Public Relationship Landscape in China

By Alice Wang, Cyndrea Brown, Carol Chia Lee


According to Hill & Knowlton Shanghai Managing Director David Zhao, “Brand-building in China requires more “harmony” with the state than most places”. As the government maintains a stronghold over media, the hurdles associated with practicing PR comes as no surprise. With China as the fastest developing nation, however, companies especially in the last few years have developed an insatiable need for public relations. Thus, having only started in the 1980’s, the industry has grown into a $1.1 billion industry with an annual growth rate of 33%.

While the PR capital remains in Beijing, large cities Shanghai and Chengdu have consistently remained the fastest growing markets. To respond to this rapidly developing business, multinational firms are spreading to second-tier cities and expanding their practice. While multinationals maintain a stronghold on PR for consumer goods, they provide a wide range of other services from internal communications to public affairs. As the practice rapidly grows, the industry cites a lack of creativity and talented professionals working in the industry.


Here is a list of top multinational agencies we will cover:

  1. Weber Shandwick
  2. Edelman
  3. Hill & Knowlton
  4. Burston-Marstellar
  5. Fleishman-Hillard
  6. Golin Harris
  7. Ketchum
  8. Ogilvy
  9. Ruder Finn

Weber Shandwick

Weber Shandwick, named by PRWeek as 2009’s “Global Agency of the Year”,  is at the forefront of innovating through social  media. The company today was the result of the merging of the Weber group, an agency that become top ten less than a decade by leveraging phone and internet to developing communication strategies and Shandwick International, which was the largest public relations agency in the UK at the time.  A third company BSMG worldwide, that based their public relations and advertising strategies on political campaign strategies, merged with Weber in 2001 and uses its expertise to aid in public affairs around the world, including government relations in China.

Today, Weber covers consumer marketing, healthcare, technology, public affairs, corporate/financial and crisis management with specialties in digital/social media, advertising, market research, and corporate responsibility. The company entered China ten years and is best known in on the Mainland for its work in internal communications.

China accounts: Proctor & Gamble, Nike, General Motors

Recent work: Weber was recognized by the World Wildlife Federation in 2010 for their pro bono work in promoting Earth Hour, an international campaign that raised awareness for global warming by urging people to turn off their lights for an hour on a specific date. Weber was the only multinational company to be recognized for its effort in getting over 400 enterprises to participate in the campaign.

Contact Information:

Managing Director, China

T: 86 10 8569 9888


Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, believes that public relations is the most vital medium in communications because it is the only discipline that provides the “immediacy and transparency” needed to build credibility and trust.  Based on this principle, the organization is well known for its annual publication of the Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey that reports the state of trust among various institutions in 23 countries.

Edelman covers wide variety of practices from corporate social responsibility, travel, to litigation. The company offers a range of specialty services from consulting to  advertising to entertainment and research. Edelman works across health, industrial, technology, consumer and financial services.  Edelman China itself mainly has expertise in corporate, financial, crisis management, government relations. Healthcare, consumer, B2B, and information technology communications. Edelman has operated in China for 20 years and just hired new President Mark Hass in hopes of expanding business in the Mainland and Guang Zhou even further.


China Accounts: Pepsi, IMAX, Anheuser-Busch, 3M

Recent work: 2009 Pepsi Creative Challenge 4

Pepsi had been successfully using interactive campaigns to engage Chinese consumers, but wanted to look more into using the internet. Recent reports indicated that Pepsi was ahead of Coke in the “cola market” in China. In an effort to target 30 million netizens, Edelman set up an online celebration during China’s National Day and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. They partnered with popular internet company  Tencent to create a platform that allowed people to tweet, blog and instant message their birthday wishes to China. Participants could interactively vote for their favorite wish and see which wishes were the most popular by region. The campaign drew almost 34 million entries, 6 million more from the previous year’s challenge.


Contact Information:

Tony Tao

Managing Director, Shanghai

Tel: +86-21-6193-7588

Hill & Knowlton

Hill & Knowlton, a subsidiary of WPP, the world’s largest communication service company, covers the same gamut of services in China from technology to luxury brands to crisis management and digital communications.  Hill & Knowlton China has been the chosen agency to promote major events such as the opening of the first McDonalds in China back in 1989, the Shanghai World Expo 2010 and the Beijing Olympics of 2008.

China Accounts: Hewlett Packard, Levi’s, HSBC, GlaxoSmithKline

Recent Work:, China’s version of Google, wanted to increase foreign investment as the company got ready to go public. A communication plan complete with “market intelligence, road shows, investor and media relations, and advice on regulatory compliance” was presented to workers at Baidu which trained them in managing media and improve their presence among foreign investors.’s stock price rose over 350% and became the “biggest first day gainer since 2000 on the NASDAQ”.


Contact information:

David Zhao

Managing Director, Hill & Knowlton Shanghai



Burson-Marsteller, the fifth largest public relations firm and a subsidiary of the WPP group, is a leading global public relations and communications firm. Widely known for it’s involvement with the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol crises, and many other cases of corporate crisis, Burson-Marsteller has secured a solid position in crisis management and markets itself as the company that clients contact “when the stakes are high: during a crisis, a brand launch, or any period of fundamental change or transition.”

Founded in 1953 by Harold Burson and Bill Marsteller, the company entered China in 1985 becoming the first global public relations firm to operate in the People’s Republic of China. Burson-Marsteller offers an array of services including corporate communications, brand and product marketing, event management, corporate social responsibility, and media relations. These services are offered across many sectors such as Technology, Energy, Health Care, Automotive, Property, Fast-moving consumer goods and Travel and Tourism.

Burson-Marsteller chooses not to release information on the current or past clients.

Accounts: 3Com Corp., Accenture Technology Ventures, Alcatel,

Contact information:

Daisy King

86.21.5403.2121 ext. 125



Fleishman-Hillard, a member of the Omnicom group, is one of the world’s largest strategic communications firms. Known for providing creative integrated marketing solutions, Fleishman-Hillard operates within many industries across a variety of disciplines and caters to a diverse set of audiences.  Their expertise includes consumer marketing, digital integration, corporate communications, public affairs, technology and healthcare communications, branding, and crisis and issue management.

Fleishman-Hillard has demonstrated it’s capabilities within industries such as agribusiness, animal Care, automotive & transportation, building & construction, consumer goods, education, fashion & lifestyle, financial services & insurance, healthcare, retail, sports, technology, and many more.

Recent Campaign: Korean Society of Obstetrics & Genecology

Fleishman-Hillard was recognized by PublicAffairsAsia for it’s contribution to the
Purple Ribbon” advocacy campaign. The campaign was designed by the Korean Society of Obstetrics & Gynecology in support of cervical cancer education. For it’s work on the campaign Fleishman-Hillard received a Gold Standard award, which recognizes the best public affairs and corporate communications work in Asia Pacific.


Contact Information:

Peng He

Phone: +86-21-6407-0066


PRWeek’s 2010 “Large PR Agency of the Year”, GolinHarris is a global public relations firm, which operates through 31 offices in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe, and Middle East. GolinHarris entered China in 2004 and market’s itself as one of “Asia’s most respected and trusted public relations firms” and continues to play a huge role in assisting local, regional and multinational corporations to establish their presence in the Asian business markets and expand businesses on a global scale.

GolinHarris offers services in China including corporate communications, marketing communications, issues and crisis management, public affairs, and investor relations.

China Accounts: Unilever Food Solutions, Coca-Cola, Nippon Paint, Pirelli, William Grant & Sons, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and New World Hotel

Recent Campaigns: Yahoo

GolinHarris utilized their network connections with internet media to assist Yahoo with the launch of a consumer incentive program for Taiwan consumers. Already the number one shopping website in Taiwan, Yahoo!Kimo sought to further increase spending by providing consumption vouchers for consumers and decided to bring GolinHarris on board. The firm catered to the festivities of the Chinese Lunar New Year and incorporated red packets, fireworks, and the God of wealth to execute the launch of the promotion.  Thanks to the efforts of GolinHarris, 40 media outlets and 60 journalists covered the event which resulted in 100 exposures.


Contact information:

Sarah Chin, Vice President

Phone: +86.21.2411.0088


Ketchum Public Relations

Ketchum, the most award-winning agency in history, is the winner of 117 Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil awards and PRWeek’s Campaign of the Year in 2009 and 2010. Being a unit of Omnicom Group Inc., a leading communications service group, Ketchum currently has over 100 offices and affiliates worldwide and operates in more than 65 countries, including the region of Greater China.

Founded in Hong Kong in 1980, the Ketchum Greater China is one of the longest established communications networks in China. The network has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Taipei. Ketchum Shanghai has areas of expertise in several fields including media relations, brand awareness, event management, and collateral development.

Ketchum Greater China provides five global practices including brand marketing, food & nutrition, technology, healthcare and corporate practices. The company has consulted both multinational and local clients such as FedEx, BENQ, Gucci, and Discovery Channel. In recent years, the company has provided public relations and media communication supports to some events such as the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.

Contact information:

Chris Liu, Partner and Chief Business Officer, Greater China

T: + 86-21-6353-2288

Sources and more about Ketchum:

Ogilvy & Mather

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide (Ogilvy PR) is disputable one of the biggest global marketing communications company owned by WPP group (one of the world’s largest communications services organizations.) Cooperating with clients around the world, the company owns over 450 offices across the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa.

In China, Ogilvy & Mather combines local strength with a worldwide network by jointing with Shanghai Advertising Limited, one of the top 10 largest and most recognized local advertising firm in the country. The company has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. It is the biggest public relations consultancy agency in China that provides comprehensive services including government and NGO lobbying, crisis and issues management, and internal communications. Ogilvy PR is specialized in technology, health and medical, corporate and finance, public affairs and strategic marketing practices.

Ogilvy China has worked both with multinational and domestic clients, such as IBM, Motorola, KFC, China Mobile, LG, eBay, Audi, Volkswagen, and BP. One of its well-known cases include the “Drink Tsingtao, understand China” to greet overseas and domestic visitors to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Contact information:

Steve Dahllof, CEO & President, Asia Pacific

T: 852-2884-8556

Sources and more about Ogilvy & Mather:

Ruder Finn

Ruder Finn Asia is a unit of Ruder Finn Group, an independent public relations firm worldwide with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, London, Paris and Asia Pacific.

Founded in 1989, Ruder Finn Asia has locations in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Singapore. The network provides client services such as communications strategies, media strategies & relations, product launches, and leadership program.

Ruder Finn’s global strategy focuses on four operational pillars including Health & Wellness, Corporate & Public Trust, Global Connectivity and Life+Style. The company is expertized in corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy planning and implementation. In China, Ruder Finn is the only PR firm that has a professional CSR team dedicated to the programs. In partnership with both multinational and local companies, the company has developed CSR strategies for many of its clients including Volkswagen, Audi, BP, DHL, L’Oreal, and Li Ning, which is a major Chinese sports company.

In 2008, Ruder Finn China partnered with the prestigious Tsinghua University to develop a five-year cooperation CSR program. In 2010, Marsh, a leading insurance company, has signed a on-year PR retainer with Ruder Finn to promote its profile in China.

Contact information:

Elan Shou, Managing Director & Senior Vice President, China

T: +(86-21) 5383 1188

Sources and more about Ruder Finn:

About Alice Wang

Considered a modern hippie by her friends, Alice Wang spent her formative undergraduate years at UC Davis doing interpretive dance to Britney Spears with her roommate and withstanding gawking from her friends for wearing offensive seatbelt strapped sandals from REI around town. Although she was an Animal Biology, Alice has loved the idea of being a journalist, of exposing or bringing to light raw truths. Blessed with a mom who loves to travel, she recently stayed on an ecolodge in the Brazilian Pantanal, floated on a boat through Malaysian rainforest and just returned from a two week trip to Egypt. Some of her fondest memories were spent soaked in sweat tracking bats in Taipei where she overindulged in street food, the dirtier the better. During her tours through these areas she developed an interest for the environment, human rights and how religion and tradition influence culture and lifestyle, particularly Muslim culture. With a love for novel experiences and thirst to know the details about everything, Alice hopes to parlay her travels and desire for deep human connection into a career journalistic blogging. Follow Alice Wang on twitter @wangwawang
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  1. Pingback: Public Relationship Landscape in China | USC Annenberg China Media - Burson-Marsteller Watch

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