Prospect Presents Chris Chamberlin, Managing Director of Citizen Relations for Asia Pacific. We talk to Chris about his move from the US to Hong Kong

We asked Chris Chamberlin, Managing Director of Citizen Relations for Asia Pacific about his move from the US to Hong Kong, the challenges of starting from scratch, his thoughts on the city and what advice he would give to the next generation of PR professionals. 

What has surprised you about the Asian culture since touching down in Hong Kong?

The vibrancy of the networking environment, especially here in Hong Kong, is most surprising. No offense to my friends in Los Angeles, Toronto and London, but there’s a genuine desire to help make meaningful connections here that I wasn’t expecting and am now completely addicted to.  

Since taking on the APAC lead role, how much travel have you encountered? Which countries and cities have you visited and what have you liked about them?

Our Hong Kong office is designed as a Regional Hub so my travel has been extensive in the past eight months and has included Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Seoul, Tokyo, Manila, Jakarta and Singapore. In each of these cities I’ve found a distinct hunger for amazing food, creativity and entrepreneurism. Reports of APAC, and SE Asia in particular, defining the next decade are one hundred percent accurate in my opinion.

What have been the challenges adapting to life in Hong Kong?

Letting go. My previous role before this was General Manager of the U.S. When I first arrived I wanted to stay connected to team members and initiatives that I felt a strong connection to. As exciting as this new role is, I wasn’t really prepared to disengage at first. But after a few weeks of working multiple time zones and trying to Skype into meetings in the middle of the night it was pretty clear how unsustainable that was.  

Did you set up the Citizen HK office by yourself? What was the biggest challenge when setting up something from scratch in a completely new city?

I arrived as a party of one, but by no means did I or could I do this alone. We had (and continue to have) a great support network in London, Los Angeles and elsewhere that helped on various components of the expansion. We all learned a lot and I’m grateful for their support every day. I’ve been lucky in my 20+ year career to have had the opportunity to tackle all sides of the business, but starting a new region from scratch was definitely new. The biggest challenge was to really set a clear vision first before making key decisions. I think there’s a natural tendency to want to hit the ground running, hire staff, make a big splash. I was reminded early on of the importance of that famous quote: “don’t confuse activity with results.” Things really started to click only after I’d taken the proper time, together with my global team, to really nail a vision and narrative for what we are here to build.

What are the differences between working in the US versus HK? Are there any similarities?

Hong Kong is a wonderfully easy city for a US expat to jump into, but the differences in working and work culture are endless. I mean, we all want the same thing – to do meaningful work, create an inspiring, collaborative workplace – but the “how” behind that is night and day. I could go on for days on this.  I will say that the level of talent in Hong Kong and the region, we’ve found, is on par with the US.

Where can we find you at the weekend, any favourite hotspots?

The hiking in Hong Kong is just superb – much like my previous home in Los Angeles, it’s a hidden gem of the City and we’ve only scratched the surface of it. But now that Potato Head has opened behind our flat, fair shot you’ll see me there.

Citizen has offices worldwide, what made you come to Hong Kong initially?

Until “the age of Trump”, the “Why HK” question was the most common one I faced. As a regional hub that demands efficient access across the area – from Seoul to Singapore – Hong Kong is a natural choice. But what really put us over the top is the vibrancy of the start-up scene and the creative pulse of the City. We felt Hong Kong offered us the best ability to deliver for our clients and infuse a new creative spirit across the Citizen global network.

What are the biggest challenges you face in PR in Asia?

The cultural nuances of each market, including media, are most challenging. In every given day we are consulting with local teams in Korea, Japan and China (to name a few) – three distinctly different markets where strategic choices vary greatly. With the speed of our industry today, you can easily misstep by moving too fast. I’m grateful we have great collaboration with local partners on the ground to ensure we stay well on track.

Where will you be in 5 years’ time?

Given that 5 years ago I definitely would not have answered “Hong Kong” not sure there is an answer to that. I will say we’ve quickly fallen in love with Hong Kong and Asia - there’s a lot more to experience here. 

What do you look for in a CV when making hires for Citizen?

I look for a clear sense of purpose and career direction, and increasingly I look for attractive backgrounds outside of traditional marketing and PR. Our first two hires in Hong Kong actually didn’t come from agency backgrounds and we’ve benefited from their perspectives ever since. But to be honest, CV is very low on our list in terms of making hires. It certainly is a prominent first filter to trigger a direct engagement or interview, but once at that stage the CV has run its course. Citizen is committed to building the most inspiring agency to work for and collaborate with. We’re looking for individuals that inspire us, challenge us to be better and show a clear appetite for innovation. 

What is the best piece of advice you can give to young PR professionals?

First, sharpen your business finance skills. Agencies essentially oversee multiple small business enterprises and clients expect us to manage their money like our own. I’m an English major and ran from every Finance course I could. If I rolled back time, I’d rethink my distain for math. Second, my mentor offered a piece of advice that has stuck with me for two decades: have an opinion and be brave enough to say it. This is the most transformative time in this industry in a generation. We crave talented people with bold perspectives that are hungry to share their views with the world.  


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