Last Thursday I was privileged to host a very special guest at one of my classes at IE Business School: Walter Jennings, Vice President of Corporate Communications of Huawei, based in Shenzen and one of the few top-level non-Chinese managers of what is today the largest technology company in China and one of the largest in the world. Walter is a professional with more than thirty years’ experience in China, Southeast Asia, Australia and the United States and an expert in influence marketing — one of the topics on my course — and set up and leads Huawei’s Key Opinion Leaders program (KOL), which I have participated in for about three years and about which I have written before.
Taking advantage of Walter’s presence in Madrid to participate in the Digital Business World Congress, I asked him to attend one of my classes to discuss his vision of influence marketing, which is very different to the traditional. Huawei makes use of all kinds of traditional marketing tools, such as brand ambassadors that it pays to carry out certain functions, but Walter’s responsibility is focused on the creation of a diverse community of unpaid people around the world, but that it would like to bring closer to the company, providing them with material related to the areas of interest they discuss on the media and social networks, as well as entering into dialogue with them and, obviously, benefitting from their influence. Since the title of Walter’s presentation at DES2018 was “Radical Transparency: how Corporate Engages influencers to Build Corporate Reputation”, I asked him to talk about radical transparency.
Chinese companies have a reputation for secrecy, but speaking to a class of around 40 students made up of twenty-three nationalities at IE’s Master in Management, Walter couldn’t have been more open, beginning by talking about the company in the context of thorny geopolitical issues, such as the US blockade — US students often ask why they know so little about the company — and went on to outline his vision of influence marketing, which, contrary to that of other brands, seeks to go beyond mere promotion and establish sustainable relationships with influencers. Walter’s talk touched on virtually all the issues related to his many years building the KOL community: mistakes made, learning, advice and all kinds of issues, including the importance of diversity when building a community, the problems that can arise when one an influencer is involved in a scandal, assessing the return on events, how to get agencies’ support without them monopolizing the whole relationship, as well as the company’s reputation for austerity and the balance with the cost of inviting influencers to the best hotels and restaurants and flying them business class.
I like to invite guests to my classes. What do I look for in them? I want them to offer something worthwhile to my students, which only happens when they feel they can ask questions that might touch on sensitive issues, when they come into contact with the companies committed to carrying out visions that at times might conflict but that are rewarding: Walter certainly met those goals.