Western PR Firms Help Chinese Address Safety Concerns
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Western PR Firms Help Chinese Address Safety Concerns

In the wake of mounting criticism over the safety of some of the products manufactured in China, the Chinese government is putting together a team of Washington lobbyists and consulting with multinational public relations firms in Beijing.

Paul Holmes

BEIJING—In the wake of mounting criticism over the safety of some of the products manufactured in China, the Chinese government is putting together a team of Washington lobbyists and consulting with multinational public relations firms in Beijing about how to communicate positive messages to consumers in the United States, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The report identifies Edelman and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide among the firms providing counsel on the issue. Ogilvy’s managing director for China Scott Kronick said that while the agency had not been working directly with the Chinese government, it had been working with Tsinghua University on a program related to what the Chinese call “public branding.” Edelman’s head of Asia-Pacific Alan Vandermolen, meanwhile, said the firm had not worked with the government but had been providing counsel to a leading Chinese manufacturer.

According to the head of Asia-Pacific operations for another large multinational PR firm: “There’s no question that the Chinese government is concerned, but I don’t believe they have selected an official PR agency of record to handle this issue. But we are getting a lot of inquiries from large Chinese companies and from other interested groups who want to know what they can do to rebuild confidence in Chinese products in the U.S. and to a lesser extent in Europe.”

Questions about the safety of Chinese food products were raised in March, following a major pet food recall and the deaths of several animals, but the initial response from Chinese sources was low key. More recently, however, the government has issued statements about stronger anti-corruption measures, false advertising claims for medical products, and implementing its own food recall system. And last week the government executed the country’s former chief food and drug regulator, who had been convicted of taking bribes.

The Chinese government has also been emphasizing the fact that other countries have similar problems, pointing out that China rejects U.S. imports just as frequently as the U.S. rejects products made in China. As Kronick told the Post: “China feels it is getting beaten up for things that are happening on a reciprocal basis to them.”

Kronick says that Ogilvy is working on these issues through the Tsinghua-Ogilvy Program for Public Branding, a joint venture with the university. “Our partner was meeting with a number of the
government departments and companies associated with the recent issues and we discussed steps they would need to take in addressing the issues of present and messaging around this.”

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