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Aiming for a big Asian impact

Published on Friday, 08 Jun 2012
Susan Field, CEO at the merged cohn&wolfe-impactasia, says they are recruiting healthcare and technology talent on the mainland.
Photo: Nora Tam

At the end of 2011, Cohn & Wolfe – a multinational public relations (PR) enterprise with a history of 40 years and a workforce of no fewer than 1,000 people across the globe – strategically acquired impactasia, an independent PR agency with strong roots in Greater China. The merger was aimed at expanding business in the region under a new identity – cohn&wolfe-impactasia. More than six months later, chief executive Susan Field shares her thoughts about the impact of the merger and the operations of its 80-strong team.

How do you feel about the new operation?
We are very happy. Six months on, it’s now business as usual. Our team and our clients have benefited from bringing the resources, perspectives, experience and insights of two very good PR agencies together.

We have a lot of talent within our team and, with an international network, we can also draw upon the experts we have globally to add weight and depth to programmes and proposals we are recommending to clients.

We have such a wonderful selection of clients – local, regional and international brands – which proves our ability to navigate Western and Chinese culture, and to operate at a macro and micro levels. We have been undertaking a lot of market entry for brands seeking to launch platforms in Greater China.

There is a huge amount of interest from our clients and teams in our international network, which is great to see, and we are enjoying the opportunity to spread internationally an understanding of this market and this region.

Have been there changes in the role of Cohn & Wolfe’s original Greater China team?
Our mainland China offering is now double the size of Hong Kong, which is how it should be given the size of the two markets. Bringing the two companies together means our offer to clients is now broader and we focus on more industries, including consumer, corporate, trade, technology, healthcare, PR and digital communication.

Who are your key clients?
A taster of our clients includes Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, Pernod Ricard, hotels.com, MGM Hotels & Resorts, MSD, Dell, and Illy Coffee. We believe there is a lot of growth still to be seen across all industries, and Greater China still holds massive opportunities and excitement for us.

What are the differences between the Hong Kong and mainland consumer markets?
Hong Kong is a mature market and has a large middle class. Consumers are brand-aware and draw upon many international influences. Mainland China is geographically diverse and has a rising middle class, but there is still much polarisation between rich and poor.

Public relations in Hong Kong focuses largely on building differentiation through creative and engaging programmes. In China, the market is still hungry for information and the focus is largely on building a brand and establishing its credibility.

What are the challenges across the markets?
The biggest challenge for international brands entering the market is staying true to their brand positioning and proposition, while being brave enough to localise communication and approach – and sometimes product – to appeal to the local market. China is changing so quickly that there is a constant need to keep your finger on the pulse of new developments.

What does social media mean to you and your clients?
As the city partner for Social Media Week – a global digital event – in Hong Kong, we take it very seriously. We are currently managing social media content and programmes for about 50 per cent of our clients and this will increase over the next year. We have invested in a digital director and team in Hong Kong and mainland China. We have a global approach to digital communication and we localise this to take into account market differences.

Are you hiring at the moment?
We are recruiting for healthcare talent on mainland China and technology talent in Beijing. But we always like to hear from stand-out PR professionals, and will always invest the time in a coffee even if we currently have no available openings. We like to get great people on our radar.

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