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Behind the Curtain: PR at the NPC


Photo: Arranging chairs
Source: Andy Wong/Associated Press

By Chen Yong (陈勇)

Issue 612, March 25, 2013
News, page 1
Translated by Yu Menglu
Original article: [Chinese]

In early March each year thousands of delegates will gather in Beijing for the annual meeting of China's National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Aside from various government departments in the capital offering all kinds of support to these representatives, a lot of them are attended by their own entourage of personal assistants.

This group of people are there to handle logistics (which includes presenting gifts), transportation and public relations in addition to the more serious work of drafting proposals.

At the end of this year's two sessions, a reporter from the EO talked to one of the members of the support staff of an NPC delegate. The woman wasn't willing to reveal her name, so let's just refer to her as Ms. Zhang.

Ms. Zhang works in the public relations department of a listed auto firm and she's been busy preparing for the trip to Beijing since early February when the head of her company was approved as a delegate to the NPC.

The company began by establishing five separate groups to look after the following five areas: transportation, health care, logistics, public relations and security.
Each small team consisted of four people, with the head of the unit responsible for coordinating with the other teams while the other three did most of the legwork. A senior executive was also put in charge of explaining policy documents to the boss.

At 7 o'clock each morning, the head of every group would check in with the boss' secretary and arrange interviews and meetings according to his schedule.

Ms. Zhang was a member of the public relations group.

"You can't arrange too many interviews for the boss or else he'll be worn out, but if you don't organize any he won't be happy either," Zhang explained to the EO.

A 3 minute recorded interview could be interupted as many as 5 times by the boss calling "cut" or even switching clothes in order to make a better impression.

Compared to her company, the publicity department of a battery company that were staying one floor up from them in the hotel, was much more experienced. This company had paid big money to hire the deputy chief editor of local news group to take charge of media relations.

Zhang told the EO that "our boss said that he wanted to see himself on TV every night when he sat down to dinner, and his commentaries in the paper, this was an order."

As Zhang didn't have many media contacts, in order to win journalists over the company prepared gifts for all the media that interviewed the boss.

They weren't sure want to get, but in the end they went with silver jewelry and scarves because they thought that these were pretty, compact and not as vulgar as simply giving cash directly.

"It's not like giving a gift is a bribe," Zhang noted.

Every night, no matter how late, she would be summoned to the boss' hotel to report on the number and names of the journalists with which she arranged interviews. She was also required to pay special attention to the kind of reports that were being written. If anything was even a little bit off, she would get in touch with the journalist to try and minimize any possible impact, though if she could persuade them not to publish, that was even better.


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