As we at Corporate Communications lurch into our 30th year of selling media publicity to the great and the good in Hong Kong, I'm beginning to modify my views.
Two or three times a month, I give talks to various special interest groups, such as potential clients, students, rotary, clubs, charity groups, media coaching classes and the like. These talks always start the same way. Members of the audience are invited to put up their hands to indicate that they have read a newspaper that morning.
Usually about 90 to 95 per cent of those present dutifully raise their hands. I then ask if they can remember a single advertisement that they've read in that newspaper. Less than 10 per cent can recall even one.
With a full page ad costing about HK$100,000 (about US$21,500) before it is used for wrapping up fish in Central market the next day, that's not a tremendously encouraging hit rate.
Before the PR guys start smacking their chops and saying I told you so, I have to say that the rate of recall on any story that doesn't occupy the front page or directly affect the reader's business or leisure interests, doesn't come out of this crude test much better.
So if advertising and media publicity are not the answer to the promoters' prayers, what is?
That depends entirely on who you want to address. Among Corporate Communications' clients are banks, financial advisers, head-hunters, law firms and charities.
These disparate organisations are all seeking the same target audience: high net-worth individuals.
Now, with the best will in the world, none of these worthy people are going to find what they want through media publicity, or at least at an affordable rate. Deals in Hong Kong are made in smoke-filled rooms - in clubs, in restaurants, bars at the racetrack - and whenever the rich and resourceful gather.
One of my clients put it succinctly. "Ted," he confided, "I don't need 1.2 million breakfast time readers to read about what I want to sell over their cornflakes and congee. Most of them couldn't afford it."
He went on: "I want to talk directly over a table to two or three people a month who are genuinely interested in what I have to sell."
That's where Hong Kong and, increasingly, China comes into its own as 'The Favour Bank'. That's where well-connected networking comes into its own. Don't ask your publicist how many column inches of newsprint he/she can grab for you - or prime time on television and radio - ask who he/she knows and can he/she effect an introduction.
And to achieve that, open an account at 'The Favour Bank'. Do somebody a favour and wait for it to be returned with interest. In Hong Kong, you can guarantee a return.
This article was first published on Media Asia