Chinese state firms' PR specialists visit US for image-building insights

Updated: 2012-08-24 11:00

By Tan Yingzi in Washington (China Daily)

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Chinese state firms' PR specialists visit US for image-building insights

Public-relations officials from Chinese State-owned enterprises, led by Mao Yixiang (fourth from right) of the State Council's Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, observe a journalist working during their visit to the Washington Post's newsroom on Monday. Sun Chenbei / China Daily

In a bid to burnish the image of China's State-owned enterprises abroad, a delegation of their public-relations professionals visited Washington this week to sharpen their skills.

As more Chinese SOEs go global, many face the challenge of building brands and public trust in an unfamiliar environment, said Mao Yixiang, who led the delegation and is deputy director of the publicity bureau at the State Council's Assets Supervision and Administration Commission. His agency serves investors by supervising the 117 major Chinese SOEs, excluding financial enterprises, on behalf of the central government.

"They are the people in charge of public communications at the large SOEs in China and they are here to learn about American media and brand-building," Mao told China Daily.

Companies participating included China National Petroleum Corp, State Grid Corp of China, China National Chemical Corp, China Minmetals Corp, China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co, China Huaneng Group and China Eastern Airlines.

During their four-day tour, the 20 or so delegates attended lectures by professors of US political and media history and learned how to be an effective spokesperson in dealing with the news media and the public during a crisis.

The group also visited the Newseum, an interactive museum that traces the history of news reporting from the 16th century to the present.

To get firsthand experience, they toured the Washington Post newsroom and talked with journalist Mary Jordan, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper in 2003 for reporting on Mexico's criminal-justice system.

Asked how Chinese companies' reputations in the US could be improved, Jordan advised the Chinese visitors that "the more accessible information, the better".

She suggested that each SOE have a spokesperson working overseas who can deal directly with local media and the public.

"For a strong company with a strong product, the best thing is to let [the product] speak for itself but it also needs a smart spokesperson to blend it well here," said Jordan, who edits Washington Post Live, an online forum for political debates and other conferences.

But Chinese investors need to have patience in nurturing a brand in a foreign market, she added. "Everything is very good and it's coming out strong now. It's just the beginning of an amazing era of more and more Chinese products being sold here."

Chinese investment in the United States is expected to hit a record high this year, according to a recent report from Rhodium Group, a New York firm that analyzes global trends.

Chinese foreign direct investment, or outbound FDI, in the US reached $3.6 billion through the first six months of 2012, a record for any half-year from China.

Among the 33 Chinese investment projects in the US, SOEs are the biggest players. For instance, China Petroleum and Chemical Corp, or Sinopec, is pursuing a $2.5 billion purchase of a one-third stake in five oil and shale-gas fields across the US from Ohio-based Devon Energy Corp.

But national-security concerns have prompted the US government in recent years to block or delay several deals involving Chinese investors in telecommunications, mining and manufacturing.

"The biggest difficulty for our SOEs is to let Americans know us and then change their stereotypes," Mao said. "So first we need to learn how to communicate with American media and tell our stories."

In the future, he said, more SOEs' communication personnel will be trained abroad to improve their understanding of Western culture and values.