Permanent Normal Trade Status (PNTR) for China and its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a complex topic with long international history. In 2000, when the U.S. Congress considered PNTR for China and its entry into the WTO, the high-tech industry recognized it could play a role. Sybase CEO, Chairman and President John Chen, a Hong Kong native, accepted an industry-leadership mantel and embarked on a public affairs campaign that helped influence the outcome of the U.S. vote.
The stakes were high – an estimated $100 billion in trade between the two countries.  Many argued that retaining the status quo would keep China under the watchful eye of nations, and would provide leverage for democratic countries dealing with the Communist government on social issues. However, President Bill Clinton, and some outspoken American business leaders countered that normalizing trade relations would open doors to trade, as well as for scrutiny that would enable increased Western influence in China.
The Business Software Alliance (BSA) – a Washington D.C.-based trade organization of which Sybase is a member – asked Sybase’s Chen to appear before the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in support of PNTR. Chen, a high-tech industry leader and Hong Kong native overseeing six Sybase offices comprising 250 Sybase employees in China, discussed the issues and opportunities including copyright infringement, software piracy, taxes, tariffs and the growing economy. Other Silicon Valley leaders followed suit, and in September 2000 “history was made” as both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to support the bill granting permanent normal trade status with the U.S. to China. 
Many high-tech spokespeople “jumped on the bandwagon” to support PNTR and leverage the visibility that taking a stand would personally provide them and their companies, adding to the “noise.”
Based on the longevity and complexity of this issue, The Weber Group (TWG) conducted deep and ongoing research that included analysis of arguments on both sides of the issue; determining key pro and con member of Congress.  In addition, TWG conducted ongoing research of issue developments and their coverage by reporters at key publications.
  • Position Sybase CEO John Chen as an international business leader
  • Position Sybase as a politically-savvy technology leader with international industry experience and clout
  • Spread advocacy message supporting permanent normal trade status for China
  • Influence “fence-sitting” politicians to vote in favor of PNTR
  • Educate target audiences as to why PNTR for China was in the best interest of North American businesses
  • Political leaders and pundits
  • Business and financial leaders
  • U.S.-based technology media, industry analysts and their audiences
The strategy for this campaign was truly a grass-roots, back-to-basics effort. It entailed following Congressional deliberations and then developing step-by-step messaging and tactics tailored to journalists most likely to reach the target audiences during every step of the process.
The core program elements included:
  • A joint news release with the BSA regarding Chen’s testimony
  • Monitoring of media coverage and evolving issues/opportunities
  • Ongoing phone and e-mail communications with target journalists and industry influencers
  • A submitted op-ed piece by John Chen
TWG took advantage of the confusion and misperceptions around PNTR to position Chen as a credible spokesperson whose personal experiences provided perspective on all aspects of PNTR – the political, historical, business and cultural considerations.
TWG played up Chen’s personal and business ties to Asia, as well as his professional experiences with copyright infringement and piracy of Sybase’s software in China. Chen was positioned as a Silicon Valley business leader whose “insider” perspective made him not only a respected authority on PNTR for China, but also a worthy representative for the BSA.
Following John Chen’s appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee, Sybase and BSA issued a joint press release alerting the media of the key points in his testimony and offering Chen as a spokesperson. TWG tracked media covering the appearance and ongoing discussions in the House and used every applicable opportunity to forward Chen’s remarks, as well as his background and expertise, to shape follow-up stories and media opportunities with key influencers.
Additionally, TWG targeted and pitched journalists at 25 specific publications with the goal of ”spiking” coverage at four key times: following a Clinton visit to the Bay Area to discuss this issue, after the vote by the House of Representatives, in preparation for the Senate vote, and following sign-off by the President. TWG also developed an opinion/editorial and sent it to 20 top-circulation newspapers in the U.S. to leverage Chen’s viewpoint and industry leader/authority status. 
On September 20th the U.S. Senate passed the PNTR bill, which had already won easy approval in the House of Representatives. Subsequently, it was signed into law President Clinton.
Objectives of educating target audiences and influencing “fence-sitting” politicians to vote in favor of PNTR were met in accordance with a positive vote, Chen’s testimony and resulting prominent business coverage.  PNTR coverage was extensive – with stories appearing often in daily, weekly and monthly publications. 
Highlights of the media coverage including John Chen included:
  • Los Angeles Times – Page 1, lead
  • U.S. News and World Report – quote inclusion
  • Upside – lead in story
  • San Jose Mercury News – prominent quote inclusion
The PNTR issue provided an opportunity to capitalize upon John Chen’s position as an international business leader with a deep understanding of Asian business and world politics.  Consequently, TWG has leveraged his exposure through this opportunity daily in stories dealing with related issues and topics.