Three leading lights of the communications sector in Hong Kong shared their career stories and thoughts on the outlook for the industry at a webinar on 19 November.
Kiri Sinclair said she had been taking a break from her PR career in 2009 to do an MBA when friends and contacts started asking for her help on projects.
“The world was changing and social media was growing,” she said, “but a lot of agencies weren’t changing fast enough to accommodate their clients’ demands.”
This led to her setting up her own company, Sinclair, which has expanded from its Hong Kong base and now has offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore.
“What we are really known for is regional knowledge, and understanding what is happening on the ground,” Sinclair said, adding that they have been incredibly busy since the Covid-19 crisis hit.
The agency has a low staff turnover rate, which Sinclair credits to a culture that supports all employees to develop. “I want A-type personalities working for me,” she said. “You need to show them where the career ladder is, so they know they don’t have to move agencies to progress.”
Clara Shek is Managing Director, Public Relations & Influence at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. She has worked for Oglivy, one of the largest PR firms globally, for 21 years and still loves it.
“Part of the reason is the people and the culture of creativity,” she said. “Creativity has no hierarchy – a lot of the best ideas come from the frontlines. Young colleagues have great ideas and great innovations.”
Because of the freedom to explore new avenues, Shek was able to launch a dedicated travel practice at the firm 13 years ago, and a content and social hub a couple of years later, to stay ahead of the market.
Kate Holgate, Partner and Head of the Hong Kong Office at Brunswick Group, arrived in the city in April 2019 after spending several years in Singapore. She said she has been impressed by how Hong Kong businesses have coped during this very challenging period for the city.
The biggest impact of the Covid-19 outbreak has been the restrictions on travel, but Holgate said there has been a silver lining. “We have actually become more connected with colleagues around the world,” she said. “In the past, we would probably need a reason to meet up with colleagues from the U.S., for example. But now we can connect on Zoom.”
On the impact of the coronavirus, Shek from Oglivy said that for many years she has ensured all her staff have a laptop. So the company was already prepared for remote working, with not only the hardware but also tech support in place.
Sinclair noted that the urgency of PR work had increased under the pandemic. “People now expect a response immediately,” she said. “There is no turnaround time, so you are constantly thinking on your feet.”
PR agencies in the past were known for long working hours, but the speakers said that this is no longer the case and there is now a focus on work-life balance. Another change is in the gender balance at the top. Even though communications has long been a female-dominated sector, as recently as 15 years ago leaders were likely to be men. Today, there are many more women in senior roles.
The panel also agreed that there is a bright future for the PR sector in Hong Kong, after the pandemic recedes.
“It’s a cliche to say we are the gateway city, but it is still true,” Sinclair said. “In Hong Kong, we are able to understand the mindset and culture of Mainland clients, but also what the challenges are on both sides.”
Shek said that the development of the Mainland and the Greater Bay Area in particular provided great opportunities for Hong Kong PR companies, particularly with China outbound business.
“Hong Kong companies can help establish the global reputation of Chinese brands,” she said. Local communications professionals are the bridge that can help Mainland companies understand the international audience.
Holgate also sees the GBA an exciting opportunity for the sector, as these disruptive and innovative Mainland companies can work with with Hong Kong’s PR sector to build their reputations around the world.
“I am incredibly optimistic. I think this is going to be the place to be for the next decade, and communications is the industry to be in,” she concluded.
This event, hosted by WEC Chairman Nikki Ng, was one of a series organized by HKGCC and the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Hong Kong, in support of the HeForShe initiative.