Huawei's PR efforts in the face of crisis even as Trump softens stance on ban

During the recent G20 Summit, US President Donald Trump took a softer stance on the trade ban on Huawei Technologies. Quoting a White House aide, multiple media outlets said that Trump is allowing the "expanded sales" of US technology supplies to Huawei only for products which are widely available worldwide. Most sensitive equipment still remain "off limits", media outlets said.

According to Reuters, Trump said the ban was "unfair" to suppliers in the US, who were dismayed that they were unable to sell components to Huawei without the approval of the US government. This comes after Huawei was blacklisted in May this year, resulting in companies such as Panasonic, ARM, Qualcomm and Intel severing ties with the company. Meanwhile, Huawei is still awaiting a response from the US Department of Commerce on whether it is able to resume using Google's Android operating system on its upcoming mobile phones.

Google had initially announced that it would cut ties with Huawei, but later said it will temporarily continue to provide the company with software and security updates for 90 days.

Despite the negative scrutiny over the past few weeks, Huawei is still continuing with the launch of its Mate X folding phone.In fact, as part of its marketing plan, Huawei also wrapped its regional media pitch, picking Wavemaker to manage its duties across Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines to help with communications.

Actively communicating in this time of crisis was also Huawei's founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei who gave multiple interviews and pushed back hard on the US trade ban, saying that it will find alternatives to keep its lead in smartphone manufacturing and 5G. Huawei even went on the offensive after it was accused of spying earlier this year, running a full page ad in major newspapers in the US this March, urging readers not to believe everything they hear, Reuters reported. It offered US journalists an all-expenses paid trip to its HQ in Shenzhen.

In a statement to Marketing, Carolyn Camoens, managing director Asia, Hume Brophy said that while Huawei has mostly stuck to its guns, it eventually realised that the negative scrutiny on such a large scale will have a significant impact on the business. As such, Camoens said Ren began to soften his tone on the matter in June.

Camoens added, "When you are under attack, you rally and you start with your inner circle. However in this case, the credibility of your inner circle - all interested parties - is hardly going to help swing opinion. Moreover, while consumers have witnessed much emotionally-charged rhetoric from Trump and Huawei, she views that consumers have yet to see evidence-based arguments. Camoens added:

The fundamental issue turns on trust and you need evidence and third party voices to validate your position.

In June, multiple media outlets reported that Huawei is expected to lose US$30 billion in revenue due to the trade ban. In light of this, Camoens said Huawei needs to have an evidence-based response with"transparency and their own in fighting the allegations."

On the other hand, Ivlynn Yap, Citrine One's crisis communications lead counsel said having the founder, the top man of the company, as the face to answer questions and critics is crucial and most commendable as he is the top decision making executive of the company. "In times of such critical moment, hearing from the CEO, who is also the founder of the company, heightened the credibility, trustworthiness and image of the company and its products," Yap added.

She was also of the view that Huawei has done an "excellent job" and showed it is resilient and well-prepared for the ban announcement, both internally and externally. According to Yap, Huawei's crisis management communications strategy was "very well planned and executed", giving consumers worldwide a sense that they saw the ban coming and was ready for such eventuality.

"Huawei must carry on with its PR efforts. It need to continue to monitor comments and feedback and execute on its communications strategy to fend off any negativity," she said.

Yap explained that while Huawei continues to engage and keep the consumer informed, it should step up its efforts to manage its relationships with stakeholders in the government and industry partners. Yap added:

Stakeholder management is a long drawn process and requires consistent commitment but is necessary to Huawei's survival.

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