Dalian Wanda has appointed Hill+Knowlton Strategies to oversee its worldwide public relations – the first time that the property-to-entertainment giant has hired an agency of record to cover all its global communications.
The appointment was made in April, and apparently took effect from late May this year. That is more than a month before Wanda became engulfed in a tangle over its finances and overseas acquisition strategy.
In the past month Wanda’s image has been dented by a series of setbacks to its previously expansionist strategy. These reversals, which include a reported halt of bank lending to six of Wanda’s foreign deals, appear to have been sparked by initiatives from high within the Chinese government to rein in a handful of high-profile and aggressively acquisitive conglomerates.
“Wanda Group has appointed H+K to manage its global public relations and communications strategy, covering overall brand building as well as specific in-market projects,” the agency said. A statement from Hill+Knowlton’s top executive issued Tuesday avoided discussion of Wanda’s recent moves to pare group debt through asset disposals.
An online version of the announcement was posted on the corporate website of Hill+Knowlton. But it was removed without explanation just hours later.
In mid-July, Wanda announced that it was to sell off a large portion of its tourism assets in China and a portfolio of 77 hotels for some $9 billion. Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin said that the disposals will sharply reduce group borrowings. He has also pointed to a redirected corporate strategy that will increasingly focus on developments within China.
“We are looking forward to partnering with Wanda Group as it leverages its incredible reputation and agility to aggressively reposition itself as one of the fastest growing international entertainment businesses,” said Jack Martin, Hill+Knowlton global chairman and CEO.
Ad industry publication Campaign noted that Hill+Knowlton had previously worked for Wanda on content creation and management of its Facebook site. Facebook is not available within China.
As Wanda has expanded from its base in Chinese commercial property development into a conglomerate with a growing focus on tourism, leisure and entertainment, it has been regarded as one of the Chinese firms with the strongest political connections. Its overseas expansions, which include the acquisition of Legendary Entertainment and the AMC, Odeon-UCI, and Hoyts cinema chains, were widely assumed to have the blessing of authorities in Beijing.
In late 2016, Chinese authorities introduced capital controls partly intended to stem net outflows of capital at a time when the Chinese currency was weak against the U.S. dollar. In recent weeks, banking restrictions have been imposed on Wanda, apparently for breaching those capital restrictions.