SAN FRANCISCO — Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba is seeking PR agency support for a US project focused on improving understanding of its product offering, the Holmes Report has learned.

The company is understood to have briefed a handful of PR firms regarding its online global shopping festival, which takes place on its Tmall site on November 11th, or 'Singles Day', as it is often known.

The short-term assignment is not thought to be especially lucrative, but it does represent a first step in terms of the company's efforts to demystify both its product offering and the Chinese consumer environment in which it operates.

In the US, Alibaba is typically viewed in terms of its financial performance, alongside the heightened scrutiny that Chinese companies attract in the country. Accordingly, the company is considering whether a PR agency in the country could help improve understanding of its products and services among investors, key media and brands.

In particular, Alibaba is often compared with Amazon in the US, despite fundamentally different business models and consumer environments. A recent Bloomberg article reported that the company is trying to shake these perceptions, noting that it is "pushing into social media and entertainment and actively investing in startups like Snapchat."

These efforts, which blend ecommerce and social media, have helped power mobile growth at Alibaba and improve consumer engagement, underpinning its differentiation from such companies as Amazon and Ebay.

One source familiar with the situation noted that  Alibaba is keen to use Singles Day to step up awareness of its products and digital innovation among US media, brands and retailers, and demonstrate its progress as a global company that serves as a gateway to Chinese consumers.

The agency search comes after the company launched the 'Alibaba Defined' initiative last year to to help people understand the company and debunk some of the myths surrounding its rise.

Since then, Alibaba chief communications officer Jim Wilkinson has departed the company, replaced earlier this year by internal appointment Jennifer Kuperman.

"Alibaba is merely exploring how a US based PR agency could amplify our work as we educate our western stakeholders – investors, media, retailers, and others – on who and what Alibaba is and how we are the gateway to China for businesses of all sizes to access the Chinese consumer," a company spokesperson told the Holmes Report.