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Letter from Hong Kong

by Mandy Queen

The PR industry in Asia is growing but it's still comparatively young compared to the UK. Many businesses use PR to launch their products and services but don't understand the long-term benefits of using it. Businesses still spend a lot of money on advertising or they will send out press releases on the wire or not communicate at all. So we have a lot of education to do.

There aren't many B2B publications – it's mostly dailies, weeklies and online portals. There's only a handful of English media so you need to have access to a qualified team who can write traditional Chinese if you want to penetrate the market. Although many clients only want to target the expat market, which can be quite difficult as there is only a small pool of media and some of these expect advertising before they'll write about a client.

As in other countries the media want 'news' and we have to sell in the stories emphasising the relevancy to each journalist. Local news is especially relevant to journalists as Hong Kongers and the Chinese are very proud of their achievements.

People are tech savvy so social media marketing is a must and complementary to any PR campaign, especially consumer campaigns – Hong Kongers are one of the world's biggest users of FB. Sina's Microblog is bigger than Twitter in Hong Kong. And LinkedIn is becoming increasingly popular. However, FB is not accessible in China and the Chinese have their own popular social media sites.

Press releases must be in English and Traditional Chinese for Hong Kong, although they need to be in Simplified Chinese for mainland China. PR teams need to speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin in order to do business.

We're in a prime position as we are in the gateway to mainland China so many of our campaigns reach mainland China too and the rest of Asia including India and Australia.

Mainland China has tens of thousands of publications and many B2B magazines – the magical aspect of the mainland is the volume – we recently got a piece on Guangdong TV for an exhibition client and the audience was 210 million.

To work in PR here, you have to be a native English speaker or fluent in Cantonese / Mandarin and be able to write traditional / simplified Chinese. If you can speak and write all three then you will be in great demand! However, there are only two English newspapers in Hong Kong, and a handful of blogs and magazines, so if you're a native English speaker and want to get into PR then you may spend most of your time proofreading and re-writing copy for translation, rather than pitching stories.

Similar to the UK, it is important to build relationships with journalists and deliver news that is relevant to their readers. Unless it is a trade publication, journalists start and finish late. Email is still the best way to reach them first. Then a phone call.

Events and press conferences are popular but there are so many these days – you regularly get two to three happening at the same time – so it can be difficult to get anyone to attend.

Even though most Hong Kongers speak English - you must be able to speak Cantonese to local journalists as you can't risk losing anything in translation and it's important for building relationships.

The Hong Kong PR Network's monthly events are a good start to get more info on the local industry. There's also a Council of PR Firms of Hong Kong, which has been around for a long time but has recently become more active. Networking is vital here – everyone has a business card and the exchanging of cards is an important ritual at the hundreds of events that take place in the city every week.