China Tries PR to Answer Product-Safety Fears The Chinese government has been caught in a bad press cycle, with news of tainted toothpaste and contaminated pet food making international headlines. But Chinese officials are fighting back and learning the art of spin.
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China Tries PR to Answer Product-Safety Fears

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China Tries PR to Answer Product-Safety Fears

China Tries PR to Answer Product-Safety Fears

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was in Beijing today, and he pressed China on its currency, plus on the safety of its imports. Chinese officials reassured Paulson that they're taking steps to monitor the safety of their products and food. They said they will inspect fish farms across the country and sanction producers who violate the rules.


Now, all these news has China worried about its image. To learn how China is handling bad publicity, we called Scott Kronick. He's president of Ogilvy Public Relations in China and he has advised Chinese officials for more than a decade.

Mr. SCOTT KRONICK (Ogilvy Public Relations): When I came here, there were perceptions that it was a very closed market, a very difficult market. Over the past 12 years, you've seen a greater number of tourists coming into China. You've seen a greater number of businesses coming in and doing very well in China. And so the perceptions have changed quite dramatically.

Now, what we try to share with China is that as they go down and engage greater in a global community, they have to be much more open and much more communicative.

INSKEEP: Give an example of a time when they were not as open or communicative as you wish they would be.

Mr. KRONICK: In 2003, during the SARS periods, they learned a lot about sharing information and bringing people along in the process of how they are addressing critical issues.

INSKEEP: This is the situation where a disease was spreading rapidly. China was one of the places where it was spreading. And what did they do and what should they have done?

Mr. KRONICK: In the early period of SARS, they were holding back information. And what happened after the Internet and after SMS and after people really understood that there was a severity of the issue, they became much more open and communicative.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. Information spreads by Internet? You mentioned SMS. You're talking about text messaging on telephones, right?

Mr. KRONICK: That's correct.

INSKEEP: And so the Chinese government is discovering it does not have a monopoly on information and therefore it needs to get its story out.

Mr. KRONICK: They understand the importance of bringing people along in the process of the actions that they're taking. You know, we were brought in just recently to share our views on how they should respond to a lot of these food exports. And what we shared with them is what people would expect, that they wouldn't place blame on others but they will take responsibility and explain the actions that they've taken, that they have been investigating all of these illegal outfits that exist, that they've been shutting them down, that they've been punishing those folks that were responsible, and that they're taking this very seriously.

INSKEEP: You know, this sounds very similar to PR advice that people get in the United States when there's a crisis: acknowledge there's a problem, say you knew about it all along, and that you've been working on it, and hopefully it's already being corrected.

Mr. KRONICK: I would say they are very similar principles.

INSKEEP: Do you hope that by improving the way that Chinese officials talk to the world you might actually help to create a more open China?

Mr. KRONICK: I believe that a more engaged and open China will definitely make the world a better place. And so I believe there is a gap in understanding of what exists here. And what I'm just trying to do is bridge that gap.

INSKEEP: Flipside of that: Do you ever worry that by helping Chinese officials to present their record in a more polished way, that you will simply prolong them in power and perhaps allow them to cover up problems?

Mr. KRONICK: I don't, actually, because what we try to do is just build an understanding for them of what is expected of them in the world. What they end up doing with that information I cannot control.

INSKEEP: Scott Kronick is president of Ogilvy Public Relations in China. Thanks very much.

Mr. KRONICK: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: And he joined us on the line from Beijing.

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