“Control your message, or the media will control it for you”: Q&A with Tony Chan, head of HMWG media relations division

Need help framing your story? Introducing Hamazaki Wong’s new media relations and corporate communications division, led by Tony Chan. Tony brings two decades of experience providing English and Chinese-language strategic communications counsel to government officials and C-suite executives. He’s led a wide range of programs in crisis communications, corporate image-building, communicating complex policies to the public. Check out the interview with Tony on why brands need an ethnic media relations strategy.


Q: Why aren’t ethnic media outlets covering my stories?

A: When it comes to deciding which stories are newsworthy, the difference between English-language and ethnic-media journalists is huge. We hear this often: brands see their stories covered by English-language media but not ethnic media, or receive only minimal ethnic coverage.

As with all media outlets, ethnic media feature stories that are relevant to their audiences. Asian-rooted news can also take up lots of ink and pixels in ethnic media but not in English-language media. For example, the Chinese paparazzi had a field day when the Chinese movie Finding Mr. Right (2013) was filmed in Vancouver. At that time, our senior content producer, Kate Zhao, was a writer for Ming Pao. She remembers being on the road many nights, covering the filming for the paper. But Finding Mr. Right wasn’t even on the radar for English-language journalists.

Cultural nuances play a large role in determining newsworthiness. Stories that make the front page of the Globe and Mail may be overlooked by ethnic media. Similarly, hot topics in ethnic media may ‘have no news value’ to English-language media. Helping customers develop successful ethnic media relations requires creating culturally relevant stories and, importantly, avoiding cultural taboos.


Q: We’ve managed to get our stories into ethnic media outlets. So that probably means we don’t need an ethnic media relations strategy, right?

A: First of all, do you know what ethnic media outlets are saying about your brand? Many brands don’t. Basic media monitoring is something all brands should consider.

As with English-language media, ethnic-media journalists have more work than time. If they don’t have the right materials to work with, they might miss key facts or contextual points when presenting your story. Ethnic-media journalists have different cultural backgrounds. They often need different types of backgrounders. Don’t assume you can simply ‘recycle’ a backgrounder you created for the English-language media and send it to the ethnic outlets as well.

Also, don’t forget that objectivity is ideal in theory but almost impossible in reality.  With an additional barrier of cultural differences in the way, achieving accurate representation can be a major challenge. A skilled journalist may use a part of the whole truth to present a story in a way that makes sense to them or would be easier for their audience to understand. By doing the prep work for the journalist, leveraging relationships with them to minimise errors, and analyzing what they end up publishing, you can minimise inaccurate representations of your brand.


Q: What’s an example of why ethnic media relations matter?

A: Here’s a big one: names of organizations. There are a couple of organizations—even crown corporations and global brands—the names of which aren’t translated consistently in ethnic media. For example, Chinese media outlets alternate between three different names for Scotiabank. That’s confusing, and completely avoidable! Ensuring that the name of your organisation is consistent in all languages is fundamental to maintaining a strong brand presence.


Q: Which brands should consider having an ethnic media relations strategy?

A: Any brand that receives a large percentage of its sales from an ethnic group. Take auto dealerships, for example. Some dealerships in the Lower Mainland have customer bases that are as much as 60% Chinese!

Government organisations in the GTA and the Lower Mainland should prioritize building strong relationships with ethnic media outlets as well. Imagine how different the perception of a policy like the vacant homes tax would have been among Asian communities if reporters had access to culturally relevant, in-language materials.


Q: My company already has a multicultural marketing strategy. Do we need media relations too?

A: Effective corporate communications builds the reputation of an organization. As in English-language media, marketing and public relations are two different but complementary aspects of an overall communications strategy. Yes, ethnic marketing can help your brand promote its products and services. But your marketing dollars can go further when paired with strong brand awareness in ethnic publications. What is your brand about? Do people in your community know what your brand can offer them?


Q: How do I make sure my marketing and media relations efforts don’t duplicate one another?

A: We suggest zooming out and looking at the bigger picture of your communications campaign. What are your objectives and what do you currently have in place? Media relations is an important component of any holistic communications strategy, but it isn’t everything. Media relations is most effective when paired with paid, earned, shared, and owned media that together build a strong brand presence for your brand within the ethnic community.


Q: What are some easy first steps?

A: There are a couple of quick wins you can achieve right away. First, decide to make ethnic media relations a core part of your media relations strategy. Think through how it could be integrated into your overall communications activities and goals. Second, re-create your next English-language press release with your ethnic audience in mind.

That means examining the cultural perspective of the topic and identifying the angles and messages that will resonate most with your ethnic audience. When you send it out, be sure to select the right media outlets for those readers. Don’t overlook newer, less well-established outlets; they can have larger followings than you’d expect. After that, develop an official in-language name that makes it easy for ethnic media outlets to identify you (correctly). Finally, consider monitoring coverage of the ethnic media. To create a strong communications campaign, you first need to understand how media and consumers currently see your brand. Only then can you begin to develop your campaign roadmap, key messages, and implementation approach.

And of course, you could always hire a smart agency like HMWG to figure it out for you!


Want to chat about creating an ethnic media relations strategy for your organization? Give Tony a shout at tony@hamazakiwong.com or 604 669-8282 ext 180.

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Sonny Wong