Bridging communities: Lili Wang on Chinese Herald’s 25 years’ of evolution

In the wake of Chinese Herald blowing out 25 candles, we talk to owner Lili Wang about how the paper has cemented its place in New Zealand’s Chinese community, how it’s evolved along the way, and how it’s helping Kiwi brands connect to its audience.

730 people gathered at Sky City last month to celebrate the Chinese Herald blowing out 25 candles.

The Chinese-English MCs put on a show for the crowd of all ethnicities in who were there to celebrate the diversity of New Zealand and the importance of having ethnic media in the country.

“It’s not only about language,” Wang explains when talking to her about Chinese Herald after the event. “It’s more like the rock, their support, it’s part of their life and is a connection to where they are from.”

The important role ethnic media has to play for its audiences was demonstrated on the night by New Zealand minister for ethnic communities Jenny Salena.

When she took to the stage to talk about the role Chinese Herald plays, she used the anecdote of her parents consuming Tongan media.

Talking more to this point, Wang says the role of ethnic media is to bridge communities – something she knows from experience, having moved to New Zealand and made it her home 28 years ago.

It was after 24 years in New Zealand that she took up ownership of the masthead and is proud that since then she and Christina Yu, its managing director, have grown it from just a newspaper to a cross-platform title with a WeChat profile, a translated version of Arrival magazine and a website  – Chinese NZ Herald.

However, in saying this, Wang acknowledges their work has been adding to an already solid foundation built by the previous two owners.

“When I first took over, I told the previous owner I want to carry your name and your brand because it’s become such a trusted brand over the years in the Chinese community,” she says.

“I promised, I will carry on the name and I will do even better.”

Today, Chinese Herald has a readership of 120,000 per week who collect it from one of the 120+ pick up locations in New Zealand or onboard one of the six airlines.

Online, Chinese NZ Herald has 140,000 unique users and 600,000 page views each week.

On WeChat, it has 250,000 unique monthly visitors and over 350,000 page views.

And the magazine is distributed in all New Zealand international airports and has a circulation of 300,000 per annum with more than 1 million readers.

“It’s hard and tough business and it’s not easy,” says Wang. “But it’s our passion.”

It’s a positive sentiment from Wang and comes after a hard year for the business as the Chinese NZ Herald website came under scrutiny after Newsroom and China propaganda experts identified the website as a propaganda outlet for the government of China.

The investigation found “the news organisation’s operational structure, and its Chinese state internet and security permits, amounted to the news site coming under the supervision and control of various Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities”.

According to the story, this meant the news site’s content is subject to “the Chinese state’s censorship regime, and is part of the CCP’s United Front Work operations – one of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s, and now President Xi Jinping’s, so-called ‘magic weapons’”.

In response to the investigation, NZME said the Chinese NZ Herald “is not beholden to China’s media guidelines and censorship requirements”. And Chinese NZ Herald editor in chief Kenny Lu has previously told Newsroom “the publication valued the neutrality of news reporting”.

New Zealand life

Keeping the paper and its online channels supplied with content is a team of 26 in New Zealand, which has grown from 15.

Looking at her team, Wang says most only arrived in the country a few years ago and the spring they have in their steps and excitement to build their lives in New Zealand reminds her of when she arrived in New Zealand with just a suitcase.

“They want to make their lives in New Zealand and when you see them you are obligated to want to help them achieve what they want to be here.”

Wang’s working life in New Zealand began in restaurants as well as other odd jobs before the corporate world beckoned with a role at ASB.

Speaking to StopPress in 2017, she said at the bank, she worked hard and put in long hours in before coming to realise she could climb the corporate ladder or do something for herself. She opted for the latter and started a mortgage brokering business.

It was after 18 years running the mortgage business that the opportunity to buy Chinese Herald opened up and she took it.

Purchasing power

The stories of Wang and her staff, and how they arrived in New Zealand with very little and a dream of settling down and starting a life is evidence of why Chinese Herald is valuable to advertisers as well as its readers.

“Those people come to this country and need to buy a home, some furniture, and car,” she says.

“Everything is new for them so there’s a huge business opportunity there.”

She says brands including Barfoot and Thompson, Spark and Mercedez Benz are already taking advantage of that and Chinese Herald is keen to help others do the same because “it’s not just about simply placing an ad”.

With Chinese values differing to those of New Zealand, her team can advise advertisers on how the Chinese community thinks and help shape messages and design.

It can also help with advertising on WeChat because that platform also has its own style. Wang gives the example of newspaper advertising being quite formal to match the authority of the paper, while advertising on WeChat can be more informal in comparison.

Chinese Herald works directly with some clients and works with media agencies on others and Wang says their education also extends to agencies.

However, she does recognise that some agencies are beginning to invest in the talent and resources needed to craft advertising for the Chinese community.

A natural progression

Putting its relationships with brands and audiences to the test, Wang is gearing up to launch Red Envelope Events & PR.

The new company is a recognition that Wang and Yu’s experience is not just news – it can be leveraged to connecting New Zealand brands with the Chinese community and Chinese brands with the New Zealand community.

“We know there is a lot of Kiwi companies that want to promote their products and services to the wider Chinese communities and we can also help Chinese companies when they need to reach the Kiwi market,” Wang says.

“Imagine a big company arrives in New Zealand and they don’t know anyone but they know us – we can help them reach the Kiwi market.”

As well as this, Wang and Yu have experience in putting together events, with their own 25th Gala Dinner as an example.

“Events and PR are a natural progression for us,” Wang says.

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