American Business Media members who visited Beijing last week said the tour was encouraging for b-to-b media companies eager to do business in China, the world’s largest market, with a population of 1.3 billion people.
The long-planned visit was organized by ABM to put senior media executives in front of Chinese government officials and potential media partners. It was also an opportunity for executives to learn firsthand about best practices in penetrating Chinese markets.
The three-day excursion included meetings with Zhang Bohai, president of the China Periodical Association, and Derek Kwok, managing director of Zenith Media. There was also a networking breakfast with Barry Friedman, senior commercial attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and David Gossack, commercial attaché for the U.S. Embassy Commerce Department. (There are 100 people at the embassy who specialize in tracking economic trends in 100 different industries.)
ABM members also met with U.S. publishing executives who are operating in Asia, including Helen Chen, exec VP of Variety China, and Tom Gorman, chairman and editor in chief of Fortune China. All told, there were about 45 people who attended the various meetings.
“We met with a lot of different China hands,” said Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM, who led the trip. “If you’re going to do business in China you have to get approval from the government and the CCPIT [China Council for the Promotion of International Trade]. You have to do it through partnerships.”
Hughes said one of the most crucial lessons for b-to-b media companies is that they “have to understand that they can’t own the editorial product” if they want to publish in China.
“Products are licensed all the time, but it’s still hard to swallow that you won’t be in control of edit,” he said. “Having said that, I’m very encouraged about face-to-face meetings and the Web, and my guess is that in time you’ll start to see a slight liberalization of magazine content and a tightening of the Internet.”
Unlike print media programs, electronic media and events do not require U.S. media companies to partner with local businesses, Hughes said.
Several b-to-b media executives were part of the 14-person contingent that visited China. They included Jim Casella, vice chairman of Reed Business Information; Gary Fitzgerald, president of Meister Media; Mark Harling, VP-business development at Putman Media; Peter May, VP-publisher of Prism Business Media’s Entertainment Technology, Electronics & Power group; and Charles McCurdy, CEO of Apprise Media and its subsidiary, Canon Communications.
“There were some fruitful conversations, specifically dealing with the regulatory environment,” McCurdy said. “There are a lot of hoops to jump through before you can get a publishing business going there.”
“From the presentation to the informal contacts with Chinese officials and the China Periodical Association, it is clear that China is ‘Open for Business’ for b-to-b publishers,” Gorman said.
He added: “On the one hand, the regulatory environment has many gray areas, and market entry barriers are high. … On the other hand, no major market in the world offers such high sustained growth rates in advertising spending, face-to-face promotion, online usage, broadband penetration and wireless opportunities as China does. Local Chinese players are keen to cooperate with U.S. companies.”