by Michael O'Neill
August 29th, 2012

I have had China on my mind lately. Weber Shandwick just announced the launch of a new specialty called Emergent China. It advises China-based multinationals and their CEOs on strategic expansion into global markets, including North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. So I have been more attentive than usual to how Chinese companies build their reputations outside China.

Ironically, as I was reading my Wall Street Journal this morning, I saw a paid advertisement taken from China Daily with the headline, “COSCO Enjoys Success.” The sub-head was “Chinese shipping titan earns respect and gratitude in US.”  I read the China Daily article about the robust and successful development of COSCO shipping operations in the U.S.

Then I turned to the Marketplace section of the WSJ and saw a fairly negative article about COSCO’s poorly timed expansion that was damaging its financial standing and its dominance.

Although my assumption is that COSCO had tried to cushion the fallout from its reporting tomorrow on the first half’s earnings, the timing was unfortunate and not a good working reputation-building strategy. Reputation for emerging Chinese companies needs to be managed for the long-run and a better understanding of how the US media works seems to be in order.  I can’t help but think that better relations with journalists would have helped COSCO with getting a heads up that this criticism was about to appear. I could be very wrong but the two articles (one paid, one not) just screamed for REPUTATION MANAGEMENT.

I give them the benefit of the doubt because they seem fairly savvy. I had noticed two years ago that COSCO was using its Awards and Recognition effectively on their website. When I was visiting China to talk about reputation, I used their site to show how Chinese companies were using these rankings wisely. So let’s see what happens as more Chinese companies make waves in the US and communicate their positioning and initiatives.

Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross is chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick

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