The Hong Kong government said on Sunday that its global public relations brief to mend the city’s tarnished image attracted seven bids, though a PR news platform has reported that many firms are choosing to “steer clear” of the project owing to the “controversial client.”

PR news platform PRovoke reported last Friday that international PR firms such as Ogilvy, OPRG (including FleishmanHillard and Ketchum)  and Ruder Finn decided not to take part in a tender exercise initiated by the Information Services Department (ISD).

Photo: May James.

The campaign titled “Relaunch Hong Kong,” aims to restore Hong Kong’s status as an international business hub after being hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, according to an ISD statement on Sunday.

It is the second time that the government has turned to international PR firms to restore its reputation worldwide. Last September, amid the city-wide protests triggered by a now-axed extradition bill, the government reached out to eight agencies for help, but was turned down by six, according to Reuters.

The ISD said the campaign this time had attracted seven bidders, who will be invited to present their proposals once compliance checks are finalised. According to PRovoke, American PR and marketing consultancy Edelman, French PR company MSL and REDHILL from Singapore were among the bidders, and all have offices in the city.

File photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

“We are encouraged by the interest in this tender,” the ISD spokesperson said.

According to the ISD statement, the campaign will focus on reconnecting the city with its global audiences by informing them of the local economic recovery process. It will also advertise the city’s efforts in addressing the Covid-19 crisis and promote the idea that “Hong Kong remains always welcoming and ‘open for business.'”

But some firms that chose not to participate in the tender told PRovoke that they had concerns over the credibility of the assignment, concerns from local employees and impact on the firm’s reputation. One top executive also described the Hong Kong government as a “a very controversial client”. 

‘Political spin’

The Hong Kong Public Relations and Communications Professional Union (HKPRU) issued a statement last Monday to urge PR agencies not to take part in what they described as “political spin.” The new campaign will not revive Hong Kong – only meeting protesters’ five demands would, the union said.

Demonstrators have been demanding an independent probe into the police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

In February, Financial Chief Paul Chan announced the ISD will receive HK$226.6 million for managing its foreign public relations – a 53.5 per cent boost from last year. The publicity work will promote a “favourable image” of the city internationally and on the mainland.

In response to HKFP’s enquires, Jacob Puthenparambil – CEO of REDHILL – said the firm was not concerned about criticism of the “Relaunch Hong Kong” campaign, adding that the company would be “honoured” to be given the opportunity to work with the Hong Kong government.

“We are not concerned, everyone has a right to their opinions and we have ours. Almost every nation does marketing to help in economic revival,” he said.

HKFP has reached out to other participating firms for comment.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.