Mark Sparrow, Executive Director for Technology, GolinHarris, tells us about day to day PR life in HK

The day to day of PR in Hong Kong as an English expat 

I’m not sure if it’s just the group of particular people I know or part of a wider trend, but I’ve seen a sizeable number of UK PR professionals leave the country over the past couple of years to ply their trade abroad.  Former colleagues of mine are currently working in San Francisco, New York, Singapore, Amsterdam and Sydney to name a few. 

I made my own move to Hong Kong in March last year and also seem to be part of a growing wave of people coming here – a record number of working visas were granted to UK citizens by the Hong Kong Immigration Department in 2012 . 

At first glance, there would seem to be plenty of opportunity for English-language speakers in the PR world of the Special Administrative Region.  From a Hong Kong perspective, when you’re talking about earned or paid media you can break the landscape down into the following groups:

•Global titles with a regional and local presence – e.g. The Financial Times, Forbes, CNN, The Economist, etc. 

•English-language titles aimed at readers across Asia or the Asia Pacific region – a broad range of business media fall under this umbrella, such as Telecom Asia, Asia Cloud Forum or Enterprise Innovation 

•Hong Kong-specific titles – while there are a handful of influential English-language media outlets in Hong Kong (such as the South China Morning Post), the overwhelming majority of local media publish or broadcast in Cantonese (not Mandarin, note, the language of the mainland). There are some, such as Tatler Hong Kong or Marketing, which take a dual approach, with English and Cantonese text alongside each other

Owned media map against the same kind of framework, depending on the brand, its objectives and the audiences it wants to reach. 

One of the world’s foremost financial centres, Hong Kong is the headquarters of a number of large multinational corporations – including some of our clients here such as Jardine Matheson and Li & Fung – which publish their corporate materials and financial results in English.

There is then certainly a role for the English-language communications professional in Hong Kong but the work will primarily be either international or strategic in focus rather than dealing with the nitty gritty of local execution. And that situation provides a clue as to the skillset that is required here. 

For someone arriving from the UK or Europe, experience of coordinating a global or regional hub will provide an abundance of useful transferable skills – for instance:

•capitalizing on local knowledge to develop, refine or even dump campaign ideas

•having the persuasive powers, flexibility and conviction to get buy-in for those ideas from a broad range of involved parties

•ensuring that the views of local markets are represented at a corporate level while helping teams at headquarters to maintain consistency across international campaigns 

•facilitating the exchange of best practice across disparate teams and considering how lessons from one campaign or region can be applied to others 

At its best, international coordination is about the carrot rather than the stick and that approach will serve you well for communications work in Hong Kong and across Asia.  

In terms of content, there will be much in Hong Kong that is familiar to the British expat.  Traditional media are fascinated by scandals, social and national tensions, crises and celebrities, and tend to look for the negative angle.  Business technology journalists are not interested in products or features but rather want to hear from customers or find new takes on emerging trends.  No journalist is going to provide you with a preview of their article. 

As seemed to be happening in London when I left, the Hong Kong PR market is becoming ever more saturated at the cheaper end with agencies offering local media relations services.  Competing with these commoditised offerings on cost is always going to be tough for an international agency although creative solutions can be found. 

Fortunately, with today’s fragmented media world and the intense competition for audience attention, many clients are looking for agencies that can bring market insight, genuine creativity and additional firepower to the table.  They are also keen to keep things simple by, where possible, having just one agency to manage.  And that’s where a firm such as ours – which has expert data analysts and content creators along with an in-house digital production studio – most certainly has a role to play. 


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