Going local

Updated: 2011-11-18 08:49

By David Bartram (China Daily)

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As Chinese companies look to expand their operations abroad, European public relations (PR) agencies are increasingly finding new opportunities to represent this growing group on the continent.

China's State-owned enterprises (SOEs), multinationals and government agencies are beginning to realize that there is no substitute for local expertise when it comes to branding and raising awareness in new markets.

One agency many of these organizations are turning to is Newland Public Relations, a PR agency that specializes in providing services for Chinese organizations looking to run campaigns in the United Kingdom. Previous clients have included Bank of China, Hainan Airlines and several local governments across China.

"The challenges of representing a Chinese organization in Europe are quite similar to those of representing a European organization in China," says Newland Public Relations' chief executive Andrew Methven.

"Obviously there are cultural differences, and perhaps not quite enough appreciation of how things are done differently.

"There is also a need for managing expectations and for educating the client about how things are done differently. How we measure success is another issue. Measuring coverage in China is quite different to measuring coverage and impact in the UK."

Methven works with a diverse range of Chinese clients, including SOEs, private companies and government bodies. He has noticed a greater willingness in recent years among Chinese organizations to invest in region-specific PR.

"Chinese clients are beginning to understand the need for effective PR, and therefore are more willing to work with global agencies. Before it was pretty much all in-house, particularly with the State-owned organizations."

Chinese appreciation for the importance of good PR abroad has been, at times, a painful lesson to learn. In 2009, Chinalco's proposed deal to buy a $19.5 billion (14.5 billion euros) stake in Anglo-Australian mining firm Rio Tinto collapsed amid a public relations disaster that had shareholders and the Australian government lobbying against the deal.

Nowadays, Chinese firms looking to invest abroad are likely to dedicate more time and resources considering the public reaction to a deal. UK agency Pelham Bell Pottinger recently advised Chinese SOE Sinochem on its successful 5.3 billion yuan (620.9 million euros, $835.4 million) acquisition of Emerald Energy.

But even with this new-found appreciation, attracting Chinese clients is not always easy. Turning requests from Chinese organizations into campaigns targeted at Western audiences can be even more of a challenge.

"I think the most important factor in attracting Chinese clients is on the one hand being able to communicate effectively with them, while on the other being able to deliver in their target destination," Methven says.

Chinese organizations are particularly keen to employ one-stop services to deal with communications in new markets. Several of the major global PR agencies are beginning to team up with accountancy and law firms to provide complete communication and administrative services for expanding Chinese businesses.

Newland Public Relations itself grew out of events management. Earlier this year, the agency organized an event to promote Bank of China's expanding UK operations. Alongside a standard PR campaign, Newland provided event management, translation and speech writing services.

Methven appreciates that while Chinese organizations need Western PR when expanding into Europe, they also want services tailored to their specific needs. If Chinese experiences of European PR are successful, then it will only encourage further the country's cash-rich companies to follow suit.