New Western Cuisine magazine, which in a feature article on sustainable seafood positioned wild coldwater shrimp as an example of a well-managed fishery. However, the article’s information on over-exploited stocks used inaccurate data and was “overly alarmist,” suggested Chapman.

As a more alluring Chinese market draws more and more exporters here, favorable media exposure will be vital in educating local consumers and garnering market share.

“More and more seafood trade associations are coming to China and approaching us,” said Xubing. He’s also been approached by local seafood firms for advice on branding. “But it will be more difficult for them since they tend to produce only low-value, high-volume product compared to imported seafood.”

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