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練達洞明即公關 Enterprising People and Relationships+ View more
練達洞明即公關 Enterprising People and Relationships
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Enterprising People and Relationships
Richard Tsang explains the arts and sciences of PR
Richard Tsang majored in broadcasting in the 1980s but had never studied public relations. Little did he realize that after graduation, he would be drawn into the field and remain in the profession ever since.
‘Soon after graduation, I stumbled upon a hotel which was setting up an in-house PR department. The hotel’s general manager assumed that a journalism graduate like me would know something about PR. So I was hired,’ he recalled.
A year later, he joined a PR consultancy firm, the world’s largest back then, where he did corporate communications and financial public relations work. Five years on, he switched to another international PR agency, and within a year, helped to establish a financial PR team for the Asia-Pacific market. In 1995, he and two former colleagues decided to set up their own firm. ‘It occurred to me that instead of fighting others’ battles, why not become a boss myself?’
At age 29, he established the Strategic Public Relations Group (SPRG). In the beginning, it had only five employees. Now it has developed into a market leader with a staff force of over 300 and 15 offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.
Financial PR forms the core of the Group’s business in Hong Kong. Richard explained that companies seeking to launch IPOs have extensive public relations work to do both before and after the listing. First of all, the public relations firm hired to help such a company must promote its stocks and familiarize fund managers, investors and media with the client’s brand. ‘Over the past 20 years, more than a thousand companies have been listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, of which over 360 engaged SPRG during the pre-IPO period.’ Once a company has gone public, it still has to issue corporate information and performance announcements on a regular basis. All this requires ‘investor relations’ services, a facet of public relations.
Outside of Hong Kong, however, the Group’s branch offices are not at all involved in financial PR. Its Beijing office is engaged in technology and automobile public relations. In Shanghai, the focus is on hotel and lifestyle PR. In Guangzhou and Malaysia, it is corporate communications. In Singapore, its specialty is PR for public organizations and the entertainment industry, while in Taiwan, medical and healthcare PR.
This business diversity emanates from Richard’s idea of ‘localization’, as he believes that the nature of PR services a company can provide is highly dependent on the talent recruited to do their jobs. ‘PR is a people-centred and localized profession. Nobody understands a place better than the locals who live there and know which button to push and what not to say or do.’
Richard also revealed his secret of forming PR teams abroad. ‘Before venturing into an overseas market, I would first look for the public relations association there to find out the type of PR services most in demand locally. Subsequently, I would engage a headhunter to recruit the second-in-command person from a large PR company in that market.’
Why pick the second-in-command? ‘That’s because the top job is usually held by the boss, who cannot be poached. In contrast, people holding second-in-command roles are usually the most capable and knowledgeable in the industry. If the hired candidates are more adept in technology PR, then the offices they head will focus on this field. Conversely, if they are more specialized in lifestyle PR, then the entire company will follow suit.’
PR disasters seem to be on the rise in recent years. According to Richard, the rise of social media platforms is one of the reasons. ‘Traditional print media operate by a 24-hour-day cycle. When a crisis first brews, a company could still fight for time and pen a response before the newspapers go to print. With the emergence of social media, the flow of information is accelerated and everybody becomes a news agent himself. Every issue large or small, once reported, has the potential to go viral. This has drastically reduced the time for companies to respond. It has thus become easier for matters to get blown out of proportion. Meanwhile, social media platforms tend to offer a superficial glimpse into issues. The true reasons behind them are often unknown and hard to verify, paving the way for more crises to occur.’
Richard hoped that more young graduates would join the PR profession to see its appeal for themselves. ‘The benefit of a PR career is that one is made to learn new things every day. Many people may set foot in one or two trades in their lifetime. But through financial public relations, I have helped a few hundred companies become publicly listed, and built trust and friendship with their chairmen. This has given me an in-depth understanding of different industries. Isn’t this a meaningful career to be in?’