EXPERIENCED PUBLIC relations (PR) professionals are needed in the mainland and those who have learned the business in Hong Kong are ideally suited to filling the available vacancies. Communications consultancy Ketchum Newscan, which is looking for five middle and senior-level staff to work in its mainland offices, confirms this view and expects the trend to continue. 'Over the next two months we will be recruiting for a range of positions, from senior accounts executive to accounts director, for our brand marketing, financial and technology teams in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan,' said Chris Liu, the company's general manager and senior vice-president for Greater China. While mainland universities may be churning out thousands of graduates each year, the talent pool for experienced PR people still fails to compare with Hong Kong. 'We serve a broad range of clients in terms of size and industry, and must provide them with in-depth knowledge of both international and local media, and the ability to get their message across effectively,' Mr Liu said. The company has mainland offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu. It is gearing up for further expansion of client numbers and wider geographical coverage in more mainland cities. Rodger Lee, accounts director, brand marketing for Ketchum Newscan Shanghai, admits that PR is a relatively new concept on the mainland. He was transferred from Hong Kong a year ago to take up his present position. 'PR is still underdeveloped in many Chinese companies. While most of them talk about corporate reputation and image, only a few actually walk the talk. Generally, corporate communications can mean little more than putting slogans on a wall,' he said. With their industry experience and language proficiency, Hong Kong professionals in the field are able to make a big difference. However, Mr Lee said they should be aware of three particular challenges he had encountered: adjusting to Shanghai's egocentric culture, the extra effort required in client coaching, and striking a balance between adjustment and maintaining a distinct identity. 'China's rapid development has its drawbacks,' he said. 'In Shanghai, for example, some people now believe the city is the centre of China, if not the world. This newly assertive mentality means you will meet fresh graduates who think they know more than the CEO. The result is that the adjustment to local attitudes and personalities takes time.' The relative inexperience in PR presents another challenge. At a certain level, professionals from Hong Kong may feel they are stepping backwards. Training colleagues and teaching clients becomes a much larger part of the job, and the ability to adapt is likely to be tested in numerous ways. 'You have to be flexible to fit into the work environment, but not to the extent that you forget you are there to make a difference,' Mr Lee said. To excel in the new environment, his comprehensive list of survival techniques now extends to knowing how to work with the local authorities, realising that government officials will routinely not make it clear what they want, and being able to fight tooth and nail for his place in the taxi queue. The media in China is known to follow different standards and operate differently from media in the west. Nevertheless, Mr Liu said the key to working with journalists on the mainland was essentially the same as anywhere else. 'The best way to earn their respect is to read and understand what they write,' he said. 'Our staff are media experts, and they achieve that by working closely with their contacts on a daily basis.' Industry experience essential China's rapid development has created a demand for PR professionals. Entry-level positions are usually filled by local graduates; mid-ranking to senior posts more often go to executives from Hong Kong. Ketchum Newscan is looking for five senior executives to work in their mainland offices. More positions will open up in the next few months. Language skills and practical industry experience are key attributes. Candidates should be ready to adapt to the local culture and prepared to coach colleagues and clients. One of the prerequisites for success is to get on well with the media and to keep a close eye on what individual journalists write for their publications. Anyone accepting a post in China should ensure they are adequately prepared.