In China, cartoons can be influencers too

Taking a creative approach on a best practice to make it even better in China

In the public relations business in China, we often talk about engaging “KOLs”, which is the acronym lingo over here for key opinion leaders, or influencers. Engaging KOLs for campaigns is critically important in China for many reasons.  While the official media is still influential, the role of social media as a trusted source of information has given rise to a wide range of knowledgeable and influential people online as credible guideposts in a rapidly changing and often confusing world.

We’ve been partnering with Education New Zealand in China to drive awareness and preference for New Zealand’s education offering. I wanted to introduce a brief, award-winning example of how we worked together to drive influence in a ground-breaking way – with a special China flavour.

Creative clients is where it all starts

For those of us on the agency side, great campaigns start with great clients. Our client invited us to propose an approach for a media visit – something standard that is a good way for media to develop content through personal encounters. Discussions with the client revealed her passion for ground-breaking engagement, particularly important given the younger Chinese target audience. We understood the importance of influencers to this audience, but we wanted to try something new. We sought to tell New Zealand’s education story through the eyes of a cartoon character. We thus created a campaign entitled “Young Chinese Cartoon Girl Takes Journey through New Zealand’s Education System”.

With fierce competition for international students, the goals of the campaign were to raise the profile of New Zealand as a leading destination for quality education; drive interest in ENZ’s owned media platforms; and, build external and internal stakeholder relationships.  The key challenge was taking a creative approach that would make a solid impact on the audience and have clear differentiation to create awareness and preference, although the actual timing of the campaign would be brief.

Identify new modes of partnership

Selecting the right partners were of primary importance, identifying partners that were influential and active on social media, positive and wholesome character portraits, appealing, knowledgeable about education and provided opportunity for long-term engagement.

We created a unique partnership with renowned young Chinese cartoonist, Ding Yichen, and China’s top online media,, for the first time. We developed content that had each partner “play off” the other, creating and generating a significant amount of sharable unique content, incorporating all owned channels to also raise traffic at key sites.

ENZ was the first government education agency to promote education through the eyes of a cartoon character. To secure stories across multiple media categories, the campaign demanded a consistent story-telling cadence during the trip. Therefore, a comprehensive mini-site was created on, China's first professional education-focused online media platform, to make all the content accessible for audiences from different channels. The content included cartoons that provided a real life like experience of New Zealand education and feature articles provided a deeper understanding of New Zealand education.

Create rich touch points and empower creation and sharing

ENZ brought Ding Yichen and two Sina Education reporters to eight education institutions in five days, highlighting NZ's diversified institution types, and focused on interactive activities to help the guests tell stories. To build momentum, ENZ invited Ding Yichen to ask her Weibo fans to guess where she was going. The day before the trip, both ENZ and Ding Yichen's Weibo accounts posted the correct answer, and the campaign’s official page was launched on Weibo. To maintain momentum at least one Weibo post about the visited schools was posted through Ding Yichen's account each day, accompanied by Sina Education's feature articles and video interviews through its own Weibo account.

Results were positive across a range of metrics. According to TNS’s (a brand rating agency) research, New Zealand’s performance on "Education Quality", "People" and "Costs" were significantly higher in May, correlating powerfully with the campaign. The country’s association with the important “Study here would make me look good in my home country” measure was also significantly higher. Participants and fans raved about New Zealand as an undiscovered gem, a place where dreams happen. And, the media results themselves were powerful: The two Sina Education reporters created eight in-depth articles and video interviews were also created highlighting the uniqueness of each school visited. ENZ's internal data showed a large spike in visitors to the Study in New Zealand website during the campaign. Quantitative results include 18 million total views on the campaign's Weibo page; ENZ's official Weibo account fan-base increased 11%, from 15,000 to 17,000. Today, the account has over 20,000 followers; and, 13 long cartoon productions picturing the eight visited education institutions were created on the cartoonist's Weibo account, generating a total of 9,640 reposts, 9,795 comments and 18,057 likes. The artist also posted six of the long cartoon productions on WeChat, receiving 38,703 total views.

The great thing about being in China at this point in time is that innovation is real. Best practices are worth challenging and making even better. And, working with and for the younger Chinese generation – the ones who are influenced by cartoons like the ones above – is a lot of fun too. But, it all comes down to having a great client and a great team.

Brad Burgess

Brad Burgess is head of China, GHC Asia. In this role he leads the business operations and strategic development of the China market for GHC Asia. Brad's expertise includes global communications and reputation management for Chinese firms, multinationals and government ministries for a range of industries including tourism, food, education and technology. An American and fifteen-year resident of China, he is fluent and literate in Chinese. GHC Asia is a communications agency specialising in travel, luxury lifestyle, property and other industries. Brad was formerly director of Burson-Marsteller China.

Alexandra Grace

Alexandra Grace took up her appointment as counsellor (education) in February 2011. Since January 2013 she has concurrently held the position of regional director Greater China for Education New Zealand. Prior to taking up this position with Education New Zealand, Alexandra worked for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade. She was most recently (July 2008 – November 2010) deputy consul-general at the New Zealand Consulate-General in Shanghai.