Horse’s Mouth: Lili Wang, Chinese Herald

  • Horse's Mouth
  • February 20, 2018
  • StopPress Team
Horse’s Mouth: Lili Wang, Chinese Herald

Chinese Herald owner Lili Wang has a classic immigrant story. She originally arrived in New Zealand with nothing but a ceaseless ambition to make something of her new life. And she has done just that, commencing her career in banking, starting her own business and eventually purchasing the Chinese Herald. 

On arriving in New Zealand

“I arrived here 26 years ago as a young international student with a big suitcase. I didn’t know anybody. I was a bank person, having graduated from a very famous university in China with a degree in finance… I initially worked in restaurants and other odd jobs until I got my master’s degree in banking. As soon as I graduated I got a job at ASB because I spoke both English and Chinese. Back then, migrants were just starting to come to New Zealand, but there weren’t many businesses that hired Chinese-speaking staff. I remember working in the St Lukes branch and people from all over Auckland came there, because they knew there was someone who would help them… I worked really hard, from eight to eight. In the evenings, everyone else was gone, and the cleaners would arrive.”

On starting her own business

I got to a stage where I thought about whether I wanted to climb the corporate ladder or do something for myself. Most migrants are employed because they’re good salespeople or because they have a technical skill, but if you want to reach a management position, it’s difficult because of the language problem… [That said,] after five years I was offered a branch manager role, but I didn’t feel comfortable leading a Kiwi team. So, I decided to start my own thing. I left the bank and started my own mortgage brokerage business. I was one of the only Chinese brokers at the time.

On dabbling in content marketing  

When I started my business, I wanted to find a way to get people know and trust me. When I worked in a bank, everyone came to see me because they needed to come to the bank. But then, I was a one-woman band. So, I decided to take out an advertisement in a newspaper to tell people who I was, how I came to New Zealand and what I’ve done since arriving here… After this, I started doing a weekly financial column. It was always a soft sell. I didn’t ever push people to buy a house or invest… It was more about helping the readers… I eventually got a huge, huge following of people who wanted to read my column every week… I kept this up for seven years and it helped my business become very successful because the articles built trust by letting people know who I was.

On eventually buying the paper   

After 18 years of running a mortgage business, money stops making you happy. It’s a lonely job… So, I thought about what I wanted to do for myself. It all happened by chance. I knew the owners of the paper very well, and I told them one day, ‘If you do think about selling the paper, please talk to me.’ It was just a coincidence because they were also thinking about what to do next. They also wanted a change… So, I sold a few of my properties, despite everyone telling me not to.

On giving young immigrants jobs     

Our in-house team is very young. Initially, we only had 15 staff, but now we have 27. A lot of young people from China are today going through exactly what I went through 25 years ago. They’re young, full of dreams and they want to settle in New Zealand… I feel so privileged that I am now in the position to help others. As a mortgage broker, I only had myself to worry about, but now it’s about the whole team. This gives me huge satisfaction.

On owning a paper

I’m the third owner of the paper. I took over the business two years ago. Initially, it was just a paper, but last year we formed a joint venture with NZME to have digital on the one side. The paper is 100 percent owned by me and the website is a joint venture with 50 percent owned by NZME. The website was soft-launched last November and we also have the social media platform Wechat.

On partnering with airlines 

“We are the onboard newspaper of all the airlines, including Southern China Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific and Tianjin Airlines. We are also planning to add to this list as soon as more airlines fly between Auckland and China. It’s very hard to get a paper on a plane, but because our branding and content is trusted we have been able to develop these partnerships.”  

On community trust

“Our paper has a history of 23 years in New Zealand, and over all of this time, we have provided a link between the mainstream New Zealand community and the Chinese community and also between China and New Zealand. We have promoted economic and social links between New Zealand and China, and we have also done a good job of covering the local community.”

On giving migrants something to read

Currently there are between 130,000 and 170,000 Chinese in New Zealand with permanent residence, but it’s much more if you include students and those on short-term visas. It’s probably around 300,000… The number of migrants arriving in New Zealand has increased over the last 20 years, and the paper has really witnessed this. We did have Chinese arrivals around 75 years ago, but the real growth has only happened over the last two decades. [The appeal of the paper for migrants] is that it is in their own language. All the stories are related to their lives. Especially in the early years, the internet wasn’t that developed, so people became very attached to the paper. It’s not just about the news. It’s a connection to your life.

On current print readership

The paper was initially just a weekly publication when it started. Then it became two times a week, then three and now it’s four times a week [Tuesday to Saturday]. The paper is only becoming stronger and stronger. At the moment, we send out 10,000 copies per issue. We’ve got over 100 delivery spots, and it’s offered as a free paper to the community. It’s available at hotels, restaurants, banks, airports and supermarkets. Once a paper is collected, it will likely be read by at least three or four people in a family [or at a business]. We estimate that the readership is around 150,000 per week.

On digital readership

We’ve got more than 13,000 visitors per day on average. This is only after eight months and the website is still growing because our main target group are the people living in New Zealand who speak Mandarin. On top of that, we’re also happy to target people outside the country who are interested in New Zealand. We definitely still have potential to grow.

On spending power

Although we only have ten percent of the population, we do have a lot of purchasing power in the Chinese community. They can spend a lot of money… and this is why many mainstream [brands are starting] to target the community. 

On selling advertising

A very small percentage of our advertising comes from agencies, only around five or ten percent. We do most of our selling ourselves. Most of the advertising is sold directly to clients… That said, the ethnic agency Niche Media also sometimes leverages all our channels for clients.

On the communication gap at agencies

At big companies, they have staff that speak Chinese, so it makes the process easier. Sometimes if they go to an agency, they have to translate into English and then back again and it can become confusing. If we do the work right here with the client, it’s easier. There are often communication problems [with agencies] because there’s a lot of backwards and forwards.

On cultural gaps

We have a good example of this. During Chinese New Year, a company had all the artwork for the Chinese New Year campaign. We found that even after Chinese New Year had passed, they were still running the same artwork. We had to remind them to change the artwork. The period was already long gone, and this kind of thing really makes people feel funny when they see these ads.

On the importance of objectivity  

It’s an election year, and we’ve had all the parties to come and talk to us. We try to be very neutral. We even invited Winston Peters in to have a say. Even though a lot of people don’t like him, we need to stay neutral as a media company. This helps to build the trust. We just try to get the message out and let the people choose. Over time, we’re judged by every little thing we do. People’s eyes are very sharp.

On what sets the Chinese Herald apart from Sky Kiwi    

We’ve been around for 23 years, while they’ve only been around for 16 or 17 years. Our audience is probably more mature, while they have a younger audience of mostly international students. But we now also have the website and social media platforms. And the reason [these channels] are attracting such a huge audience is because everyone knows that we already have a good paper, which has been around for so long. It’s all about trust. Even people who might’ve given up on print newspapers will still have a very good memory of the Chinese Herald.

On being a bridge in a changing New Zealand

New Zealand will always stay multi-cultural and there will always be more people speaking Chinese. Even Kiwis are starting to learn Chinese. The relationship between New Zealand and China has never been so good. And this paper is a bridge not only between the Chinese and New Zealanders in New Zealand but also between people the countries of China and New Zealand… So, when people ask why I bought the paper, it’s because I still see a big opportunity [in what it does in this space].

This interview originally appeared in the 2017 Marketing issue of NZ Marketing. 

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