My first visit to China, where I presented The Authentic Enterprise at a Page-sponsored luncheon in Beijing and attended the IPRA World Congress, provided a fascinating look at the current state of the practice of public relations and Chinese economic development at a critical point for the world economy.
At the Page event, attended by 65 corporate and agency representatives, panelists agreed that the practice of public relations in China is not as advanced as it is in the West. They included Gao Weijie, chairman of Lloyd’s Register Asia; Alice Li, vice president of brand communications for Lenovo; and Ling Wang, director of public and government relations for Abbott. Despite that observation, the three panelists engaged in a complex discussion of the implications of the Page white paper for businesses in China. Mr. Gao is an enlightened CEO who understands the value of communications, while Alice and Ling clearly practice corporate communications at a sophisticated level. Lenovo’s acquisition of the IBM PC business and the transition of the ThinkPad brand from IBM to Lenovo have made Lenovo one of the few Chinese brands recognizable in the West.
Some of the Chinese public relations professionals presenting at the IPRA meeting, by contrast, largely avoided strategic issues in favor of a mind-numbing recitation of their organization’s recent communications tactics and outcomes. Sessions featuring panelists from a range of other countries fared better; countless references to The Authentic Enterprise show that the Page white paper has had a profound impact on thinking within the profession on a global basis.
At the World Congress, IPRA released a new Gold Paper, called Public Relations and Collaboration, which was written by Roger Hayes of APCO Worldwide with input from a number of Page members, and which echoes many of the themes from The Authentic Enterprise. Both papers discuss the rapidly evolving role of corporate communications in the face of dramatic changes in the global business environment. The Authentic Enterprise stresses the need for companies to adopt strong values, build relationships with disparate stakeholders, empower their people with new media skills and build trust. The IPRA paper focuses on the need for multi-cultural knowledge and skills to facilitate connections among myriad stakeholders and partners worldwide.
The Chinese clearly are concerned about the global economic slowdown, but there is nowhere near the pessimism that we’re experiencing in the U.S. Sitting through a parade of Chinese government speakers at the IPRA World Congress in the Great Hall of the People on Friday morning (a surreal experience in which I could almost imagine myself as a party official attending a standing committee meeting), I sensed the confidence of Chinese officialdom. They are simultaneously proud of their progress (“from the verge of collapse to the world’s fourth largest economy” over the last 30 years, according to Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi) and humble about still having what Mr. Yang described as “a long way to go.” Fresh off a warm reception for the Chinese government’s announcement of a $586 billion stimulus plan, Mr. Yang declared, “China’s fast-growing economy is the biggest contribution China can make to the global economy.”
They are extremely confident in their system, variously described by government officials as “a socialist market economy” or “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” In an informal conversation over lunch at the Page event on Thursday, Mr. Li Daoyu, formerly China’s ambassador to the U.S. and now chairman of The China International Public Relations Association (CIPRA), used the term, “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.” Ambassador Li added that in the U.S. we practice “capitalism with American characteristics.” I noted wryly that if our government continues investing in American banks and other companies, we may find ourselves enjoying “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.” He chuckled politely at my feeble joke, but there was no humor intended when Wang Guoqing, deputy director of the information office of the State Council, proclaimed at the Friday event, “The Chinese model will be recognized as the model of the future.”
Mr. Wang was quick to admit that China is “still backward in comparison to developed countries,” but he declared that by 2020 China will be a “comparatively well-off society.” He spoke confidently of China’s growth rate and of its efforts to develop “soft power.” He observed that developed countries control the global information network and described efforts to expand the influence of China’s culture and its media, as China continues to become more open, confident and inclusive.
The Page Society event in Beijing, organized by a team led by Helen Ostrowski of Porter Novelli and sponsored by Abbott, APCO Worldwide, Fleishman-Hillard, IBM, Korn/Ferry, Porter Novelli and UPS, was the second in our series of international meetings as we pursue the globalization of the Page Society. Tom Kowaleski reported on the London meeting in an earlier post on Page Turner.
– Roger Bolton