International Series – Hong Kong

CIPR International Committee asks PR professionals around the world their take on Covid-19 and its impact on the profession. We hear from Richard Tsang, Chairman of Strategic Public Relations Group (“SPRG”).

  1. What are the most important ways in which you believe the PR industry will change following COVID-19?

I believe that COVID-19 has expedited the PR industry’s use of social and digital platforms in organizing events, which corresponds with the rapid change in how events are now being held – moving away from the physical realm. Such changes will consequently mean that social and digital platforms will become more important, hence the industry has to develop new platforms for exhibitions, trade fairs, ceremonies and more.

There will also be more consultation and less event organization/management responsibilities for PR practitioners due to the decline in physical events.

With respect to brand development, the world has become increasingly smaller in recent decades, in part the result of numerous global campaigns that have led to many different branded products sold internationally. Due to COVID-19, however, cities/countries have been placed on lockdown, obstructing their access to the outside world. I therefore expect greater focus will be placed on developing/nurturing local brands and associated events, thus opening the way to mutually beneficial opportunities for such brand owners and agencies.

2. Which skills and capabilities will PR professionals need to develop in the next year or two in order to stay relevant and effective?

Digital literacy will certainly be an important part of the PR professional’s skill set in the immediate future, and this includes expertise in creating digital content, managing and closely engaging with social media platform stakeholders, tracking and analytics, and even operating their own social media platforms which can be used for promoting various events. Knowledge of AV production and storytelling ability via visual will also become a basic requirement for the PR professional of today and tomorrow.

3. Which aspects of PR will be the most important after this pandemic? Crisis communications? Reputation management? Stakeholder engagement? Digital and social media?

Stakeholder engagement should take top priority, and not only after the pandemic, but should immediately start so that corporates can survive these challenging times, which, at present, have no end in sight. Corporates need to have a system in place that can clearly track who are their stakeholders and how are they changing, as well as a system to prioritize stakeholder groups. Prior to the pandemic, physical contact allowed corporates to know and engage their stakeholders, however, with the current restrictions, corporates now need to find new ways to understand and reach out to their stakeholders.

4. In which ways will the business community and wider society change – and how can boundary spanning and boundary planning play a role in delivering insights?

With respect to the business community, corporates will need to take into consideration more aspects in their planning, since stakeholders have increasingly higher expectations. External factors such as government policies and economic fluctuations can significantly affect how a corporate can continue to develop its business and enhance its reputation. Certainly, geopolitical and political changes can likewise influence a corporate, for better or worse, depending on its stance. And this holds true as well with the attitudes of stakeholders, whose love-hate relationship with companies can directly impact on the sustainability of the latter.

5. How can the PR industry practically position itself as a discipline of the future, rather than being intrinsically tied to media relations, and a bygone era?

Media relations have not been a major PR priority for quite some time now, with focus having shifted to stakeholder engagement or stakeholder management in recent years. This includes how to influence stakeholders and manage their expectations through various PR efforts.

Future generations of PR practitioners will therefore have to be more specialized, possessing expertise in such areas as human resources (internal/employee communications), political/public policies (government relations and lobbying), finance and law (investor relations).

In the past, PR professional could be characterized as communicators who possess specific industry knowledge. Today, we need industry experts/experts from relevant industries to join the PR sector who are keen to learn communication skills.

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Richard Tsang is Chairman of Strategic Public Relations Group (“SPRG”).  Richard founded the company in 1995 and today SPRG is among the largest integrated PR networks in Asia Pacific and the largest PR consultancy in Hong Kong.  Richard also plays an active role in the PR industry, as well as community services, holding over 80 board, committee and advisory positions in over 40 business, religious, education, government and non-governmental organisations. He is former Global Chairman of PROI Worldwide – the world’s largest and leading partnership of independent integrated communications agencies.  He has received 24 awards for his professional and personal accomplishments, including the Individual Achievement Award by SABRE Awards in 2012, Agency Leader of the Year by Mumbrella Asia in 2017 and most recently, the Stevie® Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 and 2019 International Business Awards®.

In late 2014 Richard established Strategic CSR Network Limited, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to linking different parties, including corporations, NGOs/charities and volunteers together to help underprivileged communities in Hong Kong. He also contributes to the religious community, which includes The United Bible Societies where he serves on the Global Council and as the Chair of the Finance and Audit Committee.

A graduate of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Richard majored in Journalism and Communication. As an avid supporter of education, he has been a part-time lecturer at the School of Journalism and Communication, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, since 1994, and an Adjunct Professor at The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, as well as an advisor to the communication schools of four universities.

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