Revolutionary Measures

Huawei – communicating innocence?

For this week’s blog it was a hard choice between focusing on what the rise of The Independent Group means to political PR, and how Chinese communications equipment giant Huawei is meeting its own communications and PR challenges. Given British politics is likely to have changed over the next week, and we’re currently in the middle of telecoms industry shindig Mobile World Congress (MWC), I’ll go for the Huawei option.

In many ways Huawei is a victim of its own success – from a brand that nobody knew how to pronounce a year ago, it has rocketed into the public consciousness, although not for all the right reasons. Allegations of potential backdoors in its communications kit that could allow the Chinese state to spy on data have led Donald Trump to call for it to be banned as a worldwide supplier to future 5G networks (Australia and New Zealand have obliged). At the same time its CFO has been arrested in Canada at the behest of the US, being accused of sanctions busting, and an employee arrested in Poland for alleged industrial espionage.

two person standing under lot of bullet cctv camera

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

And how has it responded? Essentially it has come out swinging, in a way that is either very confident, very arrogant or a combination of both. At MWC it has signalled that it wants to break the Apple/Samsung high end smartphone duopoly by launching one of the world’s first foldable phones, the Huawei Mate X, just a week after its Korean rival announced its own model.

It has also used MWC to go on the front foot and completely deny that there are or ever will be backdoors in its products, with its chairman Guo Ping stressing, “We don’t do bad things” and describing US accusations of security issues as lacking any evidence. Given the importance of 5G to a whole range of innovations, such as the Internet of Things, driverless cars, and being able to download a whole film in 6 seconds, questions about security are valid, whoever is providing the kit. But by going on the front foot and calling for industry solidarity, while having a pop at Trump, Huawei seems to feel confident that it can win doubters round.

And this isn’t the total of its comms strategy – there’s been a huge rise in glossy print advertising emphasising its trustworthiness (following a recent Facebook tactic), and it has been touting its relationship with Britain’s communications security agency, GCHQ as a model to follow. Under a partnership, GCHQ has been testing Huawei’s technology and will report back on any issues it finds. However, this has been undermined by a hardening of rhetoric, with GCHQ head, Jeremy Fleming, stressing the need to understand the opportunities and threats that China’s technology advances provide.

From a market position it is easy to worry about Huawei, as it has grown rapidly to a position of power in a key global industry as it is about to adopt new technology. Unlike other Chinese companies such as JD, Tencent and Alibaba which are focused on their domestic markets and developing companies, Huawei is unashamedly looking to lead on a worldwide scale. Not for nothing does its name translate as “Chinese Achievement”. And at time when we’re getting more conscious of our privacy, both individuals and governments are much more focused on who has access to our data. Despite its communications so far, Huawei hasn’t convinced security experts or even the general public of its benign intentions – it is difficult to prove a negative in an age of conspiracies and social media. My advice? Focus on openness and innovation, and the benefits of 5G, build relationships with the right experts and invest locally to get governments on side. And if you can sort out Brexit, you can spy on my communications all you like………….

February 27, 2019 - Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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