BEIJING (AdAgeChina.com) -- Hill & Knowlton has launched a global communications practice in Beijing to help Chinese companies expand overseas and improve their international image.
A "flat world" has given Chinese companies new opportunities, said Frances Sun, senior VP, China in Beijing, who will lead the practice. But Chinese companies face "a flood of challenges overseas, from product safety and quality concerns to local competition in new markets and different cultural practices."
Chinese companies face two major challenges expanding overseas.
Most have a low level of brand awareness, Ms. Sun said. "Most Chinese companies are not well known outside the mainland. Even if brands are known, like Tsingtao beer, most foreign consumers probably won't buy them."
Second, there is a stigma attached to a 'made in China' label. Global consumers mistrust products manufactured in the mainland due to product safety and quality problems.
"This is especially true for the food companies. Consumers overseas might have a negative feeling or perception about such products made in China," Ms. Sun said.
The practice--the first of its kind in China--grew out of Ms. Sun's prior role with the WPP Group public relations firm. She was client service director for business related to last summer's Olympic Games. Hill & Knowlton handled communications for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olymic Games (BOCOG). The pr agency also worked with Olympic sponsors Haier Group and Tsingtao Brewery Group. The beer company is the only local company already using Hill & Knowlton's global communications practice practice.
Working with these companies during the games "helped us understand their needs and how they are different," said Ms. Sun. "Chinese companies are different from multinationals, which come to us with very specific needs. For Chinese companies, sometimes we have to help them find out what they really need."
After the Olympic Games ended in August 2008, Hill & Knowlton spent three months developing products for Chinese companies in areas like corporate reputation and brand management. The agency set up an international public relations department, media training and crisis management. For clients about to go public, there will be help with initial public offerings, investor relations and corporate social responsibility.
"Many Chinse companies are still in the learning process for things like understanding what a brand is and they don't understand that agencies specialize in different areas like public relations, promotions, events and advertising. But they are starting to ask and they learn from the experience," Ms. Sun said.
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