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The message is the medium

Published on Friday, 06 Apr 2012
Jane Morgan
Vice-president, brand practice, Ketchum Hong Kong
Photo: Thomas Yau

Branding, an intangible yet powerful marketing weapon for corporates and even individuals to stand out from the crowd, is always the expertise of public relations (PR) firms and professionals. And these days, Greater China’s rocketing demand for luxury and lifestyle products is propelling the region’s PR industry the region to new heights.

Transferred from Ketchum London in February, Jane Morgan, vice-president of Ketchum Hong Kong’s brand practice division, is expanding the PR firm’s services by introducing fresh insights and strategic moves. 

What are your team’s role and functions?
The Ketchum Hong Kong brand practice has four areas of expertise: luxury, beauty and fashion, food and beverage, and travel and tourism. There is, of course, a fifth pillar – “lifestyle”, which everything else falls into.

We focus on delivering ideas to our clients, crafting thoughtful, creative, strategic campaigns that tell a story. My aim is to grow the brand practice and go beyond the norms, be it brand positioning, consumer engagement, product launches or education [for clients].

Ketchum Hong Kong sits within the Greater China Network. We have five offices – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The entire network has over 160 dedicated PR professionals. We work very tightly as a network to ensure we are sharing best practice, learnings and other resources. We often work together, as many of our clients request we develop programmes that can be activated right across the network.

Is there any difference between your current team and the one in London? How about your clients?
The brand practices are very similar in nature. I can honestly say both teams are fantastic, probably due to the Ketchum training proposition.

The Hong Kong brand client base is very similar to the London one, with a good mix of lifestyle clients. The corporate and technology practice is larger here than in the UK, which is reflective of the market.

We create emotion, craft perceptions and make brands relevant to consumers.

Clients are very smart here. They appreciate advice, knowing we are the experts in the PR field. We try to foster that need and thirst for knowledge by sharing any information we feel clients can benefit from.

Globally, we have a team of experts who range from digital and measurement to creativity and strategy, as well as insights.

Who are your key clients?
We recently planned and facilitated the launch of the Van Cleef and Arpels store in Hong Kong. We also look after Ray-Ban, Norwegian Salmon, American Hardwood Export Council, and a few we’re not allowed to mention.

What are the differences between the Hong Kong and mainland consumer markets?
The Hong Kong market is mature and sophisticated, consumers are brand-familiar and brand-conscious, whereas the mainland is becoming increasingly mature and so PR requires more focus on [client] education in this market. The [mainland] market is flooded with unfamiliar brands, [so] public relations should aim to position a brand, helping consumers to discern between them.

What are the challenges and opportunities across the markets?
First is creating the “big idea”. Consumers want to be part of something. We all buy brands either for functionality or for emotional reasons. Going forward, PR practitioners need to think about what the big idea is, how can we create a movement and develop the emotional connection between a brand and its desired consumers. The idea of “brand butlers” – those who provide a benefit over and above their existing product or service – will surely develop in the Hong Kong and mainland markets in the coming years as consumers demand more.

Consumers want to see something different, something disruptive that stops them in their tracks and makes them think. I believe there’s a change in thinking on the way. PR companies need to devise new, fun, disruptive tactics and strategies to ensure the brands they represent stand out.

The PR industry is forever coming up with weird and wonderful ways to communicate a brand’s message. There has been a proliferation of experiential and also 3D digital projections across the globe that are eye-catching. We must never rest on our laurels.

How important is technology in the local market?
Hong Kong has one of the highest mobile phone penetrations in the world at 184 per cent. Traditional PR is, of course, still an important medium but we must remember the forums in which people are receiving their news are changing.

Throughout the world, bloggers are very important, but they seem to be more so in the local market – 77 per cent of Hongkongers read blogs and 52 per cent write blogs. So the bloggers are the key influencers and opinion leaders.

Bloggers are right at the top of the message tree. We should be engaging with those influential to our brand or product, and transparently asking their opinions and thoughts to eventually create credible brand ambassadors.

What is the role of social media in your business?
In terms of strategy, it would depend on the client’s brief, but overall, we would always recommend being transparent, and using social media forums to engage with consumers in a fun and relevant way. Social media sites are all about consumers having a little fun, so if a brand can facilitate this, then a relationship will develop.

But a major consideration would be to make sure the content is relevant. Otherwise, consumers will have a negative experience and will be “turned off” by the brand.

Content is king. A constant flow of interesting data must be streamed to be sure of repeat visits and consumer interaction. Often, this data can be generated from the traditional campaign and “tweaked” for the social media platform. We would also recommend that there is someone dedicated to the online brand-owned resources. Consumers now use these portals as a point to gather information, and as we know, consumers do not like to be kept waiting.

Are you hiring at the moment?
Yes. The brand practice is going from strength to strength and we are always looking for talent. The standard of excellence within Ketchum is very high and we are looking for team members to be tenacious, creative, hardworking, and bright – we want to push boundaries for our clients.

How do you keep ahead of consumer trends?
Identifying behavioural insights and trends is something the entire Ketchum network prides itself on. It’s the only way to ensure campaigns are relevant to target media and consumers, and therefore create cut-through.

Locally, we arrange focus groups to get into the mindsets of consumers and are monitoring the media constantly so we can gauge both consumer and society trends, allowing us to unlock and align a brand’s relevance.
Globally, we have a dedicated research team that can provide us and our clients with data based on suggested criteria. We also have various other tools.

And I guess it helps that the brand team is personally interested in fashion, beauty, travel, food and luxury, so we ourselves are often the target audience and have good knowledge of likes and dislikes.

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