BASINGSTOKE, UK--Chinese networking giant Huawei is reviewing its UK PR account, as it steps up ambitious growth plans in the country.
The telecommunications company, often viewed as one of the few Chinese companies with realistic global ambitions, has briefed firms regarding its enterprise and infrastructure units. Both are currently handled by Fleishman-Hillard, which also oversees Huawei's devices activity in the UK.
As many as nine firms are believed to be involved in the review, for a brief that includes a requirement for senior-level corporate counsel. “It’s about raising awareness of Huawei among telecoms, technology and infrastructure buyers,” said a source familiar with the situation. “And improving the Huawei reputation at a corporate level.”
A Huawei UK spokesperson confirmed the review and told the Holmes Report that the brief focuses on corporate and B2B. "To grow the business, the company expects a higher brand awareness," she said. "The main focus is on B2B, we need a very strong team in that field."
Fleishman-Hillard, which has handled the business for five years, has been invited to take part in the review. The process is expected to complete by the third quarter of this year.
Huawei has faced particular political opposition to its expansion in Australia and the US, where the company has had to battle suspicions that it is linked to the Chinese military. Last month, Huawei was banned by Australian authorities from bidding for development of the country's National Broadband Network.
The company has repeatedly denied that it is linked to the Chinese government. Huawei's global PR account is led by Burson-Marsteller Hong Kong, and it has also called in branding support to help it shift perceptions in the US.
In the UK, concerns over Huawei’s security were raised in a 2009 government briefing. Consequently, the company set up a cybersecurity testing centre in Banbury, which is overseen by government intelligence agency GCHQ.
Last year, Huawei named ex-Prudential media relations head Ed Brewster as communications director, one of several hires to boost its in-house comms ranks. Prior to Prudential, Brewster led corporate comms at Three UK, and has also worked agency-side at Brunswick.
Huawei currently has around 650 employees in the UK, but has said that it hopes to add 500 more at its headquarters in Basingstoke. It has invested £150m in the country, and has inked deals with such companies as BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Orange and Virgin Media.
In 2011, the company unveiled plans to launch its first branded phone in the UK.