Saturday, 30 June 2007

It must be hard being a journalist in China!

During the last two weeks we have been conducting an exercise called The Quality Tour, yes I know the name sounds naff – it wasn’t my idea or my words, in fact I nearly choked when I heard the proposal by the PR team at NAC MG.
The plan - as it was explained to me, was to ‘invite’ 200 –300 hundred of China’s journalists, to a day devoted to explaining how we control quality on the new range of vehicles produced in Nanjing.
“Wow” I can here you shouting, and “why weren't we invited?”, ok I guess none of you said that either! I agree, even to someone who has devoted most of his working life to the field of automotive quality, I wouldn’t exactly be running towards that type of event either!
The day would involve a trip to the Museum and Gardens tourist attraction, sorry I mean the MG factory tour, followed by lunch, and then a series of speeches, one from the brand manager, one from yours truly, one from whichever senior manager was available that day, and finally a banquet on the evening. In all we would conduct 3 events across the 2 weeks.

I guess I should explain why some of us are now calling the factory the Museum and Gardens tourist attraction (Rather than the MG Factory), well you see ever since 27th March, we have been entertaining visitors to the factory by the bus load. Every day more and more visitors come. In the beginning it was the expected rush of local, provincial and national politicians, then the suppliers, then the group employee’s both working and retired. But this continued month after month. (I wont mention the visitors from SAIC - oh just did!)
It was only until I bumped into a couple of westerners last week, that I found out why we are still receiving so many visitors. The couple, Hank and Rose from New Jersey - were on a tour of China, before settling down in blue rinse Florida, they were way overweight, badly dressed, loaded with high tech. Camera gadgetry, and sweating like, well like overweight, badly dressed Westerners!
I couldn’t understand why they were visiting a factory in what is a not so nice part of Nanjing. Pukou is very hot, very humid, dusty and well off the beaten track. Expecting them to be a couple of avid MG enthusiasts, they shocked me when they told me that the factory tour was on a list of “Things to do in Nanjing”, given to them by the local tourist board! It seems now every hotel, tourist office, tour Bus Company and tour operator in the area, was touting us as the latest 'must see' venue – hence our not so subtle name change!

Back to the event.
When the request was made for me to do the speech – I couldn’t for the life of me understand why any journalist would want to come and listen to some boring old foreigner telling them about six sigma, CMM machines, vehicle validation, and inspection criteria, let alone listen to someone spell out that the company was started by William Morris, and Cecil Kimber for the 50th time.

My memory jumped back to the slating we received off some of the press at the opening of Longbridge, when we dared not to inform everyone of launch dates, dealer locations and vehicle prices. At least then we had a good enough reason to invite them (despite what some may think, the re-opening of the factory that had been the heart of the British Motoring Industry for over 100 years was pretty significant!).
I dared to ask if we would be announcing prices, launch dates, even giving them an insight into future product plans – a short shake of the head, indicated that this was purely an exercise in keeping the company in the press. I guess the media in any other country would have simply refused to spend several days of planning and attendance, not to mention the several hundred (and in some cases thousands) of kilometers away from there homes, just to report the ramblings of a strange looking and sounding foreigner.
However they all turned up, and even looked interested as they toured the factory for the second time in 3 months, although I have to admit that by the time it came to my speech the majority of the crowd were fast asleep, it’s a bit of an anti-climax to a weeks worth of preparation and a dash of nerves before speaking, only to see your audience catching fly’s and snoring loudly!
We had a couple of different people give the closing speech, but the one I have to admit to being blown away by, was Zhang Xin’s. He is an admirable performer in front of a crowd, an enigmatic figure who never uses notes or a script – this would be the strangest moment in front of a nations media I would ever see.
The day had gone as normal, tour, lunch, boring speeches, snoring and then Zhang Xin got up. The music started – not your normal rousing Chinese anthem, but a Michael Bolton classic, he grabbed the microphone and stood up on the stage – I peered threw the fingers of my hand, that was by now covering my face in embarrassment, I expected him to burst into the chorus of “Time Love and Tenderness”. Thankfully he refrained from singing, and proceeded to take the press through the holiday snaps of his recent visit to the UK. The press lapped it up, loving every Scottish castle, Cotswold pub and embarrassing jumper he wore. I would have thought his plan was political and professional suicide; surely the reports would have ripped him apart, destroyed him as being a complete egomaniac or disillusioned fool.
However all I knew about Chinese PR and how to deal with journalists mustn’t worth a bean; the following days reports were about how he was a gentle man, who may have been misread by the press as a hard nose dictatorial leader. How he had really absorbed the essence of what it means to be British and how it was obvious that the MG project was not just another motoring job, but one that was his passion and his life.
I can’t imagine how it would have all gone down in the West, but somehow I couldn’t see Wolfgang Reitzle, Alan Mulally or even Rick Wagoner doing such a thing (Let alone Kevin Howe!). But then one element I had neglected to include, was the fact that the press was all paid handsomely to be there in the first place – I would never suggest that this was the reason for the style of reporting, or even that it influenced the acres of newspaper lineage that followed – but it does beg the question as to the Chinese press’s neutrality when it comes to reporting.

By the way this isn’t unusual – members of the Chinese press are paid for every engagement they are invited to – in fact they wouldn’t get out of bed without their hong bao.


John Switzer said...


In the West, we often read of censorship when it comes to the Chinese media. Is it possible for NAC to control the press to any degree in an issue such as this or do you find it generally as open from an automotive perspective as the press in the UK would be?



He said...

generally, the states media don't give a shit to the regional goverments, they can speak whatever they want, unless been paid not to...

nvc said...

generally the states media dont give a shxt to the regional government. they can talk anything they want, unless paid not to...