BEIJING and WASHINGTON: Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, through a joint venture with Tsinghua University in Beijing, has indirectly helped counsel government ministries and companies in China on communicating with various worldwide audiences about its recent spate of manufacturing debacles and product recalls.
Edelman confirmed that its Beijing office has provided counsel to government officials, though the firm was not immediately available to comment.
Ogilvy's joint venture is called the "Tsinghua-Ogilvy Program for Public Branding," which serves as a kind of think tank on branding issues. Recently the partnership convened a meeting that included Scott Kronick, president of Ogilvy PR/China, to discuss the food safety problems. The briefing came in advance of a meeting that the partner was having with a number of the government departments and companies associated with the recent issues. It included a discussion of various steps they would need to take, as well as messaging strategies.
Kronick told PRWeek that the partnership challenges some of the habits of more traditional Chinese practices. "What we do with the Tsinghua University program is help officials understand the global climate within which they are communicating and then share with them best practices in how to address the situation," he explained. "And not to address [crises] superficially, but how to communicate around the necessary actions that are being taken. Historically, China didn't do that."
Kronick said that China has "shown progress" in the way it handles problems of this nature.
"They've really taken some steps by communicating more regularly," he added. "They develop a five-year plan to address the quality of their exports, and they've gotten a new commissioner who's very much committed to reform."
He adds that updates are being issued constantly to the Web site of the Chinese embassy in the US, explaining how they are dealing with emerging and existing issues. "This is new to the way in which they addressed these issues."
Next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing mean that China will continue to be under increased scrutiny on a global scale.
"China recognizes that it's the focus of the world and the Olympics is a factor in helping to drive some of that reform," Kronick said.
And China's woes are gaining more headlines in the US. "I think the level of interest comes from the fact that the issues are now entering the consumer domain," he added. "When it comes into the living rooms of people like you and me, it takes on a greater degree of gravity and it gets people more responsive. That's where it strikes."
This week, Congress responded to increased public concern and media coverage of dangerous imports from China with high-profile hearings that legislators claimed were not intended solely to single out China.
But China's manufacturing or harvesting practices for everything from automobile tires to seafood generated the bulk of commentary from government officials and expert witnesses called to testify. Hearings were held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Jay Timmons, SVP of policy and government relations for the National Association of Manufacturers, whose members in many cases compete directly with Chinese manufacturers, gave testimony before the Senate on July 18 that was typical of the kind of opprobrium heaped on China by lawmakers and witnesses.
"Recent reports of contaminated pet food, fake pharmaceuticals, toys, and jewelry with dangerous levels of lead, poisoned fish, faulty tires, and other unsafe products represent an extremely serious problem," Timmons said. "China must understand that this is more than a PR problem."