The government is set to roll out an overseas campaign later this year to promote Hong Kong as the “best place in Asia to live, work and invest in.” It came as the official publicity unit said it had no plans to hire new consultancy firms to help the government “relaunch” the city following the 2019 protests and unrest, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a legislative meeting on Wednesday, pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip asked the government to provide details of the work done by global PR firm Consulum FZ LLC (Consulum), after it was awarded a one-year contract last June to advise the government on its “Relaunch Hong Kong” initiative.

The Central district in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui said in a written reply that the contract with Consulum, valued at around US$6.4 million (HK$49.8 million), had expired on July 30. During the retainment period, the company – which controversially did publicity work for Saudi Arabia – conducted market research that found Hong Kong to be a “cosmopolitan, diverse, dynamic and connected” city.

“The research showed that… Hong Kong was the only Asian city that… [has] access to markets in mainland China and Asia; [provides] a sophisticated and secure pro-business platform; and a cosmopolitan lifestyle,” the minister wrote.

Consulum designed and tested key publicity messages, Tsui said, including advertising the city as a “safe, growing market with considerable potential,” “the ideal springboard to the mainland and Asian markets,” and highlighting Hong Kong’s “innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit” and its “cultural richness.”

The government said it saved around US$730,000 (HK$5.68 million) after changes in the promotion strategy and implementation timeline, with the final sum payable to the firm being US$5.7 million (HK$44.3 million). But it refused to provide a breakdown of the cost of individual tasks as requested by the New People’s Party chair Ip, saying the price information was “commercially sensitive.”

People wearing face masks in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

The government said its overseas publicity plans will be launched in phases, pending the development of the coronavirus pandemic. Tsui said a business confidence campaign will likely be launched later this year, while the “Relaunch Hong Kong” campaign will follow in the next year.

“[A] business confidence campaign… [will] reinforce Hong Kong’s image as the best place in Asia to live, work and invest in,” he said.

PR firms shun Hong Kong

The campaign to “relaunch” Hong Kong aims to restore the city’s status as an international business hub after it was hit hard by Covid-19, the Information and Services Department (ISD) said in May last year when it received seven bids in its tender exercise.

The initiative marked the second time that the government sought help from international publicity firms to rebuild its reputation across the world. In September 2019, during the anti-extradition bill unrest, the authorities reached out to eight agencies for assistance but were rejected by six, Reuters reported.

Protest scenes from September 15, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Tsui said on Wednesday that Consulum had delivered services including an overall strategy, publicity plans, media lists in the target markets, a crisis management plan and a media and marketing buying plan.

The home affairs chief added that the ISD had no plans to engage new public relations consultancy services at the moment: “The actual implementation timeline, scope and scale of the ‘Relaunch Hong Kong’ campaign will largely hinge on the global Covid-19 development and the recovery of business activities.”

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.