PR experts slate Tang's 'election campaign'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 June, 2011, 12:00am


As the 'will they, won't they' political pantomime continues over who is in the running to be the next chief executive, one of the main protagonists, Henry Tang Ying-yen, is facing criticism that his nascent campaign leaves him looking out of touch with ordinary people.

Last week, the chief secretary denied claims he had used public funds to launch a 'soft' online campaign, details of which are contained in documents obtained by the Sunday Morning Post.

The 45-page document, 'Online Campaign: Digital Communications', appears to set out his campaign strategy. If it all goes according to this plan, Tang will venture into various parts of the city over the coming months, playing a hawker peddling orchids, a proprietor of an aquarium shop in Mong Kok and a shopkeeper at a computer firm in Ap Liu Street in Sham Shui Po.

It is all an attempt to erase any perception that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

The document also proposes creating a campaign website, to which a URL had already been assigned. The link was briefly available in public but is now dead, although the campaign document includes printouts illustrating its proposed design.

According to the minutes of a meeting held by his campaign team in December that have been obtained by the Sunday Morning Post, digital communications tools such as a blog, a Facebook app, a YouTube channel and a mobile phone app will be launched from November onwards as part of his election strategy.

A campaign slogan - 'In Hong Kong for Hong Kong' - has been chosen and a cartoon character with Tang's face has been designed.

Veteran public relations consultant Peter Lam Yuk-wah, a former co-host of Commercial Radio phone-in radio programme Teacup In a Storm, said Tang should start a new online campaign plan from scratch - even if the current one had not been leaked, however briefly.

'I think an average IVE [Institute of Vocational Education] student majoring in web design can make a better page. This is unsatisfactory and the visual was awful.'

The planned website features Tang's stylish desk in his office with a copy of the International Herald Tribune on it, which Lam described as looking 'like a furniture advertisement'. He added: 'Another page, with the line 'mouse over the photo to shop this room', looks like it's selling digital products. I don't see any clear image of Tang in this design.'

A person familiar with social media said the chief secretary's team did not understand the open nature of the virtual world.

'It is a very sensitive thing to attempt to create issues online or reply to forum users' comments. There are no secrets on the internet, so he must make worst-case assumptions,' he said.

Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, managing director of PR Concepts Asia, said the website lacked a clear theme and made no reference to policy. 'His campaign motto 'In Hong Kong for Hong Kong' is too generic. It could apply to some local firms like Giordano or other candidates who were also 'born in Hong Kong'.'

Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said Tang's campaign website looked like the work of his students.

'It put too much effort in image-building,' Ma said. 'It would be hard to sustain if you rely only on polishing your image without explaining your policy platform.'

Another public relations consultant, who declined to be named, said Tang's purported campaign website was too event-driven and lacked an interactive element. 'It looks like a typical government website, which is known for one-sided dissemination of information,' the consultant said.

Asked whether the document was produced by Tang's campaign team, Tang's press secretary said he had nothing to add to the statement the chief secretary issued on Wednesday stressing that he had complied fully with government regulations on the use of government resources.