Why is there no more Kimchi for Korean media, instead it’s KakaoTalk and Naver search

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Heesang Yoo, the founder of Prism Communications, shared his insights on public relations in South Korea, which is a country located between China and Japan, and it has a population of 50 million. They’re not big enough, but not small enough either. Despite that, they’re one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and they have a lot of Korean-based multinational companies around the world like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai, to name a few.

Dealing with Korean media

When it comes to media, Korean media is slightly different than the others. First, they have a lot of media in Korea considering their population. They have around 20 daily media, which is national and divided into general daily, business daily, English daily, IT daily, and more, but it’s also more than just the media. It contributes to every aspect of social life, political life, and also business life. The media is constantly changing, yet still somewhat conservative. Many Koreans don’t speak English very well, and so Korean remains the most widely spoken language there. It is hard to get into this industry, so Korean journalists hold themselves to a high standard and they are said to have this mindset where they see themselves as above others and that they deserve to be treated better, but this is slowly changing. In Korea, if anyone were to say they were a journalist, they would be treated well by customs and the government. If a Korean journalist were to go to a country like America, they would be asked a lot of questions, so Yeesang sometimes tells his journalists not to declare that they are journalists. As a bit of trivia, the birth of Korean media was actually during the Japanese occupation, where they were seen as leading the population in fighting for their emancipation from the Japanese.

Korean media usually has a lot of scouting to do when it comes to media pitches. They used to have more interaction with the PR people, but because of the hardships faced by a lot of publications, they don’t have as many journalists as they used to, meaning the journalists have a lot more work on their plate. So, for anyone pitching to the media, present something similar to an elevator pitch. The first and second paragraphs are the most important and should stand out. Otherwise, that will not get the journalist’s attention and the media outreach material will go straight to the trash. 

When it comes to press briefings with a client, the first thing Yeesang asks the client for is translation and then localisation. This way, it will be easier to get the public’s attention and get coverage faster. In foreign media, one would need to read every single paragraph to get the gist of the story. If that is done in Korea, people will not read it, not because they are lazy, but because they have so many other things to do and there’s too many other materials that you’re competing with. Yeesang’s advice is to put the most important information in the first and second paragraphs, and then follow up with the less important news. That’s definitely a good tip when providing press materials to Korean journalists.

There is a term called ‘cash for coverage’ in which a company pays for all of a journalist’s expenses when traveling to cover a story. In Korea, Yeesang says they refer to it as a ‘payment tree,’ but that is no longer being practiced due to a bribery law that enacted a couple of years ago. When multinational companies like Samsung or LG would hold press briefings back then, they would provide money even for transportation. Now, every journalist needs to go to an event at their own expense. After that law was passed, most Korean press conferences changed their structure. They used to invite the media for an hour-long press conference after which lunch would be served, but now, they just provide a simple meal or beverage.

While majority of countries around the world were going on national lockdown, Korea had never been placed on lockdown at all. The government simply enforced social distancing measures and other safety protocols to prevent and track the spread of the coronavirus. They do their press conferences with a hybrid format, where it is done online and broadcasted so that the journalists can listen. As the spread was controlled, they were shifting back to  offline, in-person meetings. 

KaKaoTalk and Naver

Photo from Pulse News Korea

For platforms, Zoom is the most popular one in Korea, but Yeesang also believes Microsoft Teams is catching up, because there can be some technical issues with Zoom. Next is KaKaoTalk which was the first messaging application launched there. It’s currently dominating the market, and it is now a platform not just for communication but for finance, shopping, travel, and transportation. Everyone in Korea has KaKaoTalk. There is also a Korean app called Line, but this is only secondary to KakaoTalk.

For social media campaigns, Yeesang would be using the media relations, KaKaoTalk, as well as KaKao Story which is the equivalent of Facebook in Korea. It is also developed by Kakao and is similar but easier to use, and this great for traditional Koreans who can’t speak English or have trouble with English and the older population. When doing media marketing, if the target audience is mostly the younger generation, Yeesang says they would use Facebook. If they’re targeting older people who can’t really understand English, then they would use Kakao Story. In Korea, they do not use Google for search. Instead, they use Naver, which is their number one search engine. They also have Naver Blog, which a lot of Koreans use, and they use these too when doing PR.

Yeesang has shared a whole wealth of experience and different challenges for people considering marketing their business in South Korea and working with the media. Always keep in mind localisation and proper communication with the local journalists when going international. To find out more about Yeesang, you can check out their website or connect with him on LinkedIn

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from Prism Communications

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