The message is the medium

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 April, 2012, 12:00am

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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 to new heights.

Transferred from Ketchum London in February, Jane Morgan, vice-president of Ketchum Hong Kong's brand practice, 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: beauty and fashion, food and beverage, travel and tourism, and luxury. 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].

Who are your key clients?

We recently planned and facilitated the launch of the Van Cleef & 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.

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.

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.

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.