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Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao

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Soho Xiaobao, August and September 2007

Soho Xiaobao is an in-house magazine published by Pan Shiyi's SOHO China real estate development company. It started out as Soho Newtown Bulletin, a newsletter aimed at Soho's clients, and then turned into a magazine called Red Stone before evolving into its present incarnation in mid-2002.

Unlike many corporate magazines, Soho Xiaobao's subject matter has little to do with the company itself, or even real estate in general. In a September blog post that discussed the world of in-house magazines at real estate firms*, Quan Zhong, who runs Change Real Estate Consultation in Shanghai, related that in 2005, Tianjin Daily chief Zhang Jianxing said, "The best weekly is not New Weekly, nor is it National Geographic; it's Pan Shiyi's Soho Xiaobao." The same year, New Weekly's year-end roundup named Soho Xiaobao the most valuable "non-media" entity.

April's issue carried an article by director Jia Zhangke in which he told of how one of his colleagues had ratted him out to the film censors. In July, the magazine took a look back at what has happened in Hong Kong in the decade since the hand-over (see articles from Yau Lop Poon and Tony Leung).

The August issue was devoted to faith and featured essays by liberal thinker Xu Youyu (previously), businessmen Chan Kei Thong and Zhou Shuguo, and economists Zhao Xiao and He Fan (previously).

September's issue, "Homeland," gathered a bunch of well-known authors to write about where they grew up. Mo Yan wrote about bullfrogs in the rainy season, Qiu Huadong described life at the foot of a mountain in a small town in Xinjiang, Han Dong wrote of the two images he has of the Nanjing of his youth, Yan Lianke wrote of growing up in the hometown of Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, and A Lai asked whether the hometowns we remember truly exist.

But Soho Xiaobao's status as an in-house magazine means that it can be used for corporate promotion at any time. In October, the entire issue was devoted to the company and its founders.

Soho Xiaobao, October 2007

October's issue, "Soaring to ever greater heights," commemorates SOHO China's IPO, which valued the company at US$6 billion. The extra-thick magazine follows Pan and his wife, Soho cofounder Zhang Xin, on a whirlwind nine-day, tour of Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt, Dubai, London, New York, Boston, and San Francisco, generously illustrated with photos of the company chairman shaking hands with various movers and shakers, as well as his own tourist shots of New York city police and Boston Harbor. There's also an extensive company history and reprints of major media coverage of the IPO.

In his blog post on in-house magazines, Quan Zhong expressed his doubts about Soho Xiaobao's future apart from the company:

If an in-house publication no longer has any relationship with the management and operation of that company, if its authors are essentially unrelated to the company's employees, then strictly speaking, the thing is no longer a corporate in-house publication. It is more like a special interest or cultural publication financed and distributed by that company. To make a broad judgment, it's just a free version of Panorama, Book Town, or Frontiers.

I recently heard a high-level SOHO China employee express his pessimism about Soho Xiaobao's prospects. That seems normal to me, for when a corporate in-house magazine becomes divorced from the practical aspects of the company, it cannot survive for long.

So perhaps the occasional flood of corporate boosterism is the price we pay as readers for a mostly non-commercial magazine the rest of the time. We have to sit through the chairman's vacation slides and company reports so that he'll continue to provide space for more interesting commentary on from other writers.

Note: Quan Zhong writes that things started in 1992 with Vanke Weekly (万科周刊), the corporate magazine of Wang Shi's Vanke. The company would later launch Vanke Club (万客会) in 1998, a magazine aimed at people who had bought Vanke property in Shenhen. Feng Lun's Vantone publishes Apple & Orange (风马牛); Flamingo has Communication (沟通) and Quan Zhong's company has its own in-house publication, too: Change Reference (成全参考).

UPDATE: The Economic Observer has a great piece on The Evolution of Corporate Media that examines the motivations behind some of the publications mentioned here. How much does it cost annually to produce one of these magazines? "Soho Mini Press [i.e. Soho Xiaobao] chief editor Li Nan is evasive: 'I would say it is cheaper than taking up several full color pages of advertisement in the newspaper'."

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There are currently 1 Comments for Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao.

Comments on Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao

Thanks for an insightful piece, Joel.

My unscientific gut feeling is that these kinds of in-house publications would be particularly useful in big-ticket fields where people need to "stew" over their decision, such as real estate. There should be a lot more merchant-buyer trust than in a typical transaction on the street.

Another use is in getting people excited or at least mindful of a painfully generic product/service. My post mentions Alibaba and vitamin pills as examples.

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