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Changing Perceptions to the PR World

 
Dave Senay, president and CEO of public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard Inc is working a 21st century form of alchemy - not turning base metals into gold, but rebranding foreign products as local. His transformation wizardry employs a technique he calls PR2.0 - a combination of traditional PR with digital connectivity, interactive marketing, and advertising - all "within a unified strategic framework", he says.

Senay has 23 years of experience with Fleishman-Hillard and formerly served as the firm's regional president for Canada, Europe, and the Middle East, and Africa.

US-based Fleishman-Hillard Inc is also running a worldwide PR network to assist global companies entering the China market and to help Chinese companies to extend their global reach. Senay was in Beijing to share his idea and success stories of PR2.0 with China Business Weekly .

Two examples are how Fleishman-Hillard has helped Proctor and Gamble's (P&G) Olay personal care brand become a "Chinese product" and aided China's Lenovo to recast itself as an international brand.

"We're glad we played a role in both companies' progresses," Senay says, thanks to the company's experienced local team.

Olay's story is extraordinary because Chinese consumers recently voted US-based P&G as the No 1 choice for shower gels and body lotions.

It is unusual because the same survey, conducted by the Business Brand Institute, International Advertising magazine and the Communication University of China, found that in most cases, Chinese consumers prefer local brands to foreign ones, with the former selected as No 1 in 39 product categories while foreign brands only got the top spot in 18 slots.

Over the last five years, Olay has been Fleishman-Hillard's largest client in China. The PR giant is a member of the advertising, marketing and corporate communications group Omnicom.

From 2002 to 2005, Fleishman-Hillard's focus was to help Olay present itself in China as a US brand for high-quality products. But in 2006, the strategy was reversed to rebuild the brand as local. In the meantime, Olay has remained the most profitable skin care brand for P&G in China.
Olay's success, says Senay, has been "a typical PR2.0 dialogue".

Fleishman-Hillard's proposal was to divide the rebranding into three different phases to help Chinese consumers, particularly women, identify, accept and embrace the concept of "China Beauty".

In each step, traditional communications such as special promotional marketing events, old school media exposure and market promotion, are merged with online or Internet activities, involving chat rooms, blogs, website advertising, celebrity involvement and other interactive initiatives.

"The emergence of the online and the offline is so powerful that Chinese women now embrace Olay as their own brand," says Senay, explaining that Chinese women are not so dependent on the idea of a foreign image to enhance their personal beauty.

"They think Olay is not a foreign company, not a foreign brand, and that's the key," he stresses.

According to a survey conducted by Ketchum, another PR company of Omnicom Group, and the University of Southern California Annenberg Strategic Public Relations Center,

an increasingly number of consumers use new media and personalized media, such as videocasts, blogs and search engines to look for and exchange information, solutions and resources.

In China, 41 percent of the respondents use blogs and 60 percent regard search engines such as Baidu as the top choice.

"In the old days, communications were one-way. Brands sent messages to consumers. But today, it should be two-way, consumers are in the brands, we provide access for them to participate more in brand building," says the PR2.0 promoter.

Domestic globalization

For Lenovo, a Chinese company that bought the PC segment of IBM and is also client of Fleishman-Hillard in the United States, it is a different story. But something in common is that the PR agency is working to persuade US consumers to accept Lenovo as their own.

"In the case of Lenovo, we have two challenges," says Senay. "One is to make sure that the brand is accepted in US and the other is marketing their products," says Senay.

Fleishman-Hillard's immediate mission is to ensure that it communicates immediately that Lenovo is not a threat to American business.

"So we are helping Lenovo at the corporate level, making sure that people don't look at Lenovo as a outsourcing problem for the American workers," says Senay. To do so the PR firm has introduced a concept called "global sourcing" for the world fourth largest PC maker.

Senay says Lenovo views itself as a global company that happens to be based in China, not a Chinese company trying to become global. "If you look at their management team, it's highly international and their notion of global sourcing is authentic. They are procuring parts for Lenovo laptops around the world," Senay points out.

Currently, Lenovo has executive offices in five cities worldwide and organizes its workforce around hubs of expertise, such as hardware designers in Japan and marketers in India.

The concept helps Lenovo shed the image of Chinese company and gain acceptance as a corporate citizen in the US.

At the same time, Fleishman-Hillard is doing a lot of promotional work for Lenovo in the computer trade and consumer media, emphasizing its benefits, such as durability.

"So we do two things for Lenovo at corporate positioning and in marketing, both of which are working," Senay says with pride.

Senay was appointed to his current position in July of 2006. Fleishman-Hillard Inc, was founded in 1946, and operates in 22 nations and regions with over 2,000 staffers.

The agency entered the Chinese mainland in 1994 and is running three offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou with nearly 70 accounting people.

Source: China Daily

(By You Nuo and Liu Jie)
 

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