China's improving legal environment over the past decade has raised the level of its government public relations work and narrowed the gap in that sector with advanced international practices, said an industry leader.
"There has been a great improvement in the legal sector of the country, making the legal environment more favourable to businesses," said Ye Yu, chairman of Hill & Knowlton Strategy China.
Hill & Knowlton was the earliest global PR firm to enter China, opening an office in 1984.
"In the early years, it was difficult to identify the role of government organizations," Ye said. "Parts of government offices were somehow playing 'referee' and 'participant' at the same time."
But now, the practice that administrative orders ruled all in terms of government public relations has been greatly reduced, she said.
The consequence of an improving legal environment has in certain ways allowed more access to government information.
Evidence can be seen starting from 2013, when Chinese governments at all levels held more than 2,150 news conferences, compared with just 1,100 in 2005, according to the State Council Information Office.
In April, the China International PR Association said that in the first 10 months of 2013, there were more than 100,000 government-related micro blogs on Sina weibo, up 60 percent from a year earlier.
Ye joined Hill & Knowlton 10 years ago and helped establish its government and public affairs team, which has a strong track record of working with the government.
The company's cooperation with the government began after the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, and it helped organize sessions to train government spokesmen.
The firm stepped into the spotlight again in 2006 after winning the bid to be a partner of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Hill & Knowlton submitted more than 1,000 proposals to the event's organizing committee.
Later, the firm became an official consultant for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.
The company described its China office as "deeply rooted in the community and trusted by government decision-makers and other key stakeholders".
With more Chinese enterprises pursuing a strategy of "going global", there's another factor supporting China's government PR work, said Ye.
"Companies with overseas ambitions have an increasing demand to build up connections with government organizations, to narrow cultural differences," she said.
In 2013, overseas merger and acquisition activity involving Chinese companies reached $61.9 billion, up 8.8 percent year-on-year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
To take advantage of the associated opportunities, Hill & Knowlton established a project named 'Access' that focuses on Africa-China business services, supported by the firm's teams in Beijing, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos.
The project provides a full range of services to clients, including public affairs and stakeholder communications, for Chinese companies such as State broadcaster China Central Television and China Railway Corp that are operating in Africa, according to Ye.
"Our services are not routine but are tailored to those companies."
"With China becoming a more important member of global society in recent years, government PR work in China has grown more in line with international levels," said Guo Huimin, vice-president of the University of International Relations and deputy secretary-general of the China International PR Association.
"But we should be aware that the situation in China is always unique, especially in terms of government PR work," Guo said.
Hill & Knowlton is one of the top 25 PR companies in China, according to a survey by the China International PR Association.
In 2013, China's PR industry was estimated to be worth about 34.1 billion yuan ($5.5 billion), up 12.5 percent year-on-year, the survey said.
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