PR in the aftermath of Chinese app ban

With the ban, a large chunk of client budget for TikTok content may go down the drain. This is a testing time for the PRs of these clients and brands having pages on such apps

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Jul 1, 2020 1:29 PM  | 4 min read
tiktok ban

The news of the Indian government banning TikTok, Helo, Bigo Live and 56 other Chinese applications was met with appreciation and uproar alike. The topic has been trending on social media, replete with anti-China and TikTok memes to mark the development. While it would be too early to comment on the impact of the ban, managing this crisis would be a task for the PR agencies handling the mandates of these banned Chinese apps and those with clients who have brand pages on these apps.

A lot has been said and written about PR practices and their need in today's times but the actual role of PR agencies will come into play in managing this sudden clamour.  Crisis management being the core of all the PR practices, this will be a testing time for the agencies; they will have to balance managing the corporate reputation of these brands with maintaining the brand- agency relationship.  

Shradha Agarwal, Co-founder & COO, Grapes Digital explained the challenges of the agencies in tacking this situation: “The role of the agencies is really important to show them the next steps, especially if the client has TikTok in his marketing plans."

She said that clients are armed with questions about the future of their pages on these apps, the next hashtag challenge and the influencer campaigns in the pipeline. "The challenge is when we go to our sales representative at TikTok, all they have is the formal information that they have been invited with concerned government stakeholders for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications, beyond that, they don’t know what will happen. And honestly, so do we. This is a larger game and will involve a lot of crucial conversation”, added Agarwal.

With more than 200 million users in India, TikTok was crucial for brands and creators alike. It saw huge engagement in terms of content, brand promotions and digital acceleration in these times. Among all the banned applications, TikTok’s ban will have a major blow to most businesses, brand campaigns and most importantly on the PR agencies for whom the application would be an important part of their vendors’ briefs.

Explaining about the impact of the business of agencies, Agarwal stated, “Tiktok was not only being used as a reach and branding platform but also as a platform to drive performance for FMCG, beauty, education and finance sectors. The hashtag challenge on Tiktok was booked for the next 60 days that means all plans related to driving awareness and engagement are to be replanned.”

She added, “If the client’s plans suggested or closed for any campaigns had TikTok, then it means a whole lot of rework for agencies to identify new platforms or a huge loss of revenue as clients might not use that money at all for anything else.”

Pointing out at the monetary expenditure, the COO added, “ A hashtag challenge used to cost Rs 35 lakh approximately. Now, imagine that even if you earn 5-10% as media commission, all that is gone. A lot of clients were giving a fixed retainer to drive content on TikTok. With the ban, the fixed revenue also goes down the drain."

A major section of influencer marketing was being controlled by TikTok and other similar Chinese apps. Parul Parmar, Independent Entertainment PR Professional says that the blow is real and will be immense.

Parmar commented on the impact of the ban on influencers who were making a living from such apps: “TikTok had made stardom/success/performance a possible concept for a milieu that had only seen it so far through big screens. Everyone felt empowered to put out their talent, quirks and stories. All of them will be pushed back in time. For people who were doing it just for fun will soon turn to its replacements. For influencers with careers on TikTok, the void will possibly be too deep.”

She has a valuable piece of advice for these influences: Stay platform agnostic. “Each distribution platform offers opportunities to connect. Grab all possible opportunities. Young influencers who had just started to taste success on TikTok should be guided and mentored well through this tough transition by experts," she weighed in.

Industry experts feel that communications will remain a critical element at the times of crisis. PR agencies might have to look for Indian alternatives for Chinese applications so as to continue their work. Even in this issue, brands will need support to help them through this crisis, it would be quite interesting to see how the agencies handling the banned Chinese apps manage the crisis.

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