LONDON—Chinese handset maker ZTE has handed EMEA PR duties to Waggener Edstrom following a competitive review, as it attempts to step up brand-building efforts in international markets.

The move sees ZTE shift the business from Hotwire, 18 months after hiring the agency to help it climb into the ranks of the top three mobile device companies.

WagEd already handles ZTE's Asia-Pacific PR remit; the six-figure EMEA assignment will include product releases and support, brand building and reputation management.

WagEd EMEA GM Chris Talago added that the firm's duties would span "traditional, digital and integrated channels as well as existing platforms."

While ZTE's smartphone sales have grown rapidly in recent years, the company remains best known in China and is saddled with a reputation for low-cost products in international markets.

Accordingly, the WSJ last month reported that ZTE is boosting its international marketing budget by more than 50% in 2015, in a bid to improve brand recognition beyond China.

In the US, where ZTE works with Grayling, the company ranks fourth among smartphone vendors, after expanding rapidly via prepaid handsets and splashy sponsorship deals NBA teams.

“From the start of our relationship the team at Waggener Edstrom have been fleet-footed, smart, co-ordinated and original in their thinking," said ZTE mobile business Europe GM AO Wen. "They have impressed us at every level from strategy to creative, account management and measurement."