Huawei hired advertising giant WPP to promote itself in the US at a perilous moment for the Chinese tech conglomerate.
Huawei hired Adlab, part of WPP agency AKQA, to raise awareness on social media, though its products are not currently available in the US market, according to a January 25 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing, which is required for US companies working for foreign entities.
The contract carries political and reputational risk for WPP. Huawei stood at the center of President Trump's trade war with China, and its phone sales have slipped due to US sanctions on Huawei's chip and component suppliers. Despite the ban, Huawei has launched consumer products like laptops, and smartwatches in recent months.
President Joe Biden has not clarified if he would extend Trump's ban. This week, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, his nominee to lead the US Commerce Department, vowed to protect telecoms networks from Chinese interference but didn't say if she would continue the ban.
WPP has a history with Huawei in the US and in Europe. In early 2020, Politico reported that Huawei hired WPP agency Wavemaker to handle a $350 million annual ad budget to promote Huawei phones in 65 markets.
WPP PR firm BCW also handled the company's US public relations for several years until late 2020.
Companies have considered it risky to do business with Huawei. PR giant Edelman backed out of a relationship with the company after winning a seven-figure contract in late 2018.
Sen. Ben Sasse called Huawei "the Chinese Communist Party's tech puppet" in Raimondo's confirmation hearing.
"Huawei is an independent, privately-held company," reads the Huawei contract. "We are not owned or controlled by, nor affiliated with the government, or any other 3rd party corporation."
AKQA declined to comment for this article.