Saudi Oil Giant Aramco Reviews PR Duties

Decision Comes as Company Partners With China

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Saudi Aramco, one of the world's largest exporters of crude oil and Saudi Arabia's national oil conglomerate, is in the midst of at least two PR agency reviews.

Aramco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to a number of executives, the company has issued both global reputation and internal communications RFPs, and it has invited a number of firms to pitch for at least one piece of business. Among the agencies invited are WPP's Hill & Knowlton Strategies, Cohn & Wolfe and Ogilvy, as well as Omnicom's Fleishman-Hillard, according to people familiar with the review. Hill & Knowlton Strategies and Fleishman-Hillard have worked with the brand on various assignments. Both firms declined to comment.

The review comes as the company is engaging in a number of foreign deals.

The oil giant recently closed a deal with China Petrochemical & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) that expands refinery operations to Yanbu and strengthens ties between the nations. The partnership could be frowned on by the U.S. because of ongoing spats with the Chinese government. Recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce alleged that China hacked into its system. And the relationship between the U.S. and China is notorious for trade disputes, such as those related to "dumping" or selling goods below cost in the U.S.

Aramco's reputation in the West is also relevant to its business objectives. It's one of three organizations -- including Sinopec -- reportedly vying for a 30% share of U.S.-based Frac Tech Holdings. Frac Tech is one of many companies dealing with environmental push back on the shale gas extraction method. It could create challenges for a company trying to get into the market -- as Aramco is -- especially in an election year and its attendant debates on energy.

Another move marking Aramco's growth plans is expansion in crude and chemical, which the company addressed at its second annual U.S.-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum, held Dec. 5-7 in Atlanta.

"We have already established a petrochemical complex in Rabigh, on the Kingdom's West Coast with Sumitomo, and we are about to break ground in the Eastern Province with Dow Chemicals on the world's largest integrated petrochemical complex," Munir Rafie, Saudi Aramco's VP-materials supply, said at the time. "Our aim is to develop industrial clusters around these core enterprises, creating new business opportunities for investors -- both from within the Kingdom and throughout the world."

The organization also announced the launch of a wholly owned trading arm -- Saudi Aramco Products Trading Co. (Aramco Trading) -- on Jan 1. In a statement, the company said that it will replace its product sales and marketing department in importing and exporting refined petroleum products.

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